Promise: agree; assure; avow; consent; compact; contract; covenant; declare; guarantee; oath; pledge; swear; vow. These are some of the synonyms for promise—as we hear today about the covenant between God and humanity after the great flood. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary some of the definitions of a covenant are: “a binding and solemn agreement made by two or more individuals, parties, etc. to do or keep a specified thing; a compact; an agreement among members of a church to hold to points of doctrine, faith, etc.; the promises made by God to man, as recorded in the Bible.”
We all remember well the story of Noah and the Ark and the animals and God’s rainbow as a reminder of the promise made to us. But what about our promise made to God? St. Peter reminds us that “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” He tells us that our baptism is not to cleanse our bodies but is an appeal to God to cleanse our consciences. Our baptism is a pledge to God of an irreproachable (clean) conscience through Christ’s resurrection. God saved us—but we could do our part by keeping our baptismal promises⎯our covenant with God. This week the psalm (#25) reminds us that God’s ways are love and truth to those who keep His covenant. And what about all the other promises we are called to keep in our lives?
Promises, promises; talk is cheap. The spirit is willing but the flesh can’t keep up. We mean well; we really mean to keep all of those promises in our lives that we make—but we fall back, give up, get tired and give in. We live in a society where a lack of commitment seems to be the norm: we see it in broken homes and marriages and oaths we make, in politics, in work ethics—and even in our own church. If the road gets rocky, bail out. If the job’s tougher than we thought, turn it over to someone else—or just abdicate all together—someone else will do it. If we are late for every appointment, no problem, they will wait. If no one knows what we are doing, why shouldn’t we: 1) help ourselves, 2) reward ourselves, 3) get even. Commitments, vows, oaths and promises in this world don’t seem to be a high priority any way you look at it…
Commitment is the very bedrock of our faith, however. Are we shifting sands in our actions and behavior? Are we all slippery slopes in our decisions of behavior and priorities? And it is not about the outward appearance of our commitments (remember last Ash Wednesday?)—but about our internal dialogue and inward conviction to stick to all, many, any of our promises. When we truly commit ourselves to something, our priorities begin to change. They are the outward sign—the rainbow we see. Keeping our word is not about making a good outward impression, but about being true to our promises—be they to God (who redeemed us and created us), to each other, to our work and play companions—and to ourselves. Commitment is not an outward effort—but an inner transformation, and a gift of grace.
Lent is the opportunity to examine any of those promises we have made in all and every of our circumstances—and to truly discern where we stand in fulfilling them completely and sincerely. (Sincerity—another seemingly “lost” value…) We can be witnesses for the world by keeping our commitments in the face of trial, discouragement, and criticism. God’s power can work in committed and sincere people—demonstrating “rainbow” lives to the people around us. Others should see in us the commitment of generosity, kindness, mercy and love that by our Baptism we have promised to evince in this broken world. We should be a “constant” for those around us—a dependable rainbow pointing others in the direction to God’s grace and a committed life in Christ.
This is hard work: to keep our covenants in life—but this what we are called to do as believers. Lent is the acceptable time for self-examination, evaluation and reconciliation. Being in right relationship with God starts with our personal covenant with God. In keeping that covenant, I think, I really believe, that all the other promises we make will fall into place—or at least give us a framework for questioning our priorities and choices. Lenten food for thought…
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: I offer a song called “Promises” featuring Joe L. Barnes and Naomi Raine. It’s all about the faithfulness of God to us. The question to ponder is about our faithfulness to God and our promises… This brought tears to my eyes… Enjoy!
The message for this Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time is about the healing power of God. We trust that in His kingdom, all will be made whole! The First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus is a graphic description of how the Jews dealt with those afflicted with leprosy: the “unclean” were separated from the Community—a metaphor of how sin separates us from God. We know, however, that Jesus restores us to ‘health’ since his Passion, Death and Resurrection heals us all from sin and death. He is the ultimate healer of spirits and souls, hearts and minds.
Last week we heard how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and restored her to the family circle; today He heals the leper. In other places in the Gospel Jesus heals the corruption of the temple officials. His message is that the reign of God is here and everyone (no exceptions) belongs. This is a matter of justice for Jesus…to put everything in right relationship with God, the Father.
Following the example of Jesus, this is supposed to be our way, too. Jesus reaches out and touches the leper, the outcast, the untouchable, and He restores the separated and marginalized to wholeness in the community—the leper is cleansed and is able to participate in Community again. As followers of Jesus we are all called to heal each other and cast out our personal demons, too. You know them: greed and lust, mean-spiritedness, injustice, selfishness, addiction, fear and anger (to name just a few).
We don’t have to actually cure lepers (there is medicine that cures them of leprosy—Hansen’s disease). Leprosy, as it turns out is not very contagious and not so common a disease. Two thousand years ago people thought that anything flaky or peeling was leprous. Interestingly, it wasn’t only human beings who were unclean: things like walls or tools or fabrics with scales or flakes were leprous, too! There is a cure for leprosy today, but injustice and all those other diseases and demons are still rampant among us and are viral. (Just look at FB.) These problems and issues (diseases and communal demons) are what we are expected to “cure” and “cast out” as Christians and believers. We are called to help put people in right relationship, to help make them whole again. If you follow Jesus, you are called to do the same. You welcome new people when they need rescue from oppression and injustice and prejudice. You give to people who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice. You invest your time, talent and treasure (cash) for the Kingdom on earth.
St. Paul tells us today to be imitators of Christ and to “do everything for the glory of God.” We all know that doing the “right” things: being generous, merciful, loving and forgiving can make a difference to those around us. As believers we must strive to be Christ-like; this is the call of discipleship—and Christ is the model for healing in the world.
In today’s Gospel story the leper begs Jesus to heal him, and Our Lord in pity and mercy, heals him with a touch of His hand. We all have times when we need to ask for healing of one sort or another; and we all have times in which healing is asked of us. We are Christ’s hands in the world and must act to heal what we are capable of healing.
On Wednesday this week, we begin the penitential season of Lent. Our Lenten journey is an opportunity to turn inward and to focus on our continuing conversion; to work to fulfill our destinies as a holy and healing people. In this spirit, Church worship has changes that allow the people of God more consciousness and awareness in our prayer and worship. Lent gives us the opportunity to rest and renew in our faith—and to heal and be healed in mind and spirit.
Our liturgy in Lent reflects a spirit of simplifying. Watch for these changes: sacred silence, more quiet prayer together. We fast from the Gloria and from Alleluias, from flowers and plants and greenery until we arrive at and enter the great Three Days: The Triduum. We change our style of worship to encourage a time of prayer, penance and alms giving. Please be alert to the differences in our liturgy as this is an opportunity to practice concentration in worship and to place all in God’s hands—to turn away from the distraction of worldly things. This is the gift and wisdom of our Church’s liturgical cycles: we are given the opportunity to grow in faith through our worship: to be healed, to cast out all our various demons, and to rise to new spiritual life. Happy Lent!
Keep singing in your hearts!
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.