God always takes the first step. Look at creation. Look at his appearance to Moses in the first reading. Look at the coming of Jesus in the flesh. God is always motivated by love, especially when we are in difficulty. He appears to Moses to tell him that He is aware of the suffering of the Israelites and to send him to lead them to freedom. Moses’ mission foreshadows the sending of the Son to us to rescue us from sin and death.
The meaning of His Name which God reveals to Moses, “I Am who I Am”, is not some abstract definition. For it literally means, “I am the one who is always here for you.” God defines himself as ready and reaching out to those in need, as if wanting to enter into a lasting relationship with them, a covenant. As we know, the covenant with Israel still lasts to this day, despite the ups and downs of history. As we also know, however, God has established a new and eternal covenant with those who believe in His Son. That covenant is the meaning of the Church.
In those of us fortunate enough to have the gift of faith in Jesus and to belong to his Mystical Body, the name of God finds particular resonance. By grace and faith, we have become part of God’s own being. We participate in the “I Am who Am.” We share in His “always being there” for others. Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us but because of his death and resurrection he is also God-in-us. The Spirit introduces us into God, into His will.
God always gives unconditionally. He never takes back his gifts or revokes his choices. God will never destroy the universe he has created or revoke his covenant with Israel. Christ will never lose his humanity or withdraw from the Church, just as a head cannot withdraw from its body. There will never be a time when God is “not the one who is here for” us and for all. His giving is committed, permanent and faithful.
For all that God takes the initiative, and he does; for all that he gives unconditionally, and he does: he will never offend our human freedom even if we abuse it. While He absolutely wants us to choose Him, His ways, His truth so that our freedom can blossom in salvation, He can’t take those choices for us. He can only show us the way, present to us the beauty of the truth and make it as attractive as he can for us. But only we can say yes.
From His side, God’s mercy is unconditional, but we can condition it from ours. The conditions we can put boil down to one: if you don’t let me do as I please, I don’t want your mercy; in fact, I don’t need it. Jesus laments greatly the position that says it needs no mercy, as the one that considers mercy as implying that sin does not matter. The whole purpose of His passion and death was both to make evident the seriousness of sin for everyone and to make even more evident the greatness of his love in dealing with it by himself for the sake of us all.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, we find the beautiful parables of mercy of the lost sheep, the prodigal son and the case of the good thief. But in today’s extract from Luke, the Lord demonstrates his mercy in a different kind of way, but which is no less merciful: he gives us a warning. If we don’t work at freeing ourselves from our sins we will perish, possibly suddenly, like those massacred by Pilate or on whom the tower of Siloam collapsed. This may seem like hard talk, but it’s the cry of one who loves and wants to spare his beloved from danger. We all need warnings of all sorts to ensure that we escape harm. There is no more serious and urgent need of warnings than in the spiritual life. A warning can feel unpleasant, but its purpose is salutary if given in love. St. Paul, too, in the second reading refers to the infidelity of some of the chosen people after all God had done for them in the Exodus as a warning for us.
From this we can draw another conclusion. The divine mercy, unconditional and plenteous thought it may be, is of no avail if we do not repent of our sins. We have to let mercy in if it is to do its work, and we can only let it in if we open the doors of our hearts out wide, confessing our sins and surrendering to God. Only we have the key to those doors.
I know myself how difficult the spiritual work of repentance can be. Sadly, we can get use to our sins and no longer even notice they are there, or even call them sins any more. At times, we struggle to find the language to express our guilt. Then there can be the enslaving force of habit in sin. Most difficult of all is when we try to justify our sin. At times, too, it comes down simply to not being bothered. Why go through the rigmarole if I am just going to sin again? And here there may be hints of spiritual sloth and a kind of sad resignation to sin’s victory in my life as if the Cross were not powerful enough to purify my sins.
We all need the help of God to confess our sins. Ask the Holy Spirit to take the first step in giving you the light to see into your soul and conscience as He sees. Ask him to turn the spotlight of his truth on those places within where there may be a sense of something wrong and out of place. Ask him to give you the grace of compunction, of that salutary spiritual pain that leads to repentance and confession. Think of a parable or instance of divine mercy to help you such as the ones I already mentioned. Talk to a friend who might help you and whom you can trust. Come and talk to me. I will help you.
Let Lent be a time for us to let the grace of true repentance enter into the depths of our being. Let it be a time to allow the Lord Jesus to place his wounded hands into those depths and lift out of them all that weighs us down, all that defiles the beauty of our own soul, all that nags and pokes and disturbs our inner peace, our sleep and our sense of the goodness of life.
On 11 April, at 2pm, we will have our Lenten Penance Service, with hopefully four priests in attendance. Next week, I will make available an examination of conscience for you to take home and help prepare you to give your soul that Spring cleaning it deserves and that your Saviour desires. I am here at the usual times for confession as well as after weekday Masses, because as much as I want my own deep peace with God, I want yours; as much as I want holiness of heart in myself, I want yours, and as dearly as I want my own true and final repentance, I want yours.
As the Lord’s name says, “I am always here for you.” Let us be there for him.