Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Importance of Being Sentimental

4th Sunday in Lent (B)

My dear friends, would you consider yourself a sentimental person? Do you, for example, have items that you keep for purely sentimental reasons? If you do, what happens to you when you look at them? What effect do they have on you?

Those of us who’ve had the opportunity to watch the movie Wonder Woman may recall that it begins and ends with just such an object. Something that has sentimental value. A faded old black-and-white photograph, which Wonder Woman receives as a gift at the beginning of the movie. And this object has a particular effect on our hero. It causes her to recall significant scenes from her past. Indeed the whole movie is an extended flashback. A retelling of the moving background story that gives that old photograph its deep meaning. Its sentimental value. A story that motivates Wonder Woman to continue fighting to save the world.

Sentimental objects that evoke significant memories and deep feelings. Filling people with the power they need to fulfil their mission. This is also what we find in our prayers and readings on this 4th Sunday in Lent. As we mentioned at the beginning, today is Laetare Sunday, from our entrance antiphon, which calls us all to rejoice! To be joyful! To exult and be satisfied! But how do we do all that? How do we make ourselves joyful and satisfied, especially if we happen to be sad or angry? Stressed out or frustrated? Sleepy or just plain bored?

Perhaps we need to do what Wonder Woman did in the movie. Perhaps we need to look at something with real sentimental value. Something like what we find in the first reading, which makes repeated references to the Temple in Jerusalem. A building that evokes very significant memories for the people of Judah. Reminding them of the story of their past. A story that the reading retells in a very moving way. A story of the people’s infidelity to God and, in sharp contrast, of God’s steadfast loyalty to them.

A story of how they kept insisting on worshipping idols. Of how they even defiled the Temple, the holy place where God had chosen to live among them. And yet, in spite of their stubborn disobedience, God did not hold the people’s sin against them. God kept sending messengers to call them back. Even when their rebellious ways eventually led to the destruction of the Temple, and their own exile in Babylon, God still refused to forget them. Refused to abandon them. But arranged instead for them to eventually return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the Temple. A new sacred place for them to meet and to worship God. A fresh expression of God’s undying love and mercy towards them.

So that, for the people of Judah, the new Temple becomes something like what that faded old photograph was for Wonder Woman. An object of great sentimental value. Evoking significant memories and deep feelings. Giving them the power to carry out their mission. To live joyfully as a light to the nations. Bearing witness to God’s love in the world. Provided they know how to appreciate the Temple. Provided they allow themselves to be sentimental.

And it’s not just the people of Judah who are blessed in this way. The readings remind us that we Christians are too. That we also have been given something that can fill us with a similar power. Something of great sentimental value. Isn’t this what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus in the gospel? The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. What does this mean, if not that the image of Christ on the Cross serves a similar purpose for us as the new Temple in Jerusalem did for the people of Judah. That it has, or should have, for us great sentimental value.

It should have the power to evoke significant memories and deep feelings in us, provided we believe wholeheartedly in the One that the image depicts, the One who was lifted up on the Cross. Provided we take the trouble to remember the moving background story of his Dying and Rising. And how it relates to us. The same story that the second reading summarises for us. The story of God’s indestructible love and mercy shown to us in Christ Jesus. When we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ… 

The image of Christ on the Cross, this should be for us an image of great sentimental value. It should evoke in us significant memories and deep feelings. The same memories and feelings that should permeate our every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The same memories and feelings that have the power to fill our hearts with joy and gratitude. Motivating us to live our God-given mission to the full. To live by the truth. To live in the light. To show the world that everything we do is indeed done in God. In God’s love and mercy. In Christ Jesus.

But in order for this image to have its desired effect, we must first have the capacity to be moved by it. To become sentimental. Which isn’t always easy for us. We who often allow the distractions and difficulties of daily life to cause us to become jaded and hardened. Forgetful of the moving story of our salvation. And immune to the deep feelings it should evoke in us. As a result of which, we may sometimes come to Mass purely as a matter of routine, or obligation, without a true appreciation of its deeper meaning and awesome power. 

Isn’t this why we need this great season of Lent? A time for us to pause and allow ourselves once again to recall our story. To remember God’s love. And to regain the capacity to truly rejoice in the Lord. For if even a superhero like Wonder Woman must draw her power from sentimental things, then what more mere mortals like you and me.

My dear sisters and brothers, what must we do to allow the Lord to renew our capacity for experiencing true and godly sentiment today?

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