Ember Saturday of Lent
(a day of prayer and fasting)
Deuteronomy 26 : 16-19 ; Ps 119: 1-8 ; Matthew 5 : 43-48
WE BESEECH thee, O Lord, graciously to hear the prayers of they people: and of thy great goodness turn aside from them the scourges of thine anger; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Since becoming a Catholic one thing I have heard said by long-standing Catholics, more times than I know, is “they are only rules”. There seems to be a widespread opinion that rules are not the sort of thing that God is interested in. And that if one breaks a few rules here and there that it doesn’t really matter that much. Very often this is being applied to moral matters or liturgical matters.
It is of course a very convenient position to hold because it gives one permission to disobey rules when one wishes to do so.
Perhaps it is a reaction against legalism in the past? It may also be to do with our society’s increasing emotionalism where people are more concerned with feelings than reason and logic. So people are concerned with whether someone has been offended by an action more than if the action itself was actually morally wrong. It may also be the influence of Easter religions and philosophies. Or a combination of all these things!
In the reading from Deuteronomy today, the Lord exhorts the people of God to keep all His commands and ordinances with all their heart and soul. He commands them to walk in His ways. These are not therefore rules which one can sit lightly to. God requires obedience. And obedience leads a person to walk in His ways. This is the point. It is not legalism but the way in which we train ourselves to walk in the divine way.
In the Gospel, Christ makes incredible demands of His disciples. We are to not only love those who love us back, but to love even those who are against us. But that is not all! We are to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect! If it weren’t our Lord Himself teaches this, we might think the person saying this was mistaken. How on earth can we be perfect as God? The simple answer is that we can’t make ourselves perfect, but God can!
It is of course grace which enables us to become what God wills for us. And grace itself is the very life of God poured out for us. The more we are filled with grace, the more we cooperate with it, the closer we come to perfection as God wills.
So the important question must be, how?
Part of the answer is that we must walk in His ways. It is not about legalism it is about training ourselves. We must learn obedience with humility. We want to find reasons to not obey rules and commandments often because deep down we do not want to let go of our independence, we do not want to humble ourselves before God.
We are called to live Christ’s commandments (which includes His words, commands and actions) because it is the path to the perfection of charity.
BLESSED are those that are undefiled in the way : and walk in the law of the Lord.
2. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies : and seek him with their whole heart.
3. For they who do no wickedness : walk in his ways.
4. Thou hast charged : that we shall diligently keep thy commandments.
5. O that my ways were made so direct : that I might keep thy statutes!
6. So shall I not be confounded : while I have respect unto all thy commandments.
7. I will thank thee with an unfeigned heart : when I shall have learned the judgements of thy righteousness.
8. I will keep thy ceremonies : O forsake me not utterly.
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Fr Ian is a catholic priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England. He is by papal dispensation married. He lives in a former convent with his wife and children in Devon, near the sea.