March 18, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

Halfway through Lent, let’s focus on loving God and our neighbor

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ” (1 Cor 10:3-4).

With this Sunday’s liturgy (the Third Sunday of Lent), we find ourselves nearly halfway into our six-week Lenten journey. Perhaps this is the right time to ask ourselves how well we’re doing in our observance of the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and generous giving. If we do a quick examination of conscience now, it’s not too late to make any adjustments that may be necessary.

In his 2022 Lenten message, Pope Francis quotes St. Paul’s saying that “God has poured love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5). What are we doing with the gifts of love that we have received from God’s bounty? Are we cultivating them, allowing them to grow, and sharing them generously with otahers? Or have we buried them, neglecting the opportunities we have been given to fan the flames of our love for God?

As Pope Francis reminds us, “Faith does not spare us life’s burdens, but allows us to face them in union with God in Christ, with the great hope that does not disappoint.”

Life is hard sometimes. We can be bitterly disappointed—especially if we place our trust in ourselves or other people, rather than in the kindness and mercy of the infinite, all-powerful God who loves us and invites us to love him in return. Hope in him does not disappoint. It allows us to experience directly the tenderness and closeness of God.

The Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent emphasize God’s closeness to us even as they remind us that God is the Wholly Other, a mystery beyond our comprehension.

The first reading from the Book of Exodus (Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15) contains the powerful story of God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush. Here we find several paradoxes. First, the bush is on fire, but it is not consumed. Then God invites Moses to come closer but warns him saying, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). And finally, God reveals his name (“I am who am”) (Ex 3:14), but even then he remains a mystery.

In fact, when God tells Moses, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you” (Ex 3:14), he knows that, by itself, this will only confuse them. That’s why he has to add: “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Ex 3:15).

In Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12), St. Paul reminds us that we are all like the ancient Israelites. We have been abundantly blessed by God, but we don’t always act like it. We need the grace of Christ, the spiritual food and drink that he gives us so generously in the Eucharist, in order to remain faithful. With this in mind, St. Paul warns us not to take our good fortune for granted, “for whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Finally, in Sunday’s Gospel reading (Lk 13:1-9), we are shown once again that our God is merciful. The story of the barren fig tree reminds us that although God is a just judge who will hold us accountable for the way we use all the gifts he has given us, he is also willing to give us many second chances to prove that, like the fig tree, we will one day bear fruit. God has confidence in us, and he is willing to risk being disappointed by us in order to help us thrive and grow.

The season of Lent is an opportune time for us to discipline our minds, hearts and bodies so that we can be more productive—in our spiritual life and in the practice of doing good. If we take Lent seriously, we can come to know God more intimately (especially in the person of his Son, Jesus), and we can experience firsthand the tender mercy of our God who hates sin but loves and forgives sinners.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let’s pray for the courage to move closer to God using all of the tools the Church gives us during this holy season. Let’s examine our consciences and ask how faithful we are being in our prayers, our fasting and our generous giving. Let’s also promise to do whatever we can to be more productive in doing good by loving God and loving our neighbor. †

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