In today's Gospel, Jesus raises the bar. The Ten Commandments are not the height to which we aspire. They are the bare minimum to which we may not pass. Jesus calls us to something more. Actually in order to enter heaven we are called to surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. We are called to go to the internal root that causes us to sin. The Torah says, "whoever kills will be liable to judgement." Jesus says, "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment."
Jesus asks us to look at our hearts. What is in there that leads us to want to break the Commandments? Is there resentment, or irrational anger, or greed, or lust in my heart? All vices lead us to sin and are strengthened when we do. In order to root them out, we need to practice the opposite virtues. Practicing virtue requires God's help, which we call grace. We must avail ourselves to the sacraments as often as possible. If we truly want to walk the path of holiness - we need Jesus in the Eucharist often, we need to go to confession to allow Jesus to root out the vices with which we struggle, and we need the grace of prayer that deepens our relationship with God.
All grace flows from the Passion, Death on the Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus (the Paschal Mystery). Preparing again to make the Paschal Mystery a deeper part of my life is the point of Lent. What can we do today to let Jesus root out the vices in our hearts through the Sacraments and Prayer? Beginning today - Daily Mass? A few weekly Masses? Weekly Confession? Daily Prayer? Weekly Fasting?
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us;"
When Jesus speaks of the forgiveness of God, it is always conditional on our forgiveness of others. Later on in Matthew's Gospel (18:21) Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, seven times? Jesus responds with I do not say seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, we must forgive every time it is required. This seems humanly impossible, because I believe it is, naturally speaking. Forgiveness of others requires supernatural help, grace.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is letting go of the wrong done to us by another with or without their asking for it. Reconciliation requires both persons to take steps to forgive and reestablish the relationship.
Sometimes we are wronged by others without them even realizing or recognizing the hurt and pain they have caused. It is in these moments when we are angry and annoyed and hurt that forgiveness is the only answer. Forgiveness is not an event that happens, but a process that we go through with God. We have to surrender the person and the situation to Our Lord through prayer. That means we have to pray for that person and pray for God to help us forgive them as well.
Here is a way to practice forgiveness with God. When the situation/person arises in your mind and heart and all the feelings of pain, hurt, and anger show up with it; you say, "God I pray for so-and-so bless them abundantly and help them to know your love and mercy in their lives. God help me to forgive them for this offense. I choose to forgive them, help me to experience this forgiveness. Help me to let go of the hurt that blocks me from experiencing more deeply your love and mercy for me. Me, who has been forgiven so often and for so much by You."
It's not easy, but absolutely necessary and required by God. Try it and see if the tentacles of un-forgiveness don't begin to unravel from around your heart. Going on this journey of forgiveness with God will lead to an amazing freedom - a freedom that leads to joy and peace!
"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do."
These words above of Jesus give us the reason for His Incarnation. God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son not to condemn the world but to save it through Him. There is no saving ourselves or pulling ourselves up by our boot straps when it comes to sin. I would say most of us recognize our powerlessness against our sins. They seem to rule our lives at times. When we misuse God's gift of freedom we become less free and more like a slave. If we cannot say no to something in our lives, especially when that something is sinful we are soul-sick and enslaved.
One of the most important principles of the spiritual life is to know that I am a sinner and in need of a Savior. Pop-psychology (in no way am I diminishing good psychology and its usefulness) says I'm fine, you're fine, we're all fine, but a glance around our world, heck around our immediate surroundings, points to another reality - the biblical reality. It is a strength, not a weakness to recognize ourself as a sinner. It is to truly live in reality. If our leg is broken pretending it is not does not change the reality. The same goes for sin, pretending we are not sinners changes nothing. Admitting that we are has the potential to change everything.
The Catholic faith helps us recognize the truth of who we are. The sooner we recognize that we are sinners and in need of a savior, the sooner we can experience the healing of the Divine Physician.
This Lent go to confession, no matter how long it has been. Do not be afraid the Divine Physician wants to heal you, to set you free to be truly who you were made to be.
Daily Lenten reflections by Father Browning.