Rejoice: God So Loved The World: Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest on Rejoice Sunday
“Rejoice...all you who mourn…” Isaiah 66: 10-11. So begins the entrance antiphon for this Sunday in the Lenten season. For this Sunday the priest wears a rose colored chasuble and unlike other Sundays in Lent flowers may adorn the altar. Why? Because we are anticipating getting beyond suffering, our Beloved Christ’s suffering, and that of the world, and our own, to the joy of the resurrection on Easter- to our rising from the dead. How good it is to stop the mourning on all levels and anticipate the rising again. This Sunday highlights that even Lent itself is not about penance, or atoning for one’s faults, but it is for the renewal of love-love expressed in caring service and giving. The Gospel for the day (John 3: 14-21) gives us the depth of the reason for this joy in the midst of any suffering: “For God so loved the world…” It is about God’s love – God’s love of the whole world, God’s immense, all encompassing, amazing love! And this love gives us the hope of rising again and of learning to love as Jesus did, to love the WHOLE WORLD!
John 3:16-17-“Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life. God sent the Only Begotten into the world not to condemn the world, but that through the Only Begotten the world might be saved”. (The Inclusive Bible, Priests for Equality Translation). God so loved the world that God gave….God’s Only Begotten Son....
When I first moved to Florida my next door neighbor was a woman who was battling brain cancer. Her name was also Judy and we immediately loved her. One night she came next door in great pain and we helped her back to bed and stayed with her until she rested. A few days later she was watching her favorite Buffalo Bills game. When I dropped by she said she had a question for me. There was a sign at the Football game that said “John 3:16” What was that? I was happy for this opportunity to explain God’s love to her and assure her of it. She thought a while and she said “I do believe”. I was joyful with her. I asked to pray with her and affirmed that her life was eternal. Indeed, we die but we live on with our loving God. As Christ rose from the dead we too rise and join Christ whose love never lets us go. Judy D. was very much amazed and , I think, relieved. And I was amazed that the opportunity to share the good news came from a sign at a football game! Yay, Buffalo Bills!
God so Loved the World– this Sunday of Joy is based on God’s embracing each one of us, AND all the world. Ours is not a small, or national or parochial faith, or mainly a personal faith, but it extends with God’s love to all the world. Yes, each of us can rouse ourselves on this Sunday as individuals, families, communities, groups, and nations but weneed to know that our God’s love belongs to ALL the world.
On this Sunday, 3/`4/2021 Pope Francis celebrated Mass with the Filipino/a Community at St. Peter’s in Rome commemorating the 500th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. He said that he was taken with great joy as he watched women. men and children in their native costumes dance down the aisle to begin the Mass. (The third largest number of Catholics in the world reside in the Philippines while many Filipinos/as live throughout the world witnessing to their faith in Christ). In my own life a wonderful Filipina woman was my great role model in faith: Virginia Maniti Williams, a Methodist Deaconess and wife of the African- American Pastor of my youth, Rev. Melvin G. Williams. Beloved Virginia visited me in Florida after Pastor Mel’s death over 20 years ago, and she is home with our loving God now. She then shared with me how she struggled first with women as Pastors in the Methodist church , then with accepting the LBGTQT community as Pastors. At first she could not accept this but as she got to know women and LGBTQ Pastors of deep faith and service, she was moved to accept the pastoral service of all people to our loving God. She concluded that those who love and serve our God with all their hearts and loved their neighbors as themselves not only should but must be given the opportunities to serve within all churches calling themselves by the name of Christ. She was way ahead of her times. Her love was the love of Christ within her and it shined brightly. I pray today for the spreading of that love.
Pope Francis noted in today’s homily that God’s love is the good news, and is the heart of the Gospel “because God loved, God gave…” And it was not words, an idea or doctrine that was given but it was Jesus whom God sent to show us how much God loved us. He said that God cannot help but give God’s whole self to us. “In Jesus we see the face of God’s love”, he said. We can pray that because of God’s love within us we too will become capable of giving.
Here, I expand with many of our Lenten Gospel readings, in Jesus we see the acceptance and inclusion of all people and not only the religious or “righteous” , we see what Pope Francis calls self-giving not selfishness. We see Jesus with tax collectors who were despised, we see him with women, even “sinful” women of other cultures that no one would speak to, we see him with those ostracized and set aside in chains, freeing them, loving them. We see him making no exceptions and putting the law in perspective by healing the blind, the mute and the lame, even on the Sabbath. The law of God is the law of Love, not a bunch of rules to be blindly followed while people suffer. The law of love leads us to the light. The Pope said that lovers exemplify self-giving over self-preservation. “Couples in love love each other so much that they give their very lives for one another”. And this is the way God loves us-and all the world. ” Love always gives of itself and shatters the shell of our selfishness”.
Pope Francis’ Trip To IRAQ March 5-8: A Living Example of Christ Loving the World
Pope Francis then recalled his trip to Iraq last week. He noted his own joy at the joy with great abandon of the Christians who greeted him in the Hariri Soccer field where he held Mass openly for ten thousands of Christians. He said that there and everywhere the people who suffered so much rejoiced and were glad! Pope Francis made an unprecedented trip to Iraq despite the coronavirus, and the highly precarious security situation, and threats against his life. There, oblivious to his own safety, he visited the many sites of terrorism and slaughter of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis and reached out in peace and love to people and leaders of all religions and cultures. He said that he hoped ” the world would take a journey from conflict to unity.” He noted “How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed”. He noted that thousands of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis were cruelly annihilated by terrorism and others forcibly displaced or killed”. This is a link to wonderful pictures of his journey to Iraq. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/world/middleeast/pope-francis-iraq-pictures-html.
What was particularly moving to me was his meeting with the Ayotollah Ali-al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims. He walked to the Ayotollah’s humble home and sat with him on wooden chairs for 45 minutes speaking of the situation of all faiths in Iraq. After the meeting, the Ayotollah spoke publicly for the safety and freedom of Christians and all minorities. Also particularly moving was his Mass at St. Joseph’s in Baghdad where he celebrated the Mass in the Chaldean Rite, another unprecedented move of love. But most exciting was seeing the joy of ten thousands of Christians gathered at the Soccer Field where he moved among them in his “Popemobile”. He brought such hope to them, and such joy.
May our love be renewed as we too embrace the love of God for the whole world, and do our best to work for acceptance, tolerance and , yes, unity of all the world this Lenten Season.
Bless you as you continue through Lent with joy and love,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee, Pastor Good Shepher5d Inclusive Catholic Community, Fort Myers, Florida
** Please remember that we are meeting outside for the first time since Covid 19 came on this Saturday, March 20th at 1 PM. Ask me for details if you are able to join us and join us please in prayer and spirit. .