Prayer and Reconciliation- Reflection for Mass of March 6, 2009

7 Mar

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday of the First Week of Lent

World Day of Prayer

Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-28, Psalm 130: 1-6, Gospel of Matthew 5:20-26

The French philosopher Gabriel Marcel once wrote that “to love someone is to say, ‘you at least will not die.’” (1) Those words encompass much of the meaning of Lent, a season during which we celebrate the absolute mercy of God. On Ash Wednesday, we were enjoined to repent from our sin and to believe in the Gospel. Lent is truly, then, a celebration filled with faith and hope in that good news of God’s love for us.

Scripture tells us that God, who breathed life into our earthly and earthbound bodies, “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him…might have eternal life.” (2) By means of rhetorical questions, the prophet Ezekiel communicates a similar message to that of John the Evangelist: God is not pleased with “the death of the wicked,” (3) nor does He keep a tally of our sins in an effort to condemn us, but instead God goes to great lengths to persuade us to turn freely toward Him and away from evil. Our Father sent us Jesus, His Son who, after His baptism in the Jordan, spent forty Spirit-filled days fasting in the wilderness. Jesus encountered and rebuffed the deception of grandeur offered by Satan- of power that is impossible in the absence of a relationship with God.

Christ so loved us that He went on to live as one of us, to teach us, to pray for us, and to die and to rise for us. During Lent, we journey with Jesus in the desert from His baptism to His death. Our lives naturally follow the same path as the life of Christ, with the same Divine call to welcome the mystery and promise of the Resurrection. A God who calls us together to accept such a wondrous gift is not limited by any human notion of justice. Therefore, Ezekiel reminds a people still in exile that it is not the Lord’s way but the way of the house of Israel that is not fair. (4) God is more than just fair to His people; He waits for us to repent and to respond in kind to His loving mercy. Both Ezekiel, in today’s first reading, and Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, emphasize that it is never too late to break from the course that leads to our ruin.

In addition, Jesus challenges us to act in God-like justice and not only in legalistic fairness toward our neighbour. As with God forgiveness is boundless, our reconciliation with each other is never too late if we are to gain Heaven. Jesus contends that it can be achieved even at the last minute- “on the way to court.” (5) If, on the contrary, we spout insults and put-downs, or persist in harbouring deep anger and resentment, we gradually destroy life, thus Jesus warns that we are in breach of the commandment not to kill and will be liable to human and to Divine judgement, and ultimately to Gehenna, the “hell of fire.” (6)

Deror Avi, Valley of Hinnom, October 19, 2007.

Deror Avi, Valley of Hinnom, October 19, 2007.

Jesus speaks of Gehenna, the Jewish equivalent to hell, in reference to the Valley of Hinnom, situated outside the southwest gate of Jerusalem, also called the Dung Gate. Gehenna conjured up mental pictures of horrors that actually took place in the Valley of Hinnom- it was Jerusalem’s garbage dump in Jesus’ time. Unclean animals and waste were burned there, and lepers scavenged the refuse. Gehenna had been the site of pagan human sacrifice and the final resting place of the bodies of executed criminals. (7) Not surprisingly, Gehenna evoked fear when Jesus mentioned it. The Valley of Hinnom brought two images to my mind: the bus route past the piles of garbage burning along the freeways in Cali and frequent walks through Windsor’s Malden Park, affectionately known as “the dump.” Just as the Valley of Hinnom today is no longer the vile rubbish heap it once was, as some efforts were being taken to clean up Cali while I was there, and as Windsor’s former landfill has become a pleasant place for a walk, so God wills to bring us to reconciliation- to transform our sinful waste into something beautiful and life-giving.

View from Malden Park, Windsor, ON

View from Malden Park, Windsor, ON

Reconciliation- the restoration and building of relationship with God and with humankind- requires us to pray for one another. Today we mark the World Day of Prayer, observed by several Christian traditions on the first Friday in March, (8) to bring to mind our need to pray for an end to divisions between baptized followers of Jesus. The section on prayer in our Catechism opens with a striking definition of prayer from St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

In her autobiography, St. Thérèse wrote: “…Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” (9)

“Prayer is a surge of the heart…” When we pray, we recall with tremendous gratitude that, as we enter the Lord’s house to celebrate the Eucharist, God has already resolved to forgive us our sin.

“It is a simple look toward heaven…” We then acknowledge the Father’s presence and, to begin the Communion Rite, we appeal to “Our Father, who art in Heaven”, whose Kingdom we petition “to come”, and whose “will” we pray “will be done, on earth as in Heaven.”

At the climax of the Mass, we receive Jesus as a community of believers, the Body of Christ, and respond with our “cry of recognition and of love,” “Amen!”

Our prayer, our Communion, our Lent, our Mass, in a spirit of reconciliation, are greater than any infirmity or spiritual darkness. Thus we come, “embracing both trial and joy.”

We come together to celebrate before a God who is greater than sin, division, and even death itself. Our God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel to the repentant soul, “He shall surely live…” (10) So we ought to pray this for one another, that we all might come to everlasting life. For “to love someone is to say, ‘you at least will not die.’”

WRS

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One Response to “Prayer and Reconciliation- Reflection for Mass of March 6, 2009”

  1. canadiancatholicblog March 7, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Notes:

    (1) Gabriel Marcel, quoted in Ron Rolheiser, “What We Bind on Earth is Loosed in Heaven”. Western Catholic Reporter, February 13, 2006, http://www.wcr.ab.ca/columns/rolheiser/2006/rolheiser021306.shtml
    (2) John 3:16-17
    (3) Ezekiel 18:23
    (4) cf. Ezekiel 18:25
    (5) Matthew 5:25
    (6) Matthew 5:22
    (7) cf. Wikipedia entry on Gehenna, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna
    (8) Ordo 2008-2009- Liturgical Calendar with Guidelines for Pastoral Liturgy. Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Liturgy Office Publications Service, 2008, 158.
    (9) St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Autobiographical Manuscript C, 25v°
    (10) Ezekiel 18:28

    The image of the Valley of Hinnom included with this article is from the Wikimedia Commons. Its URL is http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Valley_of_Hinom_PA180090.JPG.

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