Lenten Saturday5 A (16 Apr 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Four Questions for Us
In the world of sentences words are arranged in various ways to communicate meaning. In the world of faith lives become arranged to communicate ultimate meaning, meaning which affects people and the world. In the world of sentences people arrange words. In the world of faith people experience power to arrange their lives. Arrangement in grammar is called syntax. The scriptures we heard suggest that faith has its syntax: power to arrange lives.
The line between exercising energy to arrange words and experiencing power to arrange one’s life, if we drew it, is best expressed as a dotted line: using energy is distinct from receiving it; once we experience power to arrange our lives, we are called to live from our newly arranged selves. In a phrase that is putting our faith into action.
Faith is a relationship with our triune God. Faith’s syntax helps us melt into the life of the Trinity. In practice it looks this way: when we put faith into action we embody God and God’s desires for us and our world. Discerning God’s desires takes effort because we tend to see from our limited perspective.
Ezekiel’s words we heard highlight three divine desires: unity; life; and a promised intimacy. The first desire was communicated by words describing the then-present condition of Israel and Judah: never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. Unity among the hearts and minds of people was the unspoken prerequisite for that unity, which always risked being lost.
The second desire, life, was communicated by they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees. This desire was as old as God, who entered into a covenant with the people Israel not for their sakes only but for the world. Their living union was to be a covenant of peace to promote their living union among everyone.
The third desire was astounding: My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. God would personally indwell among the people, a breathtaking intimacy then and now, and a power God, not humans on their own, could realize: I will make them one nation upon the land. The world of sentences cries, Notice God is the subject not humans!
Yet God never denies us our agency or capacity to exercise our energies; we enjoy both as gifts of God. How easy to lose sight of that! Expressed in language of experience, how easy it is to mouth our responsorial instead of living from it: The Lord will guard us. The deliberations of the Sanhedrin were blind to that: “If we leave [Jesus] alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation”—as if one can take what God gives! The implications for us I offer as four questions.
Have our Lenten practices, prayer and worship restored our relationship with God indwelling us? Have they refreshed our spirits with God’s Spirit and deepened our union with the God of life for the sake of others? Have they helped us appreciate our human agency and our capacity to exercise our energies as gifts God gives us to enjoy, cultivate and to refresh our world? Have we allowed Lent to rearrange us—not do violence to us but rearrange us—so we enjoy a deeper and more vital relationship with God, who makes us a covenant of peace to the nations today?
If we answer Yes to them, let our praise of God ring clearly and long. If we answer No or if we are unsure, it is never too late to enter Lent, as St. John Chrysostom wisely reminded one Easter Sunday long ago.* All of us have Holy Week to meet in new ways our triune God, who makes of each of us a new creation, to embody and live God’s covenant of peace.
* His words are proclaimed in every Orthodox church each Easter. Note especially the second stanza.
Wiki-image of a depiction of Caiphas is in the public domain.