Third Sunday of Lent - The Vision of Eternal Life

Source: District of Asia

If you wish to get some idea, my brethren, of the reason for the various prayers and texts which are used at these Masses for the Sundays of Lent, you have to keep in mind the name of the church to which the Catholics of Rome in the early days used to make their pilgrimage for Sunday Mass. Today, the procession would go to the Church of St. Lawrence, the Martyr. You remember how St. Lawrence was burned to death on the gridiron, and how, when his tormentors thought he might give up his faith, he playfully -- and heroically looked up at them and said: "I'm done well enough on one side; why don't you turn me over!" If you keep St. Lawrence before your eyes, you will see how the various parts of the Mass commemorate his virtues, especially his courage.

The Introit is part of Psalm xxiv, which was the psalm used in last Sunday's Introit also. But to-day you would think the prayer of the Introit came straight from the lips of St. Lawrence: "My eyes are fixed on the Lord, and I trust Him to save my feet from the snare. Pity me, O Lord, for I have no friends and I am in great misery." The eyes of Lawrence were intent upon heaven and no pleasure or agony on this earth could make him forget that. his real destiny, his truly permanent existence, lay out beyond the passing of days or the measurement of years; his eyes were on the eternal hills. And the same idea follows us into the Collect or prayer which asks God to defend the humble and fulfil their desires.

The Epistle to the Ephesians warns them to-day that they must detach themselves from pleasures and vain desires and fix their gaze on eternity. Impurity and desires for worldly possessions, clever talk and boisterousness, love of money and unbelief are not for those who have the light of God shining upon them; in fact they are blind and will stay in everlasting darkness. But you, as sons of the light, must live as people who can find their way, not as people who are groping from one thing to another in the gloom and darkness: your path is lighted by faith and you follow where you are looking; so your gaze must be on the eternal kingdom.

Lent is a blessed season because it brings into sharp contrast the purpose we have in life with the purposes of the worldling. In one sense, we have to have illicit desires burned out of us by penance, as St. Lawrence allowed his body to be burned in order to save his soul. But the real fire of penance is a fire of love, and the desire for earthly pleasures, once it is gone, does not leave us without desires, but with a burning love of God. The contrast, then, is in fact a difference between those who love God and those who forget Him or do not want to be reminded of Him. It is particularly during Lent that the difference between the world and us becomes sharpened: there are millions beside us who are wondering what to do with their lives because they do not know why they are here; and we, perversely enough, find ourselves groping along with them until we are forcibly reminded that our days are vanishing as a tale that is told and that our journey is to an eternal land.


It is that very outlook which makes all the difference between our concept of education, our Catholic idea of religion, even our notion of sin, and the secular notion of education or religion or right and wrong. We have a different goal, a different destiny to consider, and so things in this world take on a different meaning for us by comparison. It was this very attitude which could make St. Lawrence cheerful during his martyrdom, which makes people with insurmountable troubles so brave from day to day, which gives life a meaning to some whose usefulness and power of production seem permanently arrested.

The Gradual and the Tract go back again to the idea of fixing our gaze upon God. The verses from Psalm ix and Psalm cxxii bring us the realization of God's power over evil forces, no matter how powerful they may seem at the moment; but we must keep our eyes upon God, as the servant keeps his eyes on the hand of his master. St. Lawrence's enemies won no victory over him even when his body was only a handful of smouldering ashes; they were vanquished and shocked and disappointed; they had come face to face with a greater power than death itself. Human strength could not prevail against divine strength.

The Gospel, strange to say, brings this idea out clearly. God has vanquished the devil by the blood of His martyrs, and St. Lawrence himself foretold that even the empire of the Cæsars would be conquered by Christ. Indeed it was Constantine who founded the Basilica of St. Lawrence. So the devils who were driven out by Our Lord sought later to establish themselves in pagan Rome, only to be driven out again by martyrs like Lawrence the standard-bearer. In ancient mosaics, he is represented with a cross in his hand.


When the Basilica of St. Lawrence had to be enlarged in 578, the large new portion was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and that is why you are reminded of her at the end of to-day's Gospel. Our Lord commends her, not because she is His mother-the greatest privilege a human being could have but because she heard the Word of God and kept it. It was her holiness more than her motherhood which was pleasing to God; the perfect life of grace kept her from great concerns about this earth and opened her ears to every inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord gauges her success not by the honors bestowed upon her, but by her love of doing God's will.

And that love of doing God's will is beautifully expressed in the Offertory verse which comes from Psalm xviii: "The duties which God enjoins give delight to the heart; and the rewards. He gives are sweeter than honey dripping from the comb; by these, I, Thy servant, am guided."

You may call it an over-active imagination, but it is possible that the Christians of ancient days seeing the sparrows and the doves around the Church of St. Lawrence were reminded at the Communion of the verses in Psalm Ixxxiii: "Yea, the sparrow finds a house and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young: near Thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God! Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house: forever they shall praise Thee."

Those inspiring words might be taken to represent the reward of all who forget the world and think mainly upon eternity and the everlasting dwellings prepared by God for the brave and the strong. The violent shall overtake the Kingdom of God!