The 4th Sunday of Lent
First Reading: 2nd Book of Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 137:1-6
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: According to St. John 3:14-21
The phrase “vote early and often” is one steeped in both fact and legend. As a youngster I was told that it had a direct relation to the successful attempt on the part of Mayor Daly of Chicago to deliver the Land of Lincoln to John F. Kennedy in the presidential election of 1960. As the story goes, it was through the miraculous support at the polls of the deceased citizens of Cook County that JFK was aided in becoming our first Catholic president by winning Illinois’s 27 electoral votes by a whopping by 0.18%.
I had not yet heard of the Tammany Hall political machine in New York and their practice of giving a few dollars and some hooch to those willing to take their voting rights to the next level. Nor did I know that Irish politician Thomas Kelly gave his blessing to the practice by telling the good people of Eire that “If a poor man is sick in hospital and not able to get out, surely it is a good turn to see that his vote is registered. If he has gone away and his neighbors know his opinions, I do not see any harm in personation...vote early and often.”
The Chronicler in the Old Testament makes use of the phrase “early and often” not in relation to marking a ballot, but as a description of God’s attempts to get through to His Chosen People. Time and time again a messenger is sent, and time and time again the Israelites “mocked the messengers of God, despised His warnings, and scoffed at His prophets.”
As a reading for the fourth Sunday of Lent, this story perfectly sets the stage for us all to ponder whether or not we take personal heed of God’s continuous interventions in our lives. Do we mock the messengers? Do we despise the warnings? Do we scoff at the prophets?
In the physical realm we can pay a very high price – possibly the price of our lives – if we treat our physician the way the Israelites treated God’s messengers. “Give up smoking? Get more exercise? Stop living on Doritos and Wild Turkey? Nonsense!” Who would look at this person and say that he was following a proper path to good health and a long life?
We tend to be pretty good at heeding the advice of those in the physical health field because we see them as experts who know what they are talking about. The question that this weekend’s Old Testament reading asks all of us is: How good are we at heeding the advice of those in the spiritual health field? Do we listen to God’s messengers or do we mock, despise and scoff at their prescriptions for a healthy spiritual lifestyle?
In the last half-century the medical community has gone back and forth on the benefits or detriments of a number of foods. Is coffee good for us? Is chocolate good for us? What about carbohydrates? What about fats? Athletes of a certain age would remember carving into a huge steak dinner right before a big game. Is there any athlete today still on that pre-game regimen? Yet we put our trust in these women and men of science while all too often going it alone in the realm of the spiritual and Theological.
So that we might have a long earthly life and not perish we need to pay attention to what we are told by a very fallible, yet generally knowledgeable, medical community. Even more so we need to heed the spiritual instructions of the infallible Lord and His Church. In this weekend’s Gospel reading St. John reminds us that this is why God sent His only Son to us: “so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”
God still sends us messages and messengers early and often. With the second half of Lent at our disposal now is a great time to examine how we look at those messages and how we treat those messengers sent to us by God, early and often. This perfect Spiritual Physician always knows the right prescription for each of us, and it is a prescription that we need to fill early and often.