By Archbishop William E. Lori
It probably isn’t good when an author disagrees with the headline over his or her column, but that’s the situation I’m in. We’ve all heard the old saying, “charity covers a multitude of sins,” and, like a lot of old sayings, it is true as far as it goes. Trouble is, it doesn’t go quite far enough.
Actually, charity eradicates a multitude of sins. And this is a truth that you and I need to reflect on in faith as we enter upon the season of Lent. Let’s get right to the heart of the matter.
So many times we’ve read in the Letter of St. John that God is love. God is not just an intelligent mind that designed the universe or an impersonal force that keeps things going. No, God is personal and all-loving. In the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Son became one of us to reveal the Father and his love. And not just to reveal the Father’s love but to enable us to participate in it. He did this by preaching and working miracles, and above all, by taking upon his shoulders the full weight of human sinfulness, mine and yours. There, on the cross, he conquered our sins by a supreme act of love: he gave his life for us and was raised from the dead. Blessed John Paul II used to say that on the cross Jesus manifest a love stronger than sin and more powerful than death. His love has the power to eradicate our sins.
Faith is the key that unlocks the door to this supreme act of love. St. Paul puts it this way: “… I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.” When we are truly evangelized, that is to say, when the Gospel has truly found a home in our hearts, then what the Lord said and did to save us becomes deeply personal. We begin to realize that we are loved by God with an eternal, generous and forgiving love. We begin to realize that our lives only make sense in light of God’s love and that his love is the only path to true freedom and real joy.
Lent calls us to turn away from our sins. And let’s face it, it’s not easy to let go of those sins we’ve gotten used to. Spiritual writers rightly tell us that we have to engage in true spiritual combat to overcome not only sin but also the after-effects of sin in our lives. They also point to the tools for rooting sin out of our lives: the sacrament of reconciliation; fasting or other forms of self-denial; prayer; and acts of charity, especially for the poor and needy. Some people look at these “tools” and decide that Lent is a grim business. These spiritual tools can be like an unused treadmill that daily reminds its owner that he or she is no longer exercising – that is, until we fall in love with God.
Once God’s love has found a home in our hearts, then we experience Lent in a new way. It becomes a season of joy. Confession becomes a moment of true reconciliation with God and those around us that frees us for love. We experience “Eucharistic amazement” as we encounter Christ and his love in the Mass. Prayer is not a burden but a path to intimacy with God. Self-denial is seen no longer as repression but a way to enlarge our capacity to receive and reflect God’s love. And our acts of charity are now not an imposition in our busy lives. Instead, we discover that in giving we receive God’s love in ever greater measure.
To paraphrase the late Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, this Lent may we find God and fall in love with God in a quite absolute, final way. Falling in love with God changes everything.
Copyright (c) Feb. 7, 2013 CatholicReview.org