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Fourth Sunday of Lent

“For God so loved the world…. (Jn. 3:15)

In 1967, a song written by a then unknown country singer named Bobbie Gentry made it all the way to the top of the hit song list – even outdoing the latest Beatle tune!

The song was called “Ode to Billie Joe,” and received eight Grammy nominations.

Known for its haunting Southern Gothic tale about the news that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” the song is not only about the tragedy of a suicide, but even more about the indifference that a family who knew the victim demonstrates at their dinner table while talking about this chilling event.

Listen in while they discuss it:
The narrator’s father says “Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o’ sense; pass the biscuits please;” the narrator’s brother seems momentarily shocked, but then dismissively says: “I’ll have another piece of apple pie; you know it don’t seem right.” Mama is more concerned about the narrator’s change of mood: “Child, what’s happened to your appetite? I been cookin’ all mornin’ and you haven’t touched a single bite.”   

Sadly, the reality is that our society in general could fit right in with this family.
Every year more than some 50,000 Americans die by suicide, one every 10 minutes! Suicide is now the second leading killer for people aged 15-34! (Read that line again!!). White males account for 70% of these deaths, the majority using handguns. “And yet,” one article reports, “Americans simply shrug.”

Our indifference shows up in the fact that states have largely abandoned inpatient treatment for the mentally ill. And, to add insult to injury, the mentally ill are the first to be written off when States go about cutting their budgets. Consequently, our sickest patients now end up in jails and homeless shelters and emergency rooms.
As composer Bobbie Gentry, put it in an interview: There’s an “unconscious cruelty afoot” in our society when it comes to dealing with severe depression and suicide.
Another writer put it this way: “Here’s the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog it creates is like living in a cage without a key.”

“Like living in a cage without a key.” Hopelessness!

Or, as composer Paul Simon, wrote:
            “Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
            I touch no one and no one touches me.
            I am a rock,
            I am an island.
            And a rock feels no pain;
            And an island never cries.”
Thankfully, amid all this sadness comes today’s “Gospel” – a word meaning Good News!

This Gospel talks about a light that penetrates the depth of our darkness. It talks about a God who “so loved the world that He sent His only Son.” It talks about a hope so glorious – eternal life with God! – that it can lift the human spirit and connect each of us to the Source of all life.

John’s Gospel is all about the One sent by the Father precisely to re-ignite the fire of compassion within our hearts so that we can find the energy to believe again, to re-embrace life, to cast out the demons of darkness. And even more than all this, the Good News is: it’s not about what we have to do to earn this.  Instead, it’s all about what God gratuitously does for us:
God sends his Son.

God sends us Jesus so that we can see with our own eyes what St. Paul talks about in today’s second reading when he describes our God as being “rich in mercy;” when he describes you and me as being “brought to life in Christ;” and when he tops it all off by calling each of us God’s “handiwork.”

May God give us the grace this Lent to re-discover the depths of His abundant love for each one of us – especially people drowning in the depths of depression.
Let us also pray that our community of Jesus followers can become the “field hospital” that Pope Francis calls us to be – a “hospital” that becomes the place where our compassion and our sharing of the great sacraments of our faith can transform us into a beacon of light amid so much darkness, an infirmary of hope amid so much despair, and an abode of peace amid so much pain.  

Finally let us pray that together we can create a sense of mission in our society to bring an end to the tragedies of any future Billy Joe McAllister’s.

“For God so loved the world ….”
And everyone in it! Everyone!

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

NOTE: A quote from Pope Francis in his book Let Us Dream: The Path To A Better Future:

“The pandemic crisis we lived through has made visible a throwaway culture. The Covid health measures have exposed, for example, how many of our brothers and sisters do not have housing where social distancing is possible, nor clean water to wash. Think of so many families who live on top of each other in our cities, in the villas miseria, as in Argentina we call the slums and shantytowns, of so many places around the world. Think of the migrant holding centers and refugee camps where people can spend years unwelcome in any place, crammed together. Think of the way they are denied elemental rights: to hygiene, to food, to a dignified life, of how refugee camps turn dreams of a better life into torture chambers. How does a family in a shantytown observe social distancing to avoid contamination? How do they obey the health regulations without clean water? The pandemic crisis exposed these injustices. What will we do about them?”

Art by Jim Matarelli
Sister Rachel’s Quote of the Week

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