(This is inspired by a reflection I heard yesterday while listening to Johnnette Benkovic on her EWTN radio show Women of Grace)
The following was a part of the 1st Reading from Tuesday's Office of Readings in the Roman Rite:
"With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started." (Hebrews 12:1)
The 2nd Reading was taken from St. Basil's book On the Holy Spirit:
"We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism. If we ask what this kind of burial means and what benefit we may hope to derive from it, it means first of all making a complete break with our former way of life, and our Lord himself said that this cannot be done unless a man is born again. In other words, we have to begin a new life, and we cannot do so until our previous life has been brought to an end. When runners reach the turning point on a racecourse, they have to pause briefly before they can go back in the opposite direction. So also when we wish to reverse the direction of our lives there must be a pause, or a death, to mark the end of one life and the beginning of another."
Lent is almost over. The Easter Triduum begins tomorrow. So, how have you been doing?
For some of us, it has probably been an ongoing time in the dessert, for others it has been a time of great growth, for others, it hasn't been any different than any other time of year because they haven't taken advantage of the graces available, especially to repent & change the direction of their lives away from sin & towards Jesus.
Well, I have some good news. It isn't too late to get started. It is never too late until we are dead & standing before the judgment throne.
But wherever we are, all of us need ongoing repentance. Lent & Divine Mercy Sunday are 2 special times of grace to help us in this ridding of the sin that hinders us from running the race. But they also serve to remind us that throughout the year we must continually repent, throwing off sin.
Sin, small or big, is a hinderance. It throws us off course so that we are heading the wrong direction. It may be a slight divergence, or a complete running the wrong way. But we are not heading towards the goal.
Small sins put us slightly off course. Throwing them off through repentance, especially through confession, enables us to be rid of those hinderances that slow us down. The graces we receive from confession enable us to run the race steadily.
The large sins, aka mortal, throw us completely off course. We are not running towards the goal, but away from it. As St. Basil points out, repentance is especially needed here.
That repentance starts with a pause to change direction, just like a racer. But what is especially important is how quickly that is done. In a foot race, or a swim meet, the time taken for that turn around is what often determines whether the racer wins or loses.
In practical terms, that means we cannot presume that we will have enough time later to repent. None of us knows the moment of our death. It could occur before you or I finish the next sentence. So, the need to repent is urgent.
During the next few days we will see the Church's liturgies remind us of what Jesus did to enable us to be reconciled to God. It would take too long to go into detail, but I will point out a few things.
Holy Thursday, we see the institution of the Eucharist & the priesthood. Friday we commemorate Jesus' death. That death is re-presented at every Mass & Divine Liturgy. When we receive the Eucharist we are able to receive those graces Jesus won to enable us to repent as well as run the race as we should. Easter Sunday evening is when Jesus instituted the sacrament of confession. That sacrament gives us the assurance that we are forgiven. We can be assured of that because of what Jesus did on the cross. The priest is not the one who assures us of that. When he says "I absolve you" he isn't speaking of his own authority. He is speaking as the visible representative of Christ. (I admit this is a very poor summary of the sacraments/mysteries & what they do.)
As St. Basil points out, when we are baptized, we make that choice to change the direction of our lives. For those who are baptized as infants, we must make the decision to accept for ourselves that change in direction.
After baptism & confirmation/chrismation we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit to enable us to live the new life we are meant by God to live. That is what running the race means, living that life.
As I already pointed out, the other sacraments/mysteries are there to enable us to do so, especially when we stumble/sin.
But I want to point out one other thing that God has provided for us to help us in running the race, the cloud of witnesses.
Who are they & why are they important? Let's go back to what happens at a race. There are the runners & there are the spectators. The cloud of witnesses are the spectators of the spiritual race. In this case, the saints who have gone before us & are now in Heaven. Just like the spectators at a foot race or swim meet cheer on the racers, the cloud of witnesses is there cheering us on. They do so by praying for us, interceding for our needs. They are waiting for us to ask them.
So, as I said before, it is still not too late, for all of us, to be sure we get all the graces God has for us this Lent & beyond. God has given us so much to enable us to do so. Look at your life. See what you need to cast off. Go to confession, attend the various liturgies, spend time in prayer & ask the saints to intercede for you. Then run the race, looking towards the goal.
God willing, I'll see you at the finish line.