Sermons

March 14: Heartfelt Conversation (Lent 4B)

“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.” John 3: 16.

Welcome to the Rosary Chapel — and especially those who we honor today on this annual Alumnae reunion.

I’m Father Mike Russo; I serve as the chaplain to our Upper School students.

Today, let’s pray for our young women presently enrolled in our school, our teachers, and administrators. What a year!

I’m mindful of the moms and the grandparents and your generous efforts this past year with your children or grandkids – well, this is what family is all about!

Let’s pray, especially for those who have lost a loved one in this Covid-19 pandemic and for our medical workers. Let us keep in mind those who have assisted us in dramatic and even heroic ways. So much the intention of this Mass.

Today we celebrate your years here at Santa Catalina. We marvel at your many accomplishments of family and friendships, your professional activities, and your creative work.

Most of all, we are grateful for your loyal support of this educational community, that is Santa Catalina School.

Introduction

This Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday, or “Rejoice Sunday.” Rejoicing comes from a phrase in the prophet Isaiah: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.”

The Fourth Sunday of Lent, especially now in a time of Covid-19, is a difficult time. Recall, we are an “Easter People,” living in a Good Friday world. Our Lord is always with us in his passion and resurrection.

Our gospel is among the most quoted scriptural passages, a “heartfelt conversation” of Jesus with Nicodemus, where the very centerpiece of the text turns on the phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone…may have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Often enough, we see this quote on posters from the sidelines at many sporting events. Martin Luther said this statement is the heart of the Bible and “the Gospel in miniature.”

Most recently, this scene is beautifully dramatized in “The Chosen, a multi-part television series on the life of Christ. The young actor Jonathan Roumie plays the role of Jesus with great effect. (See below)

I’m curious what is the gospel writer doing? Let’s explore this idea of a “heartfelt conversation.”

I

When I was teaching communication studies at Saint Mary’s College, I would address the power of personal conversation.

Each of you knows how important it is to “keep in touch” with friends and family, more than ever today, with various new electronic gadgets via cell phones or computers. Of course, this idea of keeping in touch is really what a high school or college reunion is all about.

One of the helpful books that I assigned was entitled “Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk,” by Neil Postman. He argued that, at times, we defeat ourselves in conversations and can shoot ourselves in the foot from time to time. The simple act of communication can be difficult for us humans.

Politics is replete with examples. If you don’t mind today, I’ll spare you – my references to politicians. In my classes, I was fond of examples drawn from British comedy.

For example, John Cleese, as Basil Faulty of “Faulty Towers,” is the inept innkeeper who continually insults his guests. Not so good for business, I suppose.

Or, better, my total enchantment with Patricia Routledge and her creation of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”) in the series “Keeping Up Appearances.”

I picture her on the “slimline telephone,” inviting the Commodore to her “candlelight suppers.” Or the one-way conversation with her son, Sheridan, goes unseen but is continually asking for money.

Basil Faulty and Hyacinth Bouquet have a heavy dose of “crazy talk, stupid talk.”

Both speak past their fellow characters; neither is especially good at listening and ultimately, neither is rooted in “the real world.” That’s the humor, but the laughs may be on us.

These fictional characters strike a truth, namely our human capacity to make excuses, take a false pose, and defeat ourselves at genuine, authentic, even heartfelt conversation that might touch and change the heart.

That’s what today’s gospel is about – Jesus reaches out to someone person, heart to heart, person to person.

As Neil Postman might say: “Communication is the beginning of understanding.” Yes, but this simple act of human communication can be very challenging for us.

II

What is the gospel writer doing?

John, the Evangelist, sets up a series of conversations or dialogues with a range of people: Jesus with Nicodemus, Jesus and “woman at the well,” Jesus’s healing of the blind man, and his conversation with Martha and Mary, at the raising of their brother Lazarus.

Our Lenten season reaches out to those “religiously unaffiliated,” or those who have a hunger to hear the word of God, that they too may enjoy the healing waters of “new life” or restored sight in Christ.

Maybe it’s a son or daughter suffering from depression or a friend in financial difficulty in this Covid-19 winter. We need to equip ourselves with the healing aspects of heartfelt conversation.

We read these bible narratives because they are mighty powerful for those about to receive Easter’s sacraments. And powerful for us to deeply root ourselves in the heart-to-heart, person-to-person ministry as disciples of Christ.

Consider these three Lenten practices: time, generosity, and kindness. Take time, be of a generous heart, and genuine kindness for one another—something to consider for Lent 2021.

In his remarks several years ago, Pope Francis called for compassion and pardon worldwide; something, we need to hear.

He said: “Let us not forget that God pardons and God pardons again.” (And) “No one can be excluded from God’s mercy.”

Mary Oliver, the great American poet, speaks for us: “Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour me a little. And tenderness too. My need is great…”

So, let our conversations in the Lord and with the Lord begin — our heartfelt conversation of reunion and renewal mark this Lenten season.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey CA.

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