“…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (St. Paul)
Have you ever hidden some embarrassing secret about yourself, great or small, that you hoped would never revealed?
The fear and anxiety of being discovered are emotions that sometimes weigh very heavily on your spirit. Living this way can be exhausting. And hiding such secrets enslaves us to them and sometimes leads to ever more of the same behavior.
You worry about the day you will be discovered; about the shame you will experience when others know what you have done. What will be the consequences? You wonder if your life will ever be the same… will you ever be able to live this down?
Encouragement from Isaiah
The readings for today’s Mass begin with the prophet Isaiah who reminds us to place our trust and hope, not in ourselves, but in the Lord God. Speaking through Isaiah, God reminds the Israelites, “Remember not the events of the past… see, I am doing something new…”
The people of Israel at the time of Isaiah were in the period of the Babylonian Captivity. Because they had been unfaithful, God sent them into Exile. They had lost possession of the Promised Land, indeed everything they knew seemed to be lost.
But Isaiah reminded them that the Lord had delivered them out of Egypt… He had done great things for them… and while these unfaithful people may not deserve God’s love, the fact is that He loves them still and can do great things for them again. And indeed He did!
When we have fallen, do we recognize the many blessings God has given to us in our lives? Do we hear Isaiah speaking to us in our day, reminding us that all is not lost? That God still loves us and can do great things for us?
St. Paul’s Response to the Mercy of God
St. Paul speaks eloquently about the call of God to the Christian. He describes himself as not having attained spiritual maturity and perfection, and like Isaiah, he gives us the advice we all need to hear when we have fallen.
St. Paul describes his own approach to the faith and the mercy of God. He says that his approach involves “…forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
God calls us to surrender our lives and our will to His. The fact is that if we do not, we will be forever frustrated in our efforts to be holy. To think that we can handle our burdens alone, without God’s grace, is to insure our failure. On the other hand, to think there is nothing we can do, or that God will do nothing for us, is to give in to despair.
It is the sin of pride that drives and encourages the disordered attachment to the shame, fear and anxieties that perpetuate our living inauthentic lives. This is truly exhausting and deadly to the soul.
Surrender Leads to Transformation
There is another way. It is the Lord’s way to healing and life. If we turn our cares and troubles, our fears and anxieties, even the shame of our sinful lives over to the Lord, we permit Him to do great things for us and transform us into His likeness.
One of the great images of God’s justice and mercy is presented to us in the Gospel. It is the story of the woman taken in adultery. Like last Sunday’s gospel from St. Luke of the Prodigal Son, the story of this woman has the Divine fingerprint all over it!
This woman had been caught, not only in the very moment of an embarrassing act, but in a crime that carried the death penalty. How she was discovered and who discovered her and whether or not she was well known are not important, but surely she felt great fear in the hands of an angry mob and I suspect from the text she also felt shame and sorrow for her sin.
In John’s Gospel, there is this growing tension between the Jewish authorities and Jesus and in this woman the authorities thought they saw an opportunity to trip Jesus up and restore their credibility with the people. As we know, they could not have been more wrong, for they failed to understand the infinite love and mercy of God and what he could accomplish and make new in a contrite heart.
Dragging the woman before Jesus, the Pharisees reminded Jesus of the penalty due the woman as taught by Moses and they asked him if she should be stoned to death. Jesus began to write on the ground with his finger. Now many have speculated as to what Jesus wrote, this is the only example given in the Gospels of Jesus writing anything. One interpretation that really resonates with me was given by the great Catholic educator and theologian, Alcuin, who lived in the eighth century:
“The ground [symbolizes] the human heart, which yields the fruit either of good or of bad actions: the finger jointed and flexible, [symbolizes] discretion. He instructs us then, when we see any faults in our neighbors, not immediately and rashly to condemn them, but after searching our own hearts to begin with, to examine them attentively with the finger of discretion.”
After further prodding by the authorities, Jesus instructs them to stone her; that is, if there is anyone present who is without sin. But there is only one present who is without sin—Jesus. He reminds the authorities and us that it is not for sinful man to judge the sinner even if we are to judge what is and is not a sin. So one by one, the angry mob disperses, beginning with the eldest and ending with the departure of the youngest.
We are left with the scene of the sinful woman in the presence of the one who had no sin and could judge her. How afraid she must have been. Like this woman, how afraid we can be when we know we have sinned. She could have felt as if all hope was lost. Do you ever feel like that?
But we know she did not despair for it is obvious that she had a contrite heart… the perfect type of heart for our Lord to make anew. Jesus told her that he did not condemn her. Jesus told her to go and sin no more. His judgment was just and it was merciful. And if our hearts are contrite, even imperfectly so, he will always tell us the same, “I do not condemn you, go and sin no more.”
Come, Come Follow the Lord
The Lenten season is more than half completed, but it is still the perfect time for us to approach the Lord with contrite hearts, first in our prayer and then in the confessional, and then in our daily lives where we can strive toward holiness and our service to our fellow man performed with mercy and love.
If it has been a while since your last sacramental confession, there is nothing to fear—the tender mercy and love of God awaits you. He desires you to be cleansed and to join your life to Christ’s offering in the Eucharistic Sacrifice where He intercedes for each of us.
Let us take to heart the example of St. Paul and pursue the goal of God’s upward calling. Be not afraid.
Into the deep…
The readings at Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C) are: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11.
Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™
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