Friday, February 8, 2008

First Friday of this Lent

I think it important on the first Friday of this Lenten season to post something about our tendency to reduce faith to morals, thus making it about us, a rejection of grace. Morality, while important, is not the most important thing. Neither is the most important thing to love God. The most important thing is coming to an understanding, even getting a glimpse, of how much God loves us, how much God delights in our very existence, each one of us individually and all of us together. In an article that appeared last year in the lenten issue of Emmanuel magazine, Dcn Owen Cummings writes: "Thirty years ago, Harry Williams, a member of the Community of the Resurrection, began a sermon on Ash Wednesday and Lent with these words: 'It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are.'"

Scripture is instructive on this point: "God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another" (1 Jn 9b-11). This gets things in the right order, we are only able to love in the assurance that we are first loved. Our love of God and of neighbor, if genuine, is always a response to God's love, which is not only prior to our response, but consitutes reality, the reason that anything exists at all. Sadly, we often do not really believe that God can love me, this me. Nonetheless, He does. This, my friends, is the Gospel, the Good News. Lent is about responding in love to Love. Whenever we see a crucifix it is not a reminder of our sinfulness, but of how much God loves us. To believe that our sins are greater than God's love is to grossly overestimate ourselves.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP writes incisively on this point: "The Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence. People often come to us carrying heavy burdens, with lives not in accord with the Church's teaching, the fruit of complex histories. We have nothing to say at all until people know that God rejoices in their very existence, which is why they exist at all" (What is the Point of Being a Christian? pg. 59). What a lovely lenten thought! We exist so that God can rejoice, not in what we do, but in the very fact that we are!

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