Listen to the Light – John Foley, SJ

John 3:14-21; Fourth Sunday of Lent


Ignoring God cannot be a good thing. We all know that. But the readings on this Fourth Lenten Sunday drive the point home.

The First Reading says the people of Judah “added infidelity to infidelity,” worshipping false gods, polluting the sacred temple, vigorously ignoring the real God. Read the First Reading for the terrible details.

Out of compassion God sent prophets to warn them. Each received only scorn. They would not listen. Our author says, “There was no remedy.” The people were condemned by their own actions. God’s love remained constant, but theirs didn’t. So invading forces took them as captives into Babylon, where they remained in exile for seventy years until the good and just King Cyrus conquered Babylon and let them go.

For a Responsorial Psalm we have one of the most poignant of all, the exquisite Psalm 137. In it, the people, captives in a foreign land, weep. They refuse to sing the songs of Judah because they are exiled from everything they held dear, everything that had been taken from them—through their own infidelity. As far as they knew, the light of life had gone out.

But, in truth, they had preferred darkness to light.

John’s Gospel tells us that the guilty person “has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” God has no desire to condemn, but we condemn ourselves by walling God out! At the end of this Gospel reading there is a very interesting, wise saying that sums up the message of all the readings:

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.

Maybe these sentences reveal the heart of sin itself. Light displays too much of life. We become ashamed. We hide ourselves, our sinfulness. Yet …

… we are built to seek the light.

Perhaps the present writer can be pardoned for presenting in this space a poem, especially one that he himself wrote. It is a fable, set in the style of a children’s verse. I recommend that you read it out loud with pauses. Perhaps it will speak to you of the readings.

Once there was a city built in the sunlight.
Warmth and laughter did abound.
Memories of day would remain every night
until the sun could return.

Fear one morning said light is too bright.
Too much of truth can be seen.
How can we seem what we say we are,
if light the intruder is here?

So walls went up and a ban on all windows
and nothing of day could remain.
The city said, you have left us, O sun.
In the darkness we have gone blind.

But the sun outside still shed its light,
and its warmth and its laughter and love.
It lightened the walls,
gave warmth to their chill,
while within, the soul bored a hole.

Into it poured a single beam,
a sunlight of laughter and care.
Softly, silently, almost like spring,
love opened and blossomed and grew.*

Listen to the light. Listen to God this Lent. Let love blossom and grow.

*Poem © John B Foley SJ, 1980
All Rights Reserved
**Image from the Internet

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