One of the things I love about our Catholic faith is the liturgy. The liturgy is not a performance. It is not designed to be quick and efficient. It is not meant to entertain, but rather to enrich. It is a ritual that invites us to go deeper into our relationship with a loving God. The liturgy embraces silence. Mass can move slowly because the liturgy is timeless. We can be tempted to think of Mass as needlessly repetetive, but I find this repetition to be its’ greatest strengths.
For me, it takes a while of hearing the same truth over and over for it to sink in! Math is this way. I remember doing pages and pages of repetitive calculations to memorize the order of operations. Each time I hear the readings at Mass, I’m in a different season of my life. I always hear something new and unique. This repetition is very important in the liturgy. God works in His time, not our time.
I think that sometimes people struggle with the Mass because this timelessness takes away control from their lives. It is difficult for me to give up control. I like things the way I like them and want to keep them that way. But that’s not how God works. He is in control. I have to remind myself of that from time to time. He is in control. Every Catholic Mass is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of this truth : He is in control.
Control is a theme that jumps out in the reading this Sunday. We read in the First Reading that the chosen people have fallen from grace. They have made bad choices and “added infidelity to infidelity.” God was always calling them back, first through the compassionate call of the prophets and finally through the discipline of His just anger. The chosen people were exiled. They had fallen far from the the covenant, and it took them losing control of their lives to appreciate the status they had forsaken.
The response psalm echoes this plight – “How could we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?” The psalms are lyrics. Their melodies are lost to history, but they were the hymnal of the ancient Israelites. These lyrics cover a broad spectrum of human emotions. Some are songs of praise. Others describe the awesomeness of God. Some psalms are joyful, while others express anguish and lamentation. The Response today expresses that there is a time and a place for everything.
Lent is a time of lamentation. You wouldn’t play “Shake It Off” at a funeral. Playing a “fun song” like that would be inappropriate and would feel jarring. Likewise, the season of Lent is a season of repentance and restraint, not of joyful celebration. Even though we may be tempted to party, the response psalm challenges us to “place Jerusalem ahead of our joy.” It challenges us to yield control. It’s not what we want, but what we need.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he points to the crux of our human condition. We are in need of God’s grace! We can’t do it or earn it ourselves. We can’t control our eternal destiny. God’s grace is a gift, freely given. It is not earned or owed. Just like the Israelites in exilewere (put a space between these words) in need of healing and restoration, we are all in need of God’s gift of grace to heal, to restore our relationship with Him.
The Gospel states plainly, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:16 is one of the most beautiful and oft repeated verses in all of scripture. God does not desire condemnation or separation or exile, but rather a living relationship. God doesn’t want to be apart from us, but we chose separation ourselves through our bad choices.
This week’s readings really struck me. They are a kind of “moral gut check.” I know that at times, I have mocked the messengers of God. I have despised the warnings of my brothers and sisters who have called me out. I have scoffed at those prophetic voices in my life. I have preferred the darkness in my thoughts, in my words to the light of God’s presence. I have hidden my light in what I have done and in what I have failed to do. I have chosen exile to freedom! I have held on in a desperate attempt to control my life.
But through my depravity, God still loves me. He still forgives me and patiently calls me back to Him. Thank God! That is the good news! Lent is an opportunity to repent, to turn back to a God who loves us. To let go, and let God. Kindly join me in bringing forth the light of Christ by reflecting Him in a world that desperately needs it.