March 9, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Cyrus the Great allows the Jews to return to Zion,
 Jean Fouquet, 1470
(Click here for today’s readings)

It must surely have happened to you that someone gave you as a gift something you already had. You expressed your thanks and later you exchanged the item, or “re-gifted” it. 

Imagine, however, if someone did that on purpose, giving you a book or DVD or membership, knowing full well that you already had it. Or what about this? I go into your home and take something I have already given you; you think it is lost forever; then I give it back again—as a gift! What could be stranger?

And yet, that is exactly the scenario described in today’s first reading. Because of the Chosen People’s infidelity, God allowed their Holy City to be destroyed and sent them into exile. Now he inspires a pagan king to let the exiles return home and rebuild Jerusalem. He gives back the gift he originally gave and took away.

What was the difference between the original gift and the restored gift? None, if we look only at the gift itself. But, just the same, many things changed.

            They recognized the gift once again for the gift it really was.
            They recognized the generosity and mercy of the Giver.
            The gift became more precious than ever.
            The Giver received deeper gratitude.
            And the people resolved to be more worthy of both gift and Giver.

“By grace you have been saved,” writes St. Paul, and not for the first time, either. Over and over again he reminds us of the gift. And John 3:16 seems to show up everywhere you turn. It’s like getting the same gift every time.

The gift in question is the gift of faith. It was given to me when others passed their faith on to me. I first believed because others believed. Then, at a certain point, I myself truly believed. It was no longer just “the faith,” no longer someone else’s faith, but mine. But it was still a gift.

This is why we keep celebrating what we call “The mystery of faith,” that wondrous, mysterious gift, that relationship that unites us to God and to the community of believers.

Faith was a gift when we first received it. It is still and always a gift. We enter into it more and more deeply. It becomes more and more personal. Any time it is threatened, even simply by being taken for granted, it becomes more precious than ever when we remember once again the gift and the Giver.

There is a poem by T.S. Eliot that contains the following magnificent lines:

                        We shall not cease from exploration
                        And the end of all our exploring
                        Will be to arrive where we started
                        And know the place for the first time.

I take the liberty of paraphrasing it here:

                        We shall not cease from faith
                        And the end of all our believing
                        Will be to arrive where we started
                        And know the gift for the first time.

The first time? When was that? What a precious moment that was.

There is a principle in the spiritual life to this effect: Go back to where God is waiting for you. Never forget the moment when you first knew that you truly believed. Go back to that moment. God is still waiting for you there, ready to renew and enrich the gift, over and over again.

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