John 3:14-21
Ultimate Sign of Hope by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words 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.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

I guess I never really appreciated how much of a gift faith really is until I read something about an atheist who said he would be willing to believe in God only if he could see just one single piece of evidence that there is a God out there who really cares for us.

Faith is the conviction that God has already given us that sign: “For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son so that every one who believes in Him should not parish but have eternal life.”

That is not a scientific proof to be sure, and would never satisfy an atheist.  Nevertheless, it is a truth that has won many a heart and soul seeking peace and truth, and it gives credence to Our Lord’s words: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”

What does “lifted up” mean except that first He would be lifted up on the cross and then lifted up in glory at the resurrection and ascension?  For this reason, the cross has always been the sign and symbol of the Christian Faith, the sign of God’s deep love and desire to win back the hearts and souls of sinners.

In his encyclical on hope, Pope Benedict XVI speaks briefly about St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese girl who was abducted and sold into slavery.  For years she suffered terribly at the hands of brutal masters.  The abuses she suffered scarred her body for life but, in the end, could not kill her soul.  When she gained her freedom, she joined a religious order in Italy.  In her local community, she was known as “our little brown mother” because of her cheerfulness and gentleness.

In the words of the Holy Father, Josephine put her trust in a master who had “accepted the destiny of being flogged and … now was waiting for her ‘at the Father’s right hand.’  Now she had ‘hope’ – no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: ‘I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me – I am awaited by this Love.  And so my life is good.’” (“Spe Salvi,” No.3)

If ever there was evidence that faith, hope and love are truly supernatural gifts, this is it.  Here is a soul that had every reason to be bitter and hateful, but it learned to love because it knew it was loved.  This conviction did not come simply from reason and science.  This was a gift from the very one who crated her and formed her in the womb, proclaimed and made known to her through the preaching of the Gospel.

The cross will always be held up before all to see.  To some, it may be just another senseless act of violence in a world already full of it.  To some, it will always be a scandal or even absurd to think that God suffered on that cross.  To some, the cross will, indeed, be judgment because it means sacrifice and death to self.  Our Lord said, “The light came into the darkness, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.”  As long as there is love for sin, there will be a hatred for the cross that condemns it, a fear to even look upon it, a desire to tear it down.

As St. Paul said, the cross is an absurdity and a stumbling block for many.  But, if we, too, were to ask for it, perhaps God would give us the faith to see it – as Josephine Bakhita did – as the ultimate sign of life, hope and the power of God’s redeeming love.

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