Meditation for Monday of the 1st Week of Lent


First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 15
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
 
We notice here, as in many other places in the Old Testament, that God is repeating Himself to the Israelites that they must obey His commandments and "Be holy."  Jesus takes it a step further from all the negatively worded commandments ("thou shalt not…"), and shows that the way to the Kingdom of God is not through mere avoidance of sin, but through active charity toward others.
 
So, why all the repetition, even down to Jesus’ time?  Were the Israelites stupid?  What excuse do they have for forgetting what God had done for them?  Let’s face it – if we had seen the 10 plagues of Egypt, followed up with a miraculous parting of the sea, we’d be pretty hard pressed to forget it within just a few months!
 
Well, aside from the lack of 24-hour news services that rehash the same stories over and over, the ancient Jews also had something we don’t: the burden of unforgiven sin.  When the Jews left Egypt, they did not just bring the spoils of Egypt with them – they also carried the weight of their past sins as well.  Without a way to be forgiven of their personal sins, they were partially blind to how God was working in their lives.  (Yom Kippur was a day of atonement for the sins of the nation, but it did not grant forgiveness and the graces necessary to overcome the personal sins that afflicted each individual daily.  It was more of a reparation for harms done, rather than a cure for the root disorders causing the harm.)  In fact, they were so blinded to God’s actions and awareness of their own sins, that, until Jesus, they could only be reminded of what not to do – they weren’t yet ready for the next step.  They could barely see how to work on themselves.  How could they be expected to know how to work with others?
 
The sacrament of Penance (or Reconciliation, a.k.a. "Confession"), instituted by Christ once His work of redemption (Passion, Death, and Resurrection) was completed, not only makes up for the harm we have done by our sins, but it is also a dose of the cure for those sins.  It confers that grace on us which is mentioned in the Act of Contrition ("I firmly resolve, through the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do my penance, and to amend my life.") that enables us to "go, (and) from now on do not sin any more." (John 8:11)  This is that Amazing Grace that not only frees us from sin, but also frees us to be counted among Jesus’s sheep who help others through both the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy.
 
Let us thank God for the gift of His Son, through Whom we are given this great sacrament of Penance.  Let us receive this sacrament often and reverantly (it is no mere "get out of hell free" card).  And let us reflect on how we can better live out the Acts of Mercy that Christ calls us to do in His Name.
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