Mass of the Fifth Sunday of Lent
13 March 2016
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am
My dear friends,
Moving house is a complicated business. There is all the excitement of getting used to new surroundings. Finances have to be worked out carefully, practical arrangements seen to. Then there is the settling in involved in making all the family feel comfortable in their new home. On top of that, there is the preparation for moving which entails sorting out the house we are leaving. That usually includes the rediscovery of drawers full of things we have forgotten we had. We may have to sift through papers, books and clothes in coming to realise at this late point what an extraordinary amount of clutter of every variety we build up over the years. Things were stored in the attic in case we might need them; there were clothes scattered about that had not been worn in years, that might fit again one day. There were children’s toys and books we could not bring ourselves to part with. All these things have to be sorted through and decisions made as to what happens next. This can be joyful as well as painful and exhausting.
It is little wonder then that psychologists list moving house as a significant life event, an occasion of upheaval which makes considerable emotional demands on people. We grieve, in many ways, what we are leaving before moving on to something new. We human beings don’t tend to find such changes simple or easy.
This may be why the message of today’s readings can be such a hard one for us to hear and to act upon. The normal human difficulty we have with change and moving on lies at the heart of the Lord’s impassioned plea in the first reading. He calls to us not to recall the past but to look and see the new things that God is doing – “can you not see it”? The call to move forward and learn to leave the past is at the heart of the Gospel for it is the essential movement of repentance, forgiveness and new life. This is brought home to us more clearly when we learn that the Greek word used in the Gospel for “forgiveness” is the word for “letting go”. To be forgiven by the Lord, as the adulterous woman discovered, involved a radical and somewhat disorientating letting go of all the mess that has happened and moving on into a differently shaped way of living. We can wonder what thoughts and feelings accompanied this woman as she moved from facing condemnation and brutal death to being released back into daily life with the simple, though hardly easy instruction, “don’t sin any more”.
Christians are called to live this strange freedom of letting go of our sins and, in some radical ways, leaving our past behind. This is how St. Paul lives, racing ahead, always looking to God’s own mysterious future – the glory of the resurrection. Even in the physical chains of prison, Paul knows the freedom of having let go a certain forgetfulness of the past that would hold us back.
We are moving towards the end of Lent, a season of repentance traditionally seen as a time for “giving up” something, for fasting and for prayer. In the light of God’s word to us today we can reflect on how these are all ways of “letting go” of the things that so often ensnare us as well as of our own needs and appetites, our own self-determination even. And as we let go in these ways, we learn a deeper trust in God’s loving will for us.
It is a good exercise, at this time of our year, to spend a little time reflecting on what in our past we are still holding on to, in ways that hold us back from following Christ more fully. There may be sins, long forgiven, but which still shape our thinking and behaviour, our routines and disciplines which were once life-giving and helpful but which are now empty and deadening. For all of us there will be things we are being called to leave behind so as to be freer still to walk with the Lord. To identify some small way in which we could take a step away from these past burdens and towards God’s “new thing” in our life is the Lenten invitation for the coming week. It is such a letting go that will enable us to respond to the freedom that Jesus offers us in his compassion and forgiveness. He lets go of our past sins and difficulties, but we are called to do so too. Then we can be free to follow him into a new life, confident in his companionship.
+Liam S. MacDaid
13 March 2016