Third Sunday of Lent
March 20, 2022 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria de Sousa Alvim Calado Cortes, F.S.C.B.
Chaplain, Saint John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, D.C.
Sunday Reading Meditations
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to conversion, reiterating the following warning: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Lk 13:3).
This means that it is urgent for us to convert. As today’s verse before the Gospel says, “Repent, says the Lord; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We are called to convert right now, not yesterday or tomorrow. Now is the time for our conversion! Now is the time to return to God!
All of us need to repent. As Saint Paul declares in the second reading, “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” (1 Cor 10:12).
The Gospel says that people were shocked by Pilate’s massacre of a group of Galileans, speculating that there was a direct connection between personal sin and misfortune. Jesus says that was not the case: “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!” (Lk 13:4).
Misfortunes are an invitation to convert, to return to God, revealing that evil exists and Satan is at work. Moreover, external evil reveals our internal brokenness.
God allows calamities to occur in the world because he respects our freedom. However, suffering does not come from God. There is a mysterious connection between freedom and evil. Evil does not come from God but has its origin in the freedom to rebel against him. First came the freedom of the rebellious angels, who subsequently perverted human freedom, mortally wounding all mankind by the original sin.
In the same way that evil entered the world through human freedom, it can only be redeemed through human freedom. Redemption is not magic. Redemption requires our acceptance and also our personal conversion. God is not insensitive to his people’s suffering: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry” (Ex 3:7). God comes to save his people: “Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8). God sent his servant Moses to deliver the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt. Human freedom in collaboration with God is needed in order to restore what we have lost through our human decisions. The sending of Moses was a promise of the Incarnation, the sending of the Son of God himself, who would “come down” through the Annunciation, a momentous event that we are going to commemorate on March 25. This year’s celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation is going to be a very special day, when Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The parable of the fig tree reassures us that God gives us ample time to repent. God has hope for us: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down” (Lk 13:8). As today’s responsorial psalm says, “He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills” (Ps 103:3).
Encountering God changes us for the better. As the living God called Moses by name, he also calls us by name today. The first reading says: “God called out to him from the bush, "Moses! Moses!” The “burning bush” represents God’s presence among us. Like Moses, we need to be surprised by the “burning bush,” especially during times of tribulation: “As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, ‘I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned’” (Ex 3:3). We, too, must go to be witnesses of God’s wonders. Our personal conversion is the greatest contribution we can make to the world we live in.
Today’s Collect prayer reminds us that there are three remedies for sin: prayer, fasting and works of mercy. Wars can be stopped by fasting and prayer. This has happened in the past and can happen again.
May the Lord, through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, grant us the grace to live this Lenten Season as a time of conversion, a time to return to God with our whole hearts. Amen.