Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent: Justice, not Vengeance

Editor's note: we are known for being interesting if not punctual.  Better a week late than never a'tall.

Today's Gospel is an aid in avoiding what some scholars refer to as "ambush theology" - the notion that God is somehow lurking behind the nearest shrubbery, waiting for us to sin or fail in something so that He can heap devastation on us.  Jesus is clear - and Jesus is worth listening to - when He tells questions the Apostles rhetorically: Do you think that the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with the blood of their sacrifices were greater sinners than all other Galileans?  Do you think that the eighteen people at Siloam on whom a tower fell were more guilty that everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?  By no means!  Violence inflicted by others, accidents, disease and natural disasters are not signs of God's direct revenge because the victims are more guilty of greater sin than the survivors or those to whom no disaster falls.  In fact, we have seen the worst forms of violence befall the objectively more saintly among us.  (Rabbi Harold Kushner has an excellent message on "Why do bad things happen to good people?")  God is not perched on a wall waiting for an excuse to pour boiling oil upon our heads. 

At the same time, Jesus tells us that the evil we perceive around us should stand as a warning to us - a warning of an even greater evil that may befall us, that is, the loss of our souls.  Complacency is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life.  If we are lured into believing that we are done growing in the spiritual life, precisely then the Evil One can make his presence known in destructive ways.  "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall."  Therefore, we need to be aware at every moment of our relationship with God and how what we do and what surrounds us affects that relationship.  The shocking tragedies of Jesus' time, as well as those in the daily news today, remind us that life is short and the Lord could call us home at any moment.  Therefore, repent, or perish!  The greater tragedy, with far reaching consequences, would be to remain spiritually lax and lose the gift of eternal life.  Jesus clarifies that the Galileans and Siloamites did not die a tragic death because they were greater sinners and yet the tragedies can serve as a wake-up call to greater repentance and conversion.  Sin can indeed result in calamity. 

God is the Lord of Justice and Mercy.  If we as individuals or as a nation continue to stray from the mind, heart and will of our Creator, how can we expect to also enjoy His protection?  Justice demands that each human person what is due to him.  To the obstinate and unrepentant sinner is due a just punishment.  To the repentant sinner is due - after a time of blessed purgation - the joy of eternal beatitude.  As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us, God, through the exercise of His permissive will, allows the consequences of nature and of our human behavior to unfold.  All that God does and makes is good.  While He cannot create evil, which is the privation of good, He does allow it to happen that we might learn from it, find greater good in it and ultimately grow in deeper relationship with Him.  In times of trial we focus on doing the most good we possibly can, for God desires us to bring about the increase of goodness in the human family. 

God is the gardener who issues the just sentence against one who has chosen not to repent.  Remember that He does not predestine to condemn us to hell.  We put ourselves there when we choose ourselves over Him and others.  God is also the master who desires us to flourish and gives all we need to do so - His Word, the Sacraments, which are instruments of mercy and nourishment, and the protective mantle of Mary.  He cultivates, feeds and nurtures us so that we can bear fruit for his glory.  This is ultimately what God desires - for us to be in eternally joyful in union with Him.  The Lord is kind and merciful.  Justice and mercy always dovetail and a harmony of the two is always better than the overemphasis of one or the other.  God judges because He cannot tolerate unrepentant sin.  He desires our purification and holiness.  Through the fire of His love, we, like the sons of Levi, are refined into God's pure image. 

The story of Moses and the Israelites, Saint Paul tells us, is a further example and warning to us.  The Israelites were not made to suffer centuries of hard labor under the oppression of Pharaoh because they had incurred the wrath of God.  In fact, God was faithful to them when they were not faithful to Him - even when they were ready to abandon Moses and return to Egypt.  God nourished them with manna and water from the rock.  Christ, the true spiritual Rock, was with them on every step of their long journey through the desert.  Sometimes God was not pleased with them.  They suffered the consequences of their own choices to desire evil rather than union with Him. 

God is with us always as well.  Christ nourishes us with His Body and Blood.  Rather than desiring evil things, may we cling to the gifts the Lord gives us in the life of our Church, which are for us the means of salvation.  May we perceive in every moment the opportunity to be holy and to bear fruit for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind. 

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