FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (March 11, 2018)

Regardless of make or model -- be it a clunker or a Lamborghini -- your automobile needs a periodic check-up beyond its regular oil changes. A check-up is preventive maintenance. The examination tells you what part is wearing, what needs to be replaced. It also brings you good news: your tires are in good shape; so are your brakes.

The Church has us do the same thing for our spiritual maintenance. The time for this is called lent. For the last three and a half weeks we have had the opportunity to look hard at ourselves. We may have seen that our patience is not working smoothly, and we take steps to improve it. We may have seen that out prayer life needs some adjustment, so we take steps to improve our timing.

Today is Laetare Sunday. Laetare Sunday is the time when we get to hear the good news from our church in our annual check-up. We hear some especially good news: the most popular verse in the entire bible, words that have been hung on banners in recent years in front of the seats on stadium walls: John 3: 16. “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.”

You and I are part of that “loved world.” It is to you and me that those words are addressed.

Please note that those words do not say that God was so angry at the world, so furious with the world, so disappointed with the world. No, it says God so loved the world.

Those are the words that provide the reason for naming this Sunday “Laetare Sunday.” Laetare means “rejoice,“ have joy at the good news. Out of curiosity, I looked up the word “joy “ in the newest, catholic theological dictionary. It was not listed. There was no entry between “Jesus” and “Judaism.” Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but it is not listed in the scholarly, catholic dictionary. I think that that is sad.

Joy is natural in our lives as Christians. St. Francis de Sales said it well: A sad saint is a sorry saint.” Christian joy is based on what Jesus did for us. Surely, joy in us is necessary to attract others toward appreciating what is the source of our joy. “See the Christians; see how they have love for one another.” Observed love is joyful.

I like the story of “spotted tail.” Spotted Tail was a chief in the Sioux Nation. He resisted all attempts of Christian missionaries who came to his reservation. In fact, he would throw a bucket of water on any missionary who approached him -- mocking the baptism they preached. One day in the autumn of 1876, a Roman Catholic nun was visiting the home of the commanding officer of the Indian Agency. Both she and Spotted Tail were invited to a reception hosted by the officer’s wife. Lemonade, not firewater was probably served. The nun, who seems to have had a wonderful, whimsical streak, stood up and raised her glass toward spotted tail. The chief immediately responded by standing and raising his glass towards her. She began to dance joyfully. Glass raised, and laughing aloud, she approached the chief, who did the same. The two met in the center of the room laughing together and toasting each other. This moment of joy changed spotted tale’s image of Christianity to the degree that he sent one of his daughters to the nun’s convent-school in Kansas City.

Dour faces neither reflect the face of God nor draw people toward RCIA. Think of all the “holy cards” and religious paintings [sacred art] that you have ever seen: how many of the faces are smiling? How many reflect the joy of receiving the gift in today’s Gospel? The next time you receive an absolutely delightful gift -- try opening it with a dour face. We can’t. It should not happen with our Lord’s gift of life -- here and hereafter.

When we “Live Jesus,” when we “put on Christ” may we not forget to absorb and reflect his joyful smile.