Weekly Homilies

Connecting to God's Story (John 3: 14-21)

March 10, 2024 Fr. Mark Suslenko Season 7 Episode 10
Connecting to God's Story (John 3: 14-21)
Weekly Homilies

Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 10 of Season 7 for the Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 10, 2024. Our Gospel reading is from John, Chapter 3, verses 14-21.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,  so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,  so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,  but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him 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 works were evil. For 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.

The Gospel of the Lord

“Connecting to God's Story,” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut

By the use of rose color investments and a few flowers decorating our sanctuary,  the Church calls us to celebrate today Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a word in Latin that means rejoice.  And this is an opportunity placed before us to put the brakes on Lent for a bit, to pause and refresh ourselves, and to recall what we're doing and why we are doing it.  At this point in our Lenten season, the joy of Easter is on the horizon,  and the days of that Paschal celebration are fast approaching.  The Church calls us to keep our eyes on that goal and to remember the great gift we have been given through Christ's resurrection.  

Today's particular feast day finds its roots in the prophet Isaiah,  where it says in Chapter 66, verse 10:  "Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful,  for those who are in mourning  are no more."  Rejoice, O Jerusalem. Be joyful. You who were in mourning.  

As you look at our lives,  they really are an unfolding of a series of events and experiences, and how we understand those events and experiences makes a huge difference in terms of how we live our life out and then pursue our faith.  So, moments like Laetare Sunday, the sacraments and the gifts of the Church, the rich traditions of our Catholic faith, can become all just things and rituals that run the risk of becoming empty unless they are preceded by an encounter with Jesus Christ unless we have a lived experience of the person of Jesus Christ.  Without that, things can become very superficial.  

We know that to be true, even in our own lives. If there's an individual that captivates us, let's say the Pope, for example, we can watch the Pope on television. We can listen to his homilies. We can watch him celebrate Mass,  but actually, being in the presence of the Holy Father changes up one's experience of who he is and what that is all about. The same is true of Jesus Christ. Jesus can easily just be an idea, a theory, a philosophy.  But when it becomes a lived reality for us,  Jesus becomes quite different.  And so on. Laetare Sunday, we're called to look ahead to Easter.  

Now if we look at the experiences of our lives,  we have to admit that we spend a lot of time mourning, mourning. We may not use that word to describe it, but the situations and the experiences certainly are of that nature.  We look at the obvious sources of mourning: when we lose somebody we love a parent, a spouse, a child, a good friend. We know the pain of that loss, and we know what mourning that loss is all about. But there are other times of mourning:  those opportunities that present themselves to us that can either trip us up or make us stronger. We get that phone call from the doctor  who said, "I'm sorry to give you this news, but you have this very debilitating disease for which there is no cure."  That's an occasion of mourning when I have to mourn the possible loss of my life.  Or those times when, as a parent, you have to watch your child make decisions that you would not necessarily make, and you find yourself having to deal with situations that are uncomfortable and mourning that loss can often make us anxious and uneasy, unsettling.  There's those opportunities that life brings to us that are unwelcome, like losing our job and losing our security. Having things change up without our consultation puts us in a place of mourning.  

Well, as we consider our faith and the person of Jesus Christ, into what context do we put those things so that we can begin to make sense out of them and walk through them with a sense of trust and some confidence?  Well, it really takes an encounter with Jesus Christ to make that happen. When Jesus is real, then the hope that is given to us today, the hope that is within our vision that is celebrated today then becomes something tangible.  We realize that there is something more to who we are, and we're on this bigger journey, not just in our minds but in our hearts and our very souls, and we can encounter these things with a certain confidence and grace.  And so some of you're sitting here in this church today saying, I do have that personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Whatever I've done in my life for practices of prayer and where I find myself, Jesus is real to me, and I have that wonderful hope that is my anchor, that sees me through my mourning experiences, that sees me through the challenges, that allows me to embrace these wonderful truths of our faith: the Eucharist, days and traditions like today in the beauty of Easter. But I'm sure there are others here today who are saying the opposite and admitting to ourselves that Jesus may just be an idea, and I don't have that personal encounter,  but I want Jesus to be real, but I really don't know how to begin that process. How does that even begin to happen for me?  

Well, if you look at the way Jesus taught about God and the kingdom of God, he often looked to nature, and a lot of the parables and the images that he uses all involve nature.  And so if we turn our glance to that beautiful aura of creation that God places before us, perhaps we can unlock and encounter with Jesus. And here's an exercise that we can do this week, and it won't take you very long, but it may be fruitful to our spiritual lives. And I'll put my retreat master hat on for a moment.  Now, the weather people are promising us a very nice week. Let's hope that this is true. Somehow. I don't trust them much anymore, but let's, let's give them a bone for today and let's, let's hope that they're right.  

If that is, in fact, the case, then I'm gonna ask that you take some time outta your busy schedules to waste some time.  Leave your phones in the house. You don't need them.  Disconnect from all of your worries and your anxieties and go out somewhere into this beautiful creation of God's, where you can soak in all the wonders that are around you and clear your heart, mind, and soul for a bit, and find some quiet peace.  And then begin to look around you and put yourself in the presence of the magnificent trees that are before you,  the animals that may be flocking around, the grass upon which you walk, the leaves that may have fallen from the tree, the new buds that are beginning to form. If you're in the presence of water, savor its vastness and its beauty, the mountains.  

What you're in the presence of is God's story. God communicating a message to us, to you.  And as you clear this space, listen not only with your ears but with your soul. Realize that, in many ways,  you are a part of what you see. You're not separate from it but very much connected to the pulse of that life that is flowing before you.  This is God's story.  And pause and ask yourself, "What is God trying to tell me through this story that is playing out before me?  What message does God want me to hear?"  And give yourself some time to truly listen and connect with your soul because your soul unlocks the beauty of who you are. It is there that you discover who you are and who you will become.  And rest in that for a moment,  and then begin to realize that all you see happen without you.  That for centuries, trees have grown, and animals have been on the face of the earth.  Things have died, and things have grown.  One thing has given way to another, and God keeps his beautiful earth in check.  And through the power of his presence and his resurrected love all continues to remain and be.  

What you're witnessing before you really is a story of death and life of hope, and resurrection  of change and growth  of one thing ending and another beginning and all being kept in balance by the abundant beauty and love of God. 

And then there's you.  As you stand there, who then are you in light of all of this?  and realize carefully for yourself that at some point in time, God chose to create you as the beautiful, incredible person you are. He has blessed you with yourself and blessed the world with you, too.  That while you may not be responsible for the changing of the times and the seasons, that blessing that God has given to you in the heart of your soul is meant to be shared with what you see to make it better and to leave a positive impact on that path that you walk. 

What is the gift God has asked you to bring? What is the blessing that you're called to share by your very self?  And when you begin to realize that you are an incredible part of this bigger picture,  that all of those things that captivate us and concern us, all of those experiences of mourning really are placed within this context. That they are not necessarily problems for us to solve but things we give to God for God to transform, remake, and refashion so that when we are disappointed and fall into despair in this life, that becomes our hope, the love of God and Christ Jesus.  Because we are all brought to life in Christ, and when we allow ourselves to be changed and transformed by that presence, when it touches us deeply, and we become a part of what is playing out before us, then we can find hope, and that hope becomes real,  and those disappointing times can be times of transformation.  And then there, with the nakedness of ourselves, we stand before this abundant beauty of God, and perhaps a word that can come to our lips is rejoice.  Rejoice. 

See, that's the beauty of the resurrection. Nothing is lost. All has a place, and all is found. If we could live our life that way, then the treasures of our faith, every single one of them, from the smallest to the largest, can be opportunities of encounter with that mystery, times of reassurance, and opportunities to really meet this God who has all things in his care, and his love at the center of our souls. 

Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.