16 March 2012

'Yes, God loved the world so much . . .' Sunday Reflections, Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003).  Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator: Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 3:14-21 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
'The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe
in the name of God's only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer
darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth
comes out into the light, .
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.

An Soiscéal Eoin 3:14-21 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Seo mar a dúirt Íosa le Nícodémas :
Faoi mar a d’ardaigh Maois an nathair nimhe san fhásach,
sin mar a chaithfear Mac an Duine a ardú,
i dtreo, gach duine a chreideann ann,
go mbeidh an bheatha shíoraí aige.
Óir ghráigh Dia an domhan chomh mór sin
gur thug sé a Aonghin Mic uaidh
i dtreo, gach duine a chreideann ann,
nach gcaillfí é ach go mbeadh an bheatha shioraí aige.
Óir ní chun daorbhreith a thabhairt ar an saol
a chuir Dia a Mhac uaidh ar an saol
ach chun go slánófaí an saol tríd.
An té a chreideann ann ní thabharfar daorbhreith air,
ach an té nach gcreideann ann,
tá daorbhreith tugtha air cheana féin,
mar nár chreid sé in ainm Mhac Dé, a Aonghin.
Agus an daorbhreith, is mar seo í:
mar gur tháinig an solas isteach sa saol,
de bhrí gurbh olc iad a ngníomhartha.
Óir gach duine a bhíonn ag déanamh an oilc,
bíonn fuath aige don solas agus seachnaíonn sé an solas,
le heagla go gcáinfí a ghníomhartha.
Ach an té a dhéanann an fhírinne,
tagann sé chun an tsolais,
chun go dtaispeáinfí gur i nDia
a rinneadh a ghníomhartha.”

Nicodemus, woodcarving by unknown Flemish Master

There was a Filipino Jesuit priest whom I knew in the 1970s, Fr Vincent San Juan. He spent most of his life as a priest in the family life apostolate. During the Martial Law years in the Philippines - they began on 21 September 1972 and officially ended in 1981 before Blessed John Paul II visited the country. In reality it didn't end until Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in February 1986.

One of the policies vigorously pursued by the Marcos regime was the reduction of the birth-rate, but not by morally sound means. We heard many stories of tubal ligation being done on women in government hospitals after they had given birth, often without any consultation with their husbands. Only poor women would have their babies in government hospitals. All of this was being promoted by the Population Commission, popularly known as 'PopCom'.

Father San Juan gave seminars to many groups of people around the country, probably the majority professional people. They included people working for the government, few of whom would have anything to do with setting policies. He always promoted very clearly the teaching of the Church on marriage, on family life, on the spacing of children. Much of this was contrary to what the Marcos regime was promoting. But he told me that individuals often thanked him for teaching the truth, even if they couldn't speak as openly as he did.

His life reflected what another Jesuit once wrote and that reflect today's gospel: If there was a little more light and truth in the world through one human being, his life has had meaning. That was Fr Alfred Delp SJ, executed by the Nazis on 2 February 1945 at the age of 37. He wrote in his prison cell before his last Christmas: Our hearts must be keenly alert for opportunities in our own little corners of daily life. May we stand in this world, not as people in hiding but as those who help prepare the way for the Son of God.

Nicodemus came to Jesus quietly at night and Jesus warmly welcomed and respected him. Fr San Juan worked quietly teaching the truth when the regime in power was teaching otherwise. Fr Delp did likewise under a regime that was far more oppressive than that of Marcos, oppressive though that was, and paid for it with his life.

There are countless individuals who, without even being aware of it, live the light and truth of the gospel and have no idea of the influence they have on others, of the hope that they bring to others. Each of us is called by Jesus to live a life that has meaning.

West German stamp in honour of Fr Alfred Delp SJ, 1964

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