The structure and sequenceof our liturgical year, in itself, teach a basic lesson. So, we have completed our celebration of the Resurrection, the absolutely basic Christian mystery (without resurrection we...
THIS SUNDAY’S PSALM [51 or 50]
provides us with a splendid Lenten focus and goal. The closing stanza of our extract begins with:
Restore in me the joy of salvation;
sustain in me a willing spirit.
All reminders of the fact that God-in-Christ is the source of
SALVATION have a unique value. The overall focus of all Lenten Seasons is the reminder that through the Christ’s ministry, Passion, Death and Resurrection we have been saved, made different from the rest of Creation. We have been given the possibility of building, nurturing and developing a PERSONAL and lasting relationship with our Lord and God. This is the “joy of salvation.”
However, Lent always provides us with something else – an opportunity to renew, on an ongoing basis, a willingness of making ourselves available to take on some sort of routine which will
SUSTAIN us as we continue our journey of discipleship. The joy of salvation needs to be sustained by a willing spirit. It does not happen by accident. It has to be worked on and at.
In addition, nothing is achieved by adopting some sort of masochistic programme of prayer and penance. Christian masochism, penance for the sake of penance, is counterproductive. Lent is not an end in itself. The final week may well be a reminder of the Lord’s suffering and death but the climax is
RESURRECTION. We are supposed to enjoy Lent – not merely survive it!
We continue our reflection with other words from today’s Psalm, and begin to understand the emphasis so far suggested. Therein we read: “Create a pure heart for me, O God; renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We must, in these coming Lenten weeks, develop our acceptance that the seeking of a willing spirit must become a renewal of our joyful commitment to achieve something which issteadfast and not merely of a temporary nature.
As we keep this in mind, it should not escape us that, firstly, we have to honestly face and admit our transgressions – “truly know them” as our Psalm says. Secondly, we all have to learn, more and more, that sin is sin. It is an evil. In other words
our sin is always against God. This is often forgotten. It is a sin against God when I use harsh words while remonstrating with an assistant, a member of staff, a child or a spouse. It may well be that ‘the other’ is deeply hurt and offended but the Lord, our Christian God, is sinned against. God is always offended by such actions. He is disappointed in me. He expects better of me. I need to truly know this. I need to know and accept that my action is evil in his sight.
If we ask our Father-God to “forgive us our trespasses” we need to know that our trespasses have been against him not only if other people are involved – littering and pollution are also sins against God.
None of this is aimed at engendering an obsessive sense of guilt
. Too often merely feeling guilty becomes an escape hatch for facing God honestly and simply accepting that “against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done.” This isthe first step away from mere guilty feelings. It is the first step to the full understanding of the Father’s “merciful love …. his great compassion.” Guilt blinds us to this fact and leads us to squander the love of God.
This love and compassion are an essential part of the “free gift” Saint Paul refers to in our
NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 5: 12 – 19]. This gift “is not like the trespass” because it is the fruit ofa willing and steadfast spirit.
Now we need to reflect on the images presented by
OUR OLD TESTAMENT READING [GENESIS 2: 7 – 9. 3: 1 – 7] and TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 4: 1 – 11]. Adam and Eve had everything yet they managed to squander God’s love because they were unwilling to be steadfast in spirit. They failed to recognise that their proud desire to be “like God” was not simply an act of disobedience but a sin against God. On the other hand we encounter in the Gospel the steadfast spirit of Jesus who was unwilling to cast himself away from his Father’s presence. He was not about to squander anything. Genesis records that Adam and Eve gave in at the very first hurdle. Jesus cleared three in a row.
Our Lenten efforts should never become a seasonal effort aimed merely at ‘dodging the bullet’ until Easter. Rather it is about establishing within me a firmer fixture of steadfastness and willingness. It is about seeing more clearly how and why I must “worship the Lord our God and him only to serve” in the holistic living out of my life and commitments.