Scripture exists to help us learn things about God which, in turn, helps us to learn things about ourselves. Most of the time it uses images and metaphors of things taken from our everyday lives that can give us a glimpse of certain attributes of God or of how he operates in the world. But, sometimes, it seems we need to study a little biblical history or have someone explain to us the meaning of certain passages because we don’t understand the image or the metaphor that the writer was using because of our existance in a 21st century culture.
There are many small examples of the same phenomena I can point to. For example, there is a college in the midwest that sends a letter to its professors every year to point out certain historical events, cliches, and catch phrases that shouldn’t be used with incoming freshmen because they’d go right over their heads. One of them last year was “He sounds like a broken record” because many of them have only known compact discs and never heard a “broken record.” So if a phrase as common as “He sounds like a broken record” can become incomprehensible to some people after only about 18 or 20 years, you can imagine that after 2000 years, we’re going to have a problem getting to the root of some of the items in Scripture.
BUT, today’s readings are not one of those! Today’s readings use images and metaphors that we can all relate to. That even if we haven’t experienced them ourselves, we’ve seen them in others. Today’s readings tell us about God’s infinite love for us. How he abounds in mercy and kindness even when we’ve been unfaithful to him or betrayed him in some way. It also invites us to respond to the good will of God by preparing for our lenten journey that will take us to the rememberence of our own baptism and the celebration Christ’s resurrection in the upcoming Easter season.
When taken together, the reading from Hosea and the Gospel use marriage as the metaphor. The first, Hosea, shows us God as the spouse of his people. The second portrays Jesus as a groom, a groom whose spouse is his people, the Church. And Paul, in the second letter to the Corinthians, tells us that no one can give us a better letter of recommendation to God than we can when, through our actions, we give him love letters written on our hearts. So today’s readings emphasize God’s infinite love for his people. They emphasize the fact that, no matter what we do, God will never go back on his covenental promise when he said “You will be my people and I will be your God.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever given it any thought or not, but we have many people in our midst that are sacraments or `living symbols for us of that same covenental fidelity of God. And when we see them and talk to them, their presence should be joyful reminders of God’s faithful promise to his people despite their unfaithfulness. Yet we often shun these people or awkwardly keep them on the fringes of our Catholic community when instead, we should be welcoming them as the signs of God’s faithfulness that they truly are.
Who are they? They are the people, and we all know at least one person in this situation, the people who through no fault of their own, find themselves living single lives in faithfulness to their covenental marriage vows, even after being left on their own or divorced by their spouse. Their witness to us as signs of God’s faithfulness to his promise should not be underestimated.
At any rate, today’s reading from Hosea has the Lord speaking of his spouse, his people, in this way: “I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” So the questions for us today are: “Where is this desert? How do I follow God into it so he can speak to my heart? How do I make my life like the barren, empty, desert so that I can hear God’s voice?
Coming up next week we are again going to go through this six week period called Lent. As children we are taught to “give up something” for Lent; to “offer it up for God.” Now, as adults, some of us are still struggling to grow out of this childhood training exercise into a deeper spirituality.
The word “Lent” comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, meaning Spring. Spring is the season when all things are renewed and come back to life, reborn in other words. In order for us to see our own new life, we are called to repent, to “turn away” (the real meaning of repentance) from the deadly things which surround our souls. This is the desert that we are looking for.
As a tradition dating back to apostolic times, Lent is the preparation of Catechumens for the reception of Baptism on Easter-eve. Baptism is about dying with Christ and rising with him in glory. This preparation is not only for Catechumens, but it’s for everyone baptized in the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a time for all people of Christ’s Church to renew themselves and to reflect on the meaning of their own baptism. To die to the things that separate us from God. It is a time for purification of our hearts. This purification is accomplished by sorrow for sin, change of heart, and penance, but it also involves the positive element that we grow in virtue.
Most people wait until the end of Lent to go to the Sacrament of Reconcilliation, but the beginning of Lent is the best time to use this act of God’s grace to help us on our journey through the desert, to begin our purification. Today’s Gospel talks about fasting. Bodily fasting is a symbol of the true internal and spiritual fasting from sin and from vice. The main purpose of this fasting is to give a person control over his or herself, control needed to purify the heart and renew the spiritual life. Works of mercy and/or almsgiving is the virtue that goes hand in hand with fasting. It’s been said that, fasting, without works of mercy, is not a purification of the soul, but merely an affliction of the flesh, and doesn’t do asybody any good.
So, maybe we should use this coming week to think about what we might do to better hear God’s voice during this upcoming Lenten season. Let’s invite the Holy Spirit to help us to make our hearts true love-letters to God.