“True Belief and the Path to Lasting Peace and Joy”

Homily, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year “B”
Mass of Renewal of Blessing for St. Augustine Church
March 10, 2023


It is good that we come together today, at this time when we are feeling such great loss and a sense of being violated, and very sad.  Yet, in the midst of this sense of threat and distress, our Mass today for this Fourth Sunday of Lent presents us with what is probably the most beloved verse in all of Scripture, the famous 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.”

This is certainly a message of great hope for us, hope for salvation.  We know our Lord is always there for us and will see us through difficult times such as this.  At the same time, though, it would seem overly simplistic to think everything is copacetic all the time.  Times such as this tell us that there is more to the story.

Consequences for Sin

And, indeed, notice what our Lord says right after these great words of hope: he is speaking of belief, and the eternal life inherited by those who believe, but he also goes on to say: “whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  So, a warning of condemnation as well.  It is a sobering reminder that there are consequences for our actions and very negative consequences for sin.  The ultimate consequence, of course, is loss of eternal life, but we also bear consequences in this life as well: sin always comes back to haunt us, wreaking all kinds of havoc.  This is true not only in the life of the individual, but corporately as well, society as a whole.

We have a glaring example in what we hear from the first reading for our Mass today.  We are told that all of the people – the civil authorities, the religious authorities, and all the citizens – “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.”  Those “abominations of the nations” were the offering of sacrifices to idols, the false pagan gods of their powerful neighbors.  Bad enough as that was, the people didn’t stop there – they committed the greatest of blasphemies possible by offering these pagan sacrifices in the very dwelling place of God, the Temple which God Himself consecrated.  God loved them, and because of that He kept sending them prophets to warn them, but the people paid no heed, they “scoffed” at them, as the reading says.

The result?  Their kingdom was invaded, destroyed, and the people deported into exile and even the Temple itself was disgraced and destroyed.  God had to bring His people low to win them back to Hhimself, and even allowed the blasphemy of the destruction of the Temple in order to get His message across.  Thus, the consequence for sin: here, the ultimate sin of idolatry carries with it the ultimate consequence.  The people as a whole turned away from the true God of the Covenant to the pagan worship of their powerful neighbors.

This should give us a haunting feeling when we look around the world today.  We see in our own time a similar movement away from God, scoffing and ignoring of the messages and messengers that God sends us to warn us what will happen if we keep going down this path.  But it will be no different for us, as was shown right here at St. Augustine parish: here, 2,500 years after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, we see again an attack on the temple of God.  It is a sort of postmodern form of idolatry: not worshiping material objects made by human hands, but making gods out of selfish desires – the lust for power, self-indulgence, the canceling out of anyone who would dare to disagree rather than trying to understand them.

What it Means to Believe

There is, though, an antidote to this: it is, simply, to believe.  The question, though, is, what does it really mean to believe?  Again, the answer is not so simplistic.  It certainly involves more than just lip service.

What does St. Paul tell us in his Letter to the Ephesians?  This is what he says: “by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works so no one may boast.”  That is to say, the work of our salvation is the work of God – as he says, “even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] brought us to life with Christ” – we cannot do it ourselves.  It should be more than obvious to us that, without God, we are helpless before the powers of darkness and death, of sin and evil; that apart from God, we will never achieve true and lasting peace.  The increasing misery in our world in the form of violence of different kinds, of poverty, of loneliness and anxiety, is all the consequence of a move away from God.

It takes God to fix this, but the first step is for us to believe, which, as Jesus says, means moving into the light.  When St. Paul says that our salvation is not from works, he is not saying that good works have nothing to do with it.  Indeed, elsewhere he extols works of charity.  What he is saying is that the attitude that one can be saved simply by fulfilling certain religious duties is doomed to failure.  And the one who truly believes will manifest his or her faith through a life of virtue, made visible in their behavior and the charity exercised toward others. 

Such a one lives in the light, and so has nothing to hide.  As Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “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.”  Just as thieves carry out their nefarious activities under the cover of darkness, those immersed in a life of sin want their evil deeds hidden.  But the one who believes, truly believes, who believes with single-hearted devotion and purity of conscience, has nothing to hide.  This is the one who “lives the truth [and so] comes to the light.”

Signs of Faith, Goodness, Goodwill

If we are going to be people who come to the light, then, we must look to the light.  We must see where there is light and dwell in it.  And points of light there certainly are.  I see light when I look out at you all.  A community of faith that is vibrant and living their faith in the light, handing that faith on to the next generation so that they can know the truth and goodness of God, and know his Son Jesus Christ, and so love and serve him and thereby be happy here in this life and perfectly happy with him forever in the next.  I am also ever grateful to Fr. Ray for his leadership in this parish and his faithful priestly service.  He’s been a very highly valued collaborator of mine for all of my years as the Archbishop of San Francisco, and he is a real light here in our Archdiocese.

I also see light in the presence of so many of our city officials present at this Mass:

Sharon Ranals, City Manager;

Scott Campbell, Chief of Police;

Captain Adam Plank;

Lieutenant Marty Mahon;

Lieutenant Chris Devan;

Lieutenant Matt O’Connor;

Mark Nagales, Councilman (with family, who worship here at St Augustine).

Thank you, thank you, thank you for being with us today.  On behalf of all of us, I cannot tell you how much this means to us.  When we can so easily feel abandoned and ignored in times of distress such as this, knowing that we have the support of our civil leaders bolsters our spirits and confirms us in our desire to work together for the common good of our community.


Yes, it is true: “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.”  This is the message of hope, hope that never dies.  Even in the midst of darkness and distress, the light of hope shines through.  It is much like the prayer and penance which marks this season of Lent for us: we deprive ourselves of legitimate pleasures to help us be more selfless, but we are reminded that this is the path to joy.  Thus, the lighter colored vestments on this Fourth Sunday of Lent.  The usual violet vestments of Lent represent penance and keeping vigil (awake during the night) for a great feast, but the festive rose color reminds us that those who remain faithful in their belief – which is precisely what penance and works of charity are to help us to do – make themselves capable of joy, and perfect joy forever in heaven.

Let us, then, choose the path of belief, not just with our lips but with our whole lives.  Let us dwell in the light and spread that light to the world by lives of virtue and good works.  Let us show by our example that lasting peace and goodwill is attainable if we let God do the work.  That’s the deal: we believe in the full and true sense of what belief means, and then God will do the work to bring us peace, goodwill, and a rightly ordered society – and, in the life to come, eternal salvation: unending peace, dwelling forever in the light of His presence in heaven.  May God grant us this grace.  Amen.