Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

2023 FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT: “Laetare Sunday”

18/9 March

A ray of hope: Living as though God exists, because He does

We should probably make, at the start of this homily, the mandatory and passing reference to the rose coloured vestments. Every year, if we don’t say it, someone will say, “Oh, Father, you didn’t acknowledge the pink,” and, if we do, “Oh, Father, I knew you’d say something about it”. So, that being said…

Our Lenten experience continues, and Our Lord approaches His Passion. The Gospel, to which we’ll return, continues to mount the case, as it were, against Our Lord: He has not only healed someone (already something which the authorities have begun to ascribe to devilish intervention – “It is by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that he casts our demons”), but He’s done it on the Sabbath, the day of rest from all work. And, in the mind of the Jews, healing must be work. Their hatred for Our Lord, and the division it’s bringing even amongst their own ranks, is making true an earlier teaching of Jesus: A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Or, at least for the Pharisees, a group of Pharisees divided amongst themselves cannot stand Jesus. They are blinded by their hatred of Him. In some ways, it’s they who were more blind than the man without his sight.

In some ways, the “darkness” the Pharisees inhabited wasn’t their fault, but rather the evidence of our limited and fallen human nature. It’s epitomised by Samuel in the First Reading: because of the Fall, where Adam and Eve sin, infecting our human nature for ever, we cannot see as God sees. “Man looks at external appearances, but God looks at the heart”. And, with this, our ability to see the truth, in all its radiance, is inhibited.

So limited, what do we see, looking at the Old Testament, when we think about the situation of man – it seems pretty awful. After the Fall, man keeps losing his way. He puts too much trust in his own nature, in his own “plan for life”, and he constantly comes undone. He builds a tower to heaven and Babel and reaches the height of confusion. He tries to drown out his restlessness with loose living and is destroyed by the flood. He sells himself to jealousy, trades off his brother and eventually becomes a slave in Egypt. As man sees it, albeit superficially, this seems like a blind way, a dark way, an unillumined way to live.

And where is God in all of this? God, reigning supremely, loving man intimately, waits for man’s return. And, desiring it deeply, God takes the initiative with man again and again, trying to draw this fallen creature back to Himself. And even the moments where man falls from God, humiliating himself and making a mockery of the Lord, are times when God’s faithfulness shine in the darkness of man’s sinfulness condition. They are, as the words of the Easter Vigil’s Exsultet put it, a felix culpa, a “happy fault that gained for us so great a Redeemer”. Once, in this darkness, as Saint Paul tells the Ephesians, we had no hope. We lived as though there was no salvation. But now? God is calling us to hope again – not in our own efforts, which constantly prove to be blind fumblings. We should hope in God’s dramatic intervention; our salvation is revealed to us in bright light. God, Who has been calling us back to the beginning is calling us to rise from our darkly sleep – exsurge a mortuis! – rise from the dead. And why? Because this is what Christ will do for us.

Where is God in our lives?

Some people live etsi Deus non daretur. As if God did not exist. This little phrase occurred often in the theological writings of the fourteen century thinkers. They made a proposition about the way in which we go about our lives, stumbling in the dark. They wondered if the ideas about what it means to be a good person aren’t so deeply embedded in human nature that we could just live them out on our own, whether or not God existed or not. If they were so deeply part of who we are, why should we wait to hear it said from God?

Pope Benedict, reflecting on this creeping darkness, proposed it as a “practical atheism” – the truths of the faith and the sacred rites of the church are considered superfluous, irrelevant to us or even detached from our daily lives. People are inclined, Pope Benedict suggested, to believe in God in a superficial manner. And where will this leave us? It won’t only lead to us becoming indifferent to the faith, but it will ultimately lead us to question whether God really exists if we live in a way as though He doesn’t.

And where does that lead? Hoplessness. In a world that suffers so much, and needs so much hope, so many people avoid the cure, living as though there wasn’t one. Our sense of salvation is ailing; our supernatural vision is blinded; our dreams are crushed. It’s as though the world is dying. And Saint Paul calls to us just as he does to the Ephesians: Exsurge a mortuis! Why? Because God, in Christ, Who has loved us and conquered death and sin, has risen from the dead for us, and saved us. And this is a cause of joy and hope.

How do we live as though God does exist? Or, to say it differently, how do we live purposefully and deliberately?


  1. We can’t just think that our sinfulness is just “human” and part of who we are. It’s too easily to think about it sleepfully; sin is bad. It cuts us off from God, and it needs a proper remedy. Before we know it, the rot sets in and then we die. So, being aware of our fallen nature, let’s let God raise us up. Go to confession often, and read good books that help us examine our conscience well. Here, the focus of our confession is not so much on the sin – though it is obviously part of it. It’s about allowing the Divine Physician, the one made us from the clay of the earth, to keep applying the lotion of His love on our spiritual blindness. And then we can live with purpose.


  1. Embrace the external goods of our Catholic faith. This includes the rose vestments! The treasure of the Church is deep and wide, ancient and ever new. It has forged saints in tough times. In persecution, the numbers of the faithful grew. Why? God, Who has never abandoned His People, wants them to hope in Him, even when its rough. Man sees the rough; God sees into the heart, and into the future He hopes for us. We see the shepherd boy; God sees a king. We see an itinerant Rabbi; He is the Messiah, who speaks with us in the Scriptures and is present in the Sacraments of His Church.

But it also calls us to live out a proper Catholic morality, observing all that the Church tells us is good for the soul. This will mean, also, taking care of the poor – and supporting the St Vincent de Paul’s Challenge while Lent is still with us.

Living as though God exists is not only an exercise to give us hope. We live as though He exists because He does, and He wills to be close to us. Let’s turn to Him, Who is our hope, promising to live with purpose for the Lord Who has made us and saved us. Amen.