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Monday, second week of Lent

March 1, 2010

Blessed Monday!

…and blessed March! You’ll find Pope Benedict’s prayer intentions for this new month by following the link on the right side of this page…

We’re a little more than one-quarter of the way through our Lenten retreat.
How’s it going?

Daniel 9:4-10 (Daniel confesses his people’s sin and begs forgiveness)
Psalm 79:8-13 “Lord, do not deal with us as our sins deserve”
+Luke 6:36-38 (as you give and forgive, so shall you receive and be forgiven)

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard for us to agree with God.

He’s always right, after all…and it’s not as if we gain anything by disagreeing with Him. But it is hard. Ever since Eve committed that first act of distrust toward Him we’ve been spiritual fugitives, fleeing Reality at our own expense. Francis Thompson calls this Reality the Hound of Heaven who pursues us with “unhurrying chase…deliberate speed, majestic instancy” in order to restore to us the love and fulfillment we have so blindly cast aside; the treasures, nay, necessities, we can only find in communion with Him.

Daniel’d had enough of fleeing God. He himself was a righteous man, risking life and limb to follow God’s commands (he’d already survived the lion’s den) but he was living in the aftermath of his nation’s apostasy, and he was wise enough to learn from the experience. God had told Israel that if they tried to create their own reality they would self-destruct. As always, He was right. Jerusalem lay in ruins, her best and brightest either dead or carried off into captivity in Babylon (modern Iraq) because the Israelites had refused to do what God knew was best for them. This is exactly what Daniel tells God (in so many words). “You were right, God. We blew it. We got exactly what we asked for.”

This is what we do in the Sacrament of Confession. We agree with God for a change. That can be meant both ways. It’s unusual for us to agree with God (we agree with God for a change), and we agree with Him that we can’t go on like this (we agree with God for a change). We speak the simple, uncomfortable truth. We’ve fallen short. We need forgiveness. We need to change. We need help. That’s called humility, and there’s nothing like it to open the gates of Heaven in a flood of divine love, tenderness and power for new life. Finally, God can trust us! Because we’ve chosen to trust Him. He tells us so personally, tangibly, through the words of the priest He has commissioned to deliver His forgiveness to us.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us how to demonstrate that our humility is genuine, that we really are trustworthy. In addition to agreeing with what God says, we need to agree with what God does by imitating Him. Specifically, we need to imitate His divine generosity by giving and forgiving for the sake of those who are in need of our mercy. Anyone can put on a good show in an attempt to save their own skin. In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus drives this point home with the story of the servant who was forgiven an enormous sum, but who then had a fellow servant tortured over a trivial debt. This man was not trustworthy! His forgiveness was justly revoked.

Something we tend to lose sight of is the fact that forgiveness doesn’t just materialize out of thin air. Somebody has to pay for it. In our society it’s very popular to urge people to get out of debt free, without paying another dime (we see this in SPAM emails all the time). But debts don’t just go away. If the rightful debtor won’t pay them, then the lender has to, at a loss. The king who forgave his servant wasn’t just saying nice words. He was sacrificially paying his unfaithful servant’s enormous debt out of his own royal pocket. That’s love!

We’re living on spiritual credit. We owe our very existence to God, never mind the shower of goods and blessings He’s lavished upon us. He’s paying for it all Himself. We can’t. Then we incurred debts on top of that by turning away from Him, rejecting Him and wasting the very blessings He’d created for us. Talk about adding insult to injury!

That was the infinite debt He paid for us on the Cross.

We will never be able to repay Him for that either. What we can do in order to respond faithfully to such amazing love is to give to those in need as God has given to us, and to pay the infinitely smaller debts other people owe us by forgiving them. “The gift you have received, give as a gift” (Matthew 10:8). This is genuine humility. This is what we need to do to agree with God. We must give as we have received. In turn, we will receive as we have given. God will not be outdone in generosity. If we are faithful in small things, He will entrust us with more. If not, the little we have will be taken away (see Matthew 25:14-30).

If we take our eyes off the treasures of this world, which moth and rust will corrode and thieves break in and steal (see Matthew 6:19-20), and set our sights on eternity, we will begin to realize that we have nothing to lose by agreeing with God. We have everything to gain.

May we humbly agree with God,
opening our rebellious hearts to His tender mercy in Sacramental Confession
and forgiving others in imitation of His divine generosity.

Yours in divine agreement,

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