Today I am sharing the reflection given for Saturday morning prayer by Dave Duhamel on our most recent deacon training weekend. Dave is a deacon candidate from Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Oak Ridge, TN.
Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds before my eyes; make justice your aim; redress the wronged, hear the orphans plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. (Isaiah 1:16-18)
This weekend marks roughly the one-year anniversary of the societal shutdown due to the pandemic. Shops, schools, businesses and our churches closed their doors. Careers have been altered, jobs lost, and families at risk of losing their homes. Our kids have lost their sense of stability, the suicide rates have climbed, fear has a grip. People’s mental health has been eroded due to the lockdowns, the anxiety and general sense of hopelessness. There is a sense of darkness that continues to linger over us, both figuratively in the form of the pandemic, but theologically as well, as we are now standing on the cusp of the Fourth Sunday of Lent. We continue to experience the starkness of the penitential season. To use the language of the Scripture, we are entering into the fourth watch of the night. This is the time of total and utter darkness, where we lie vulnerable to the enemy as he seeks to take advantage of the cover of the dark, but also of our complacency, fear, and fatigue. But, rest assured, ‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR STRUGGLES.”
That is the message we hear today from the First Chapter of Isaiah as he shares the Word of God to the people of Israel, as they faced the Assyrians arraying their forces on the borders. He beckons his people to heed the Word of God. He lays out in desperate terms the risks they face by turning away from God, either in despair that God’s grace is not present, or in presumption that their own strength is all they need and that contrition is not required. His words have the exact same level of immediacy today as they did 2700 years ago!
At first glance, one may question the idea that telling us to repent from sin, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the orphan and stand with the widow as just another set of laws or commandments. But it is not! For Christians, these instructions and those of the other prophets, including St. John the Baptist, harken directly to the theological virtue of HOPE. The message of repent, the kingdom of God is at hand, is a message of Hope! These commands lead us to create in our hearts the conditions to receive God’s grace so that His Hope may dwell in us.
Hope is not wishfulness, nor is it luck! Rather, hope is the real and supernatural confidence that we will attain the kingdom of heaven and eternal life by placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying upon the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than on our strength. It is this hope that was first laid out in God’s covenant with His people through Abraham, seen throughout salvation history, and that Christ regained for us by climbing onto the Cross. Christ came to regain for us the hope of salvation through the new covenant that He established. And, as stated in the Catechism, it is because of His sacrifice that our confidence is found in hope. By placing our trust in God, we have the confident expectation of the divine blessing and the beatific vision.
So, what of the suffering that I mentioned previously? In spite of these days of darkness, we faithful need to keep our trust in God, that as St. Paul said in Romans, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
Mother Church, in her wisdom, looks to tomorrow as Laudete Sunday to remind us that the S-O-N will rise again, of the joy and glory we are seeking and that we will experience in a short time, as if to say, “Do not lament!”
So, let me share an image to keep in mind our hope in God. In combat, when we are clearing a building, our lead Marine never takes his eyes or weapons off the threat he is facing. When the team is ready to enter a room to clear it of any threats, the man behind him squeezes his tricep and commands, “With YOU!” In the same way, throughout the Mass, Christ, through the holy priest and deacons, offers you a similar proclamation of support: “THE LORD BE WITH YOU!” Keep that in mind as we battle the enemy, as he sows doubt, fear, and anxiety – that by the grace of God’s Hope, Christ died once and for all, and that by His resurrection, death has no hold upon His faithful.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.