Homily for Sept. 14th, 2017: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.
At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.
Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power? The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.
Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@ with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me. It sounds like horribly bad news.
The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in the pre-school of the parish where I was then serving. I would go to meet
when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door,
waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was
when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her
little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was
heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.
The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).
Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.
AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@ The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ. He is waiting for your response, right now.