God Heals Us During Lent

This article originally appeared in the parish bulletin on Feb. 24, 2013

Last Sunday was the First Sunday of Lent, and my article required a total rewriting before the bulletin could be printed. My plans for the bulletin were perhaps the least of what changed when Monday, February 11 brought news that Pope Benedict had renounced the papacy, and that his pontificate would be ending on the evening of Thursday, February 28. That means this Sunday is the last time many of you will hear his name mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer. This Thursday at 1:00 PM our time, the See of St. Peter will fall vacant and there will be no pope.

As of this writing I have no further information to offer you about when the conclave will begin. I want to encourage you to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the cardinal electors (the members of the College of Cardinals who are under 80 years of age) as they vote sometime in March for the new Pope. It will be an extraordinary Lent for the Church – a time of grace and an increase in faith. All the world will be watching, and if people’s hearts are open to it, they will begin to understand that the Catholic Church is not a museum of ancient artifacts, customs, and beliefs, but instead a living Body that exists to bring more souls to God.

So now let us turn to this Lenten season. To me it always seems a bit startling to go from Ordinary Time to Lent. This holy time is full of possibilities for us and for our spiritual life. But there are some risks as well. To obtain some of the fruits of Lent, we need to open ourselves to some truths we might be more comfortable keeping under wraps. And we might feel a little disturbed by the gulf between our own lives and the incomprehensible goodness of God.

Back on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, when we heard the recording of Archbishop Nienstedt, the readings at Mass conveyed the reaction of two different men who became quite disturbed when they realized they were in the presence of the divine. The prophet Isaiah sees the temple in Jerusalem filled with the presence of God, and hears two seraphim crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts!” It is their song that gives us the first words of what we sing (or recite) between the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Eucharistic Prayer itself every time the Mass is celebrated: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest….” Isaiah is filled with dread because he has seen the Lord and says he is a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. An angel, one of the seraphim, purifies Isaiah by touching an ember to his lips and reassures him that his sin has been purged. Because of this, when he hears God ask, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah is able to say, “Here I am! Send me!”

In the Gospel reading that same day Simon Peter, for whom our parish is named, obeys Jesus’ command to put out into deep water and lower the nets for a catch. All night he had worked and caught nothing, and yet when he and his partners cast their nets after Jesus orders them to do so, their nets suddenly become full of fish. The fish are emptied into the two boats, which settle into the water under the great weight of the fish. Peter is overcome with the sense of his own unworthiness, and he says in words that move our hearts even today, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” As the angel did for Isaiah, so Jesus reassures Peter. He tells him, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” And Peter leaves everything behind and followed Jesus.

Both Isaiah and St. Peter were overwhelmed by their own unworthiness in the presence of God. Yet God takes care of each of them, rendering them able to be in the divine presence. Not only are they not harmed, these unworthy men in the presence of the almighty, but they become capable of going to others so that they will also be able to dwell in happiness with God. What a lesson that is for us! Let’s not fear to go to God and be reconciled with him. It is he who can heal us. Let’s go to confession as a response to God’s call this Lent. Let’s not be afraid.

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