First Monday in Lent

Be holy, for I, the Lord am holy.

                                                           Leviticus 19:2 

Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”
                                                            Matthew 25: 34-40

.         .         . 


I confess I still tend to associate holiness with piety. But the rest of the passage from Leviticus, and the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s gospel suggest otherwise. God says, ‘be holy’; what follows is not an order for prayer and worship, but instructions in dealing with our neighbours. To live charitably–that is holiness.

So Jesus identifies with the needy: I was hungry, I was naked, I was thirsty, I was in prison. 
Jesus changes everything. We expect to find God in holy places; he comes to us in a stable. We encounter God in the Eucharist; we also meet God in the person of the hungry, homeless stranger. Jesus is the image of the invisible God; in him the fullness of the deity was pleased to dwell. And he says he dwells among us still–in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; in his holy church, his body and his bride; and in those who hunger and thirst, those who are sick or in prison. 


If I cannot love my brother or sister, whom I can see, then how can I say I love God, whom I cannot see? And how can I profess love for God while failing to love his image in the world, in every person? Holiness is as horizontal as it is vertical. And I am not very good at either loving God or loving neighbor, I realise. I need that new heart, that heart of flesh, that God wants to create in me, the heart fit to receive his love and to pour it our lavishly on others. 

Lord in your mercy…

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Wednesday of the fourteenth week of the year

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
    on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
    to keep them alive in famine.
                                      Psalm 32 [33]

.         .       .

The first reading from today is about the famine in Egypt, the first episode in the story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt. It is one of my childhood favorites, the story of Joseph and his many-colored coat, his fall and rise again in Egypt, and his restoration to his family. It made a great musical.

But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Joseph must have been a really annoying kid. He told his older brothers that he would rule over them, and his father singled him out. Now that I have a 9-year-old son who has his challenging days, I can imagine how aggravated his brothers must have been. Not, of course, that they can be excused for getting rid of him. Turns out, though, that it wasn’t such a bad thing after all: God chose ‘to keep them alive in famine’ through the very wrong act they committed.

Now, I should have seen that before. It is a picture of redemption bigger than the one I had five minutes ago. Really. Although I am a big fan of Romans 8:28 (‘God works all things together for the good…’), I tend not to include intentional sins in that ‘everything’ that God causes to work for the good of ‘those who hope in his love.’ So, as I look back over my life and cringe as I remember things I shouldn’t have done, I don’t need to worry so much about the ‘what if I hadn’t…?’ and the ‘what if, instead, I had…?’ No. Certainly things would have turned out differently. And I might have been spared some grief, as surely Joseph’s brothers might have if they had borne with their brother’s vexing attitude. But the purposes of God would not be served any less. I cannot thwart the saving purposes of God.

Does that mean I shouldn’t worry about whether I am acting in accordance with God’s will? Of course not–as St Paul says. But I can act in faith, knowing that even if I have read wrongly, God will still ‘keep [me] alive in famine’: the thing is to ‘hope in his love’. He’s God. That’s all he asks of us.

Deo gratias.