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Friday, first week of Lent

March 6, 2009

Blessed Ember 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. Today is also the second of our three vernal Ember Days, sanctifying the coming springtime with prayer and penance.

In our diocese, today is a “Day of Prayer and Penance for Diocesan and Universal Church needs”.

Lord, may our observance of Lent
help to renew us and prepare us
to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for Mass)

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)

The way we turn makes all the difference.

Even if our holiness is spotless (as Adam and Eve’s was), one turn toward betrayal ruins everything. We may not presume. On the other hand, even if our sins are as scarlet, if we’ve chosen every form of death there is, one turn toward surrender will save us. We may not despair. God’s the expert at resurrection.

So far, so good. But Jesus takes us to a new level. Repentance isn’t just a matter of “me & God” to the exclusion of other people. It can’t be. God has taken on a Body which is composed of people! (see Romans 12:5, I Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:30, etc.) We cannot turn toward God unless we also turn toward His Body.
If someone wished to kiss your cheek, but insisted at the same time on trampling your feet; if with nailed boots he were to crush your feet as he tries to hold your head and kiss you, wouldn’t you interrupt his expressions of respect and cry out: what are you doing, man? You are trampling upon me…It is for this reason that before He ascended into Heaven our Lord Jesus Christ recommended to us His Body, by which He was to remain on earth. For He foresaw that many would pay Him homage because of His glory in Heaven, but that their homage would be vain, so long as they despise His members on earth. –St. Augustine, Epist. ad Parthos,
“Everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; any man who uses abusive language toward his brother shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and if he holds him in contempt he risks the fires of Gehenna.” (Mathew 5:22).

God identifies Himself even with those who are most likely to anger us, with the insensitive, the unjust, the clueless–with dishonest politicians, demeaning bosses, aggressive drivers.

“For our sakes, God made Him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in Him we might become the very holiness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

When we trample on people–even those who deserve it–we trample on Christ. When we violate their personhood, treating them with contempt, we must reconcile with them–the Greek means “to change radically before another”–before we bring our repentance to God. Anything less will cost us dearly.

What we need to trample, whether we find it in ourselves or in someone else, is sin, loving the sinner who’s been enslaved by sin enough to set them free. This freedom must be won with the greatest humility and reverence for their personhood, with the love which is a willingness to lay down our life for their eternal salvation, with unrelenting kindness. This is indeed a most radical change before one who has roused our contempt! It is utterly impossible for us on our own. “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense” but with God, all things are possible: “but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2843).

May we turn toward the love that is stronger than death.

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