Fourth Sunday of Lent/Laetare Sunday

Rejoice in God’s Love which Overflows Out of You to Those in Need
by Father Peter Iorio

Near Mobile, Alabama, there was a railroad bridge that spanned a big bayou. The date was September 22, 1993. It was a foggy morning, just before daybreak, when a tugboat accidentally pushed a barge into the bayou. The drifting barge slammed into the river bridge. In the darkness no one could see the extent of the damage. Minutes later, an Amtrak train, the Sunset Limited, reached the bridge as it traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Unaware of the damage, the train crossed the bridge at 70 mph. There were 220 passengers on board. As the weight of the train broke the support, the bridge gave away. Three locomotive units and the first four of the train’s eight passenger cars fell into the alligator infested bayou. In the darkness, the fog was thickened by fire and smoke. Six miles from land, the victims were potential food for the aroused alligators. Helicopters were called in to help rescue the victims. Rescuers were able to save 163 persons. But one rescue stands out. Gary and Mary Jane Chancey were waiting in the railcar with their eleven-year-old daughter Andrea. When the car went into the bayou and began to fill rapidly with water, there was only one thing they could do. They pushed their young daughter through the window into the hands of a rescuer, and then they succumbed to their watery death. Their sacrificial love stands out especially because their daughter was imperfect by the world’s standards. She was born with cerebral palsy and needed help with even the most routine things. But she was precious to her parents.
We, too, are imperfect – our lives filled with mistakes, sin and helplessness. But we are still precious to God – so precious that He sacrificed his Son Jesus to save us. Today’s Gospel tells us how a perfect God sent His perfect Son to save an imperfect world.

This is a message of great hope so do not ever despair. God loves you more than you know. Jesus’ affirmation that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him,” sums up the core of the Christian message.
Even when the situation seems desperate, God intervenes, offering humans salvation and joy. God doesn’t stand aside, but enters into the history of humanity to infuse it with his grace and to save it.
Christians are called to listen to this announcement and to reject the temptation to be too sure of themselves and to do without God.
When we find the courage to consider ourselves for what we are, we realize that we are people called to deal with our fragility and our limits noting that at times thinking about these weaknesses can lead people to be anxious for the future, or afraid of illness and death. This is the reason many people look for a way out, turning to dangerous shortcuts such as the tunnel of drugs, superstitions or ruinous magic rituals.
However, Christianity offers a different path. Though it’s not easy, it leads to hope – through Jesus on the cross -which is the “greatest manifestation of God’s love.”
We need to acknowledge our limits. But let’s not let them overcome us to the point of becoming discouraged. When we offer our limitations to God, he helps us in the path of daily life. He takes us by the hand, but he never leaves us alone, never. Because of this we have joy.
If Christians root themselves in the affirmation of John 3:16 (God’s love for the world), then our trust is unshakable.
Only in this way can we live a life animated by justice and charity, and our lives like Gary’s and Mary Jane’s become testimonies of this divine love; a love which is not only given to everyone freely, and without conditions.

God is close to us in moments when we feel alone, when we feel tempted to surrender to the difficulties of life.

One of the most devastating crises in our country and especially in our region today is the opioid crisis. The daily news is devastating, including so many babies in our hospitals born with addictions. So, Christians who believe that Christ brings light to our darkness are joining together in Holy Friendship. On May 18-19, I will be participating in a Holy Friendship Summit which is a Gathering of Clergy, Clinicians, and Congregants to produce networks and share resources regarding opioid addiction in Southern Appalachia. The Holy Friendship Summit is more than a conference or workshop. It is a long-term vision to produce networks, resource sharing opportunities, and new publications. I call it the beginning event for a culture change and I invite anyone inspired to respond in Christ’s love to join us in Holy Friendship to help our brothers and sisters in need.
Paul is emphatic: we have been saved by grace, not by our own efforts. But as far as good works are concerned, we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance. God so loved the world that He sent His Beloved Son Jesus. That powerful love of Jesus is still in the world and acts through OUR faith, hope and charity that all things are possible with God.

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