Canticle for Laetare Sunday

I will sprinkle clean water upon you,                                                                                                     and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses,                                                                          and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you;                                             and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes                               and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Ezekiel 36. 25-27

Makes me wonder what all the fuss about free will is about. ‘I will put my Spirit within you,’ says the Lord, ‘and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.’ I will cause you to follow the law: this is how God consoles a wayward, hard-hearted people–not by relaxing the law or even by forgiving and forgetting. The Lord forgives, but does not forget: he remembers that we are but dust. He washes our sins away but remembers our fallen condition and provides for us accordingly. As St Paul observed, at the right time, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In Christ we have more even than what Ezekiel promises: a paradigm. Christ is the one with the heart of flesh; he is the one in whom the Spirit dwells fully; he is the one who keeps God’s law perfectly; and he does this all freely. That is the work of the Spirit, to restore our freedom. God does not cause us to follow the law by thwarting our will and desires, but by healing them, transforming them. Under the Spirit’s guidance, we do not act as puppets. We act as we were created to act. We live according to our creation in the image of God. The Spirit does not cause us to follow an alien law, but the law that has been written on our hearts.

I suppose this is the natural law, in the view of philosophers who study such things. It is the law, that is, of our nature. In our fallen state, however, being true to our nature as creatures of the living God requires grace. Fortunately, it seems pretty clear, from Genesis all the way through, that grace is exactly what God wants to give us.

Deo gratias.

the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Perhaps the gospel reading for today might seem a little dull. After all, a genealogy is hardly the liveliest of narratives (if I can even call it a narrative). We find, in Matthew’s gospel, a list of a great many men becoming the fathers of a great many sons, in succession from Abraham to Joseph.

Yet among those declarations that ‘x became the father of y, and y became the father of z‘, there are a few hints that between Abraham and Joseph some extraordinary things happened. Tamar (read about her in Genesis 38!) appears, although the tale is not one that reflects well on Judah. Foreigners Rahab (who hid the spies; see Joshua 2) and Ruth (who has a whole book for her biography) take their place also. And one of the most poignant narratives in the life of David is summed up in the mention of the one who ‘had been Uriah’s wife.’ And it’s not just about the women–though that would be enough to make the genealogy fascinating: Matthew’s gospel does not omit the mention of the long exile in Babylon. Not the most auspicious of lineages for the messiah–too many scandals entirely.

I heard this gospel read out after having arrived at Mass in quite a low mood. Maybe it’s just the woes of a mid-life flutter (not really a crisis): am I really doing anything with this life I have been given? Shouldn’t I somehow be doing more, making more of an impact on this needy and troubled world in which we live? Have I failed to do what I ought to have done with my first 40-odd years? And what can I possibly do in the next decades (God willing) that will make up for the sad lack of world-saving I have been doing? Pathetic, I know. But I suspect not unique.

And there was the answer, right there in the middle of an apparently boring genealogy. There is no failure that can thwart God’s salvation. The world-saving was never up to me, anyway (Deo gratias). It has been done by the one in whose lineage so many mistakes and  disappointments appear. However much the people of God may have gone astray in the years before the coming of Christ, he still came. Nothing I can do or fail to do will undo the work of God’s eternal wisdom, who arranges all things delightfully (Wisdom 8:1). God will be all in all. My place in it must be small, but that does not mean that it has no significance. It just means that its meaning may well be hidden until the end of time.

As St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote in Love of the Cross:

To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels–this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.

And so it is. Bring on the dirt.

Deo gratias.

Friday of the first week in Lent

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,
   And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
   More than the watchmen for the morning;
   Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
   For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
   And He will redeem Israel
   From all his iniquities. (Psalms 130:5-8 NASB)

.        .      .

Today, a challenge: can I be quiet enough in the midst of a crowded airport to reflect properly on the Scripture? The last few days have not been especially Lenten: a trip to Rome for my birthday and to see a friend. Gelato was involved.

Also, though, lots of visits to churches. Although I am a terrible tourist, and hate seeing ‘the sights’, I love visiting churches. I especially love those churches whose long years have seen many, many penitents and worshippers on their knees before God. Rome is full of those–churches where for centuries people have waited on the Lord.

But none of those churches is as dear to my heart as the beautiful and unassuming Santa Maria in Trastevere. Turing the corner yesterday evening, and finding myself in the piazza in front of the church was pure joy. And entering the church, hoping for a moment of quiet prayer, to find Mass beginning…was whatever is more wonderful than pure joy. It was the thing I had most desired, perhaps, as I thought about this trip to Rome. But I had not said so.

As I visited other churches in Rome over the past couple of days, I sometimes wondered about all the grandeur, and all those who had gone before, hoping in the resurrection. Eschatology has never been my strong suit. But there, in Santa Maria in Trastevere, I knew the lovingkindess of God. So, back to the usual tension between knowing God, and wondering how it all fits together. God is good, and yet…things can be hard, I can be uncertain.

So this psalm is for me, and for all who find the way difficult: ‘hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is lovingkindess and abundant redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.’

Deo gratias.