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Friday, first week of Lent

March 10, 2006

Blessed “little Good Friday”!

Today we again express our gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made for us by giving Him the gift of our own sacrifice, by foregoing meat for love of Him. May this love fill all our actions today.

Ezekiel 18:21-28 (repentant sinners will live, but if the righteous turn to sin, they’ll die)
Psalm 130:1-8 “If you, O Lord, laid bare our guilt who could endure it?”
+Matthew 5:20-26 (be reconciled to each other)

Just last week we were told, “repent and believe in the Good News” as we entered this season of Lent. What does that mean, anyway? Doesn’t “repent” mean “feel bad about yourself”? What does that have to do with good news? And why were the same words spoken to everybody? Isn’t repentance only for bad people?

Our readings today begin to answer these questions. To repent is to choose life. The wicked man who repents shall live, while the one who turns away from righteousness shall die (Ezekiel 18:21, 24). To repent is to choose love. The repentance to which Jesus calls us in the Gospel is a potent form of love, self-sacrificial love, under fire. No one feels angry unless they feel wronged. Yet it is under that very condition that Jesus requires us to rise to supernatural heights of giving of ourselves to make things right. We may think we’re already rising to supernatural heights in bringing a sacrifice to God’s altar. Yet God tells us (as He’s told us before in Isaiah 58) that the sacrifice He’s really looking for is the one we’re avoiding. The sacrifice that demonstrates the authenticity of our love for Him, whom we cannot see, is the sacrificial love we show our brother, whom we can see (see John 4:20). That’s why we must offer the gift of reconciliation to our brother before we bring our sacrifice to God at His altar.

The good news is that we can repent. We can choose this life and love. Through the grace of Baptism and the other Sacraments, we have been filled with supernatural power to overcome the obstacles that our fallen, weakened human nature puts in the way of our living up to this supernatural calling. We have been given a share of the very inner life of the Blessed Trinity! (see Colossians 2:9-12) That’s part of the very definition of a Sacrament. A Sacrament is an outward sign that Jesus established in order to give us a share in the inner life of God Himself. Each outward sign corresponds to the facet of that life which God gives us (i.e., the outward sign of death and resurrection in Baptism brings about the death to sin and resurrection to God’s supernatural life in our souls; the outward sign of eating in Holy Communion brings about the nourishing of our souls on the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Himself, etc.).

And we are all capable of this repentance, of this choice for life and love. There is no pit of sin so deep that God’s mercy cannot reach us when we cry to Him for life. Nor is there a “glass ceiling” in the spiritual life, no pinnacle of holiness at which there’s nowhere to go but down. There’s always more. There’s always more life; more life to receive, more life to live, more life to give. There’s always more love; more love to receive, more love to live, more love to pour out on those who need it most. There has to be. God is life. God is love. And God is infinite.

The righteous person who hasn’t discovered this is actually in a more precarious position than the wicked person who has, especially if their righteousness stems more from habit and/or from a naturally compliant personality than from conviction and reliance on supernatural power. If they start to think, “I’m a good person. God likes me. He won’t mind if I indulge in this little pleasure”, or if they find themselves under pressure to give in to temptation, they’re easy prey for the enemy of souls. Through Ezekiel, God tells us that if they fall for the lie, if they turn to sin, they will die. Their previous holiness will not save them.

The person who’s aware of their own wickedness, in fact, has an advantage here. They have no illusions of God owing them anything. The weight of their past sin, once it’s been forgiven, becomes a debt of gratitude they know they will never be able to repay. And in order to turn from their wickedness they’ve already gained valuable experience in the battle against temptation. The devil does not easily give up his prey, but the very discipline and exercise of struggling free from his grasp builds the spiritual strength they will need to safeguard their new freedom and to run forward in the spiritual life. It also drives home the impossibility of living a supernatural life on natural strength.

May we receive this call to repentance as a call to hope; to a new life and love that surpass our wildest dreams. May we answer the call, drawing on the supernatural life we’ve received through the Sacraments, that we may be transformed from glory to glory into the very image of God Himself through His Holy Spirit (see II Corinthians 3:18).

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