Saturday, February 6, 2010

members of a body made possible by forgiveness

(From the February edition of the St. C's newsletter.)

“Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy.”
Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna [450]

The priest holds up bread, says, “This is my Body, giv
en for you.” Moments later, a cup, another promise, and gift: “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Slightest silence, holy reverence, and the prayer swiftly moves on.

Quickly spoken, quickly gone, this moment is nevertheless
the defining moment for this and every community of faith, indeed for the whole Church: Jesus‘ words recalled, spoken by the community of faith, at the very same time creating the community of faith. Or how else do we stand before God, with one another, as one Body? We eat the bread of the Body; drink the cup of forgiveness. We are members of a body made possible by forgiveness.

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”

The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus made Peter his “Rock” on which the Church was built so that the Church would never forget her need of forgiveness. After all, the reasoning goes, whatever your sin -- whatever your need of forgiveness -- you are surely not worse off than Peter: “Look here,” he told her, “I don’t know that man!”

Of course, few of us would openly claim to be
better off than poor Peter, either. I know firsthand the depths of what it must mean for Christ to include me in his People. Forgiveness, for me, is not idle, but is instead the daily basis and foundation for my offering my prayers and my life as your priest. Forgiveness is the means by which I absolve your sins and at the same time say, “Pray for me, too -- a sinner.”

Forgiveness is the life of the Body.

One of you asked me recently if I’d figured out yet what a broken place St. Christopher’s is. I vaguely recall offering some polite answer, but I vividly recall the voice in my heart, as if shouting, “Of course! So I’d prayed!” What else would we offer? What else might be healed? What need would we have for forgiveness?

You and I can experience the insecurity born of illusions of self-sufficiency just about anywhere. That’s not new. That’s not novel -- that’s the norm. And it’s more than boring -- it’s despairing. But to find a people living with the courage to be broken and so to be truthful, to be in need of the Savior who has spoken forgiveness, now that
excites me.

So now you and I, the people called Church, we wander into Lent. Most of us have been here before. A necessary evil, we think: like the dentist beseeching us every six months to floss well. “Close your eyes, don’t look directly at it, nod a little, and it will pass. Easter’s coming.” And of course it is. But listen now: be careful that you do not miss this moment, the very thing that will be your life. For make no mistake, Easter will not erase your need for forgiveness so much as cement God’s declaration of it. The grace of Easter morning begins in the mourning darkness: the truthfulness to speak into the silence the things that keep us from growing closer to God.

Be not afraid! Forgiveness is the hope of God’s People; forgiveness is the joy of God’s People. This Lent, may we who seek Christ find his words meant for us: “You are forgiven.”

And may we keep a Holy Lent.

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