Second week of Lent
If God is for us, who can be against us?
By Most Reverend Joseph P. McFadden
The Catholic Standard & Times presents the second of a six-part series authored by the auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia to aid readers in their Lenten preparation during this year of St. Paul.
As we enter the second week of Lent, the Apostle Paul speaks to us about a truth that is fundamental for all who will place their trust and hope in the God who has made us and called us to life. This fundamental truth is that God’s love for us is absolute and is unconditional. It is pure love and is not dependent on our worthiness or our merit to receive such a wonderful gift.
Paul first experienced this love on the Road to Damascus. Up until that time his relationship with God was centered on his fulfillment of the various prescriptions and rituals that were an essential part of his Jewish faith. He points out that he was a devout Jew and that he followed the Mosaic Law faithfully. He went to the synagogue regularly and he made sure that his life reflected the tenets of his belief in Judaism. In short he was a very religious person from the standpoint of ritual.
I point this out because it seems despite all of the attention he gave to being a close follower of the Lord, his attention to the rituals did not allow him to really know God. His faith was really rooted in ritual, and yet the ritual itself was not sufficient. It was the personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that allowed Paul to really experience God and that ultimately transformed him into the great Apostle of the Gentiles.
I sometimes wonder if many of us are not in a similar situation to that of St. Paul prior to his conversion experience. It seems for many people that practicing their faith comes down to simply ritual. So often during Lent many will decide to undertake some penitential practices that they hope will please the Lord or to decide to say some additional prayers or perhaps attend church for 40 days as if this ritual will be pleasing to the Lord. If we should learn anything from St. Paul it is that following rituals for the sake of doing rituals will never allow us to experience the loving God who desires so much more for us.
Our faith is about a God who loves us so deeply that He desires to share His very being with us. His desire is for us to know Him intimately and to share His very life. This life is a life of unconditional love. It is a life that finds its full expression in the Paschal Mystery. It is in the dying and the rising of the Lord that God reveals in a most powerful way the depth of his love for humankind. He is buried for our sake so that even the grave has lost its hold on us. He is risen for our sakes so that we understand our own destiny.
In Romans, Paul exhorts us to know and experience this love of God. The question is where can I find it? I suggest we start with the sacrament of reconciliation. It is this gift that the Lord has given to His Church that affirms for all time that only we can separate ourselves from God’s love. When we do evil and allow sin to be the master of our life we turn away from our lover. When we refuse to acknowledge that we have sinned we refuse to allow our God to love us unconditionally, and in doing so we truly have no knowledge of our God.
On Wednesday evenings during Lent, Cardinal Rigali has asked the priests of the Archdiocese to make the sacrament of reconciliation available for the faithful in their parishes. In doing so, we all have the opportunity to experience God’s unconditional love and to know personally what St. Paul came to know in his life: “If God is for us; who can be against us?”
Brothers and Sisters: If God is for us; who can be against us? Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides? Who shall bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? God, who justifies? Who shall condemn them? Christ Jesus, who died or rather, was raised up, who is at the right hand of God and who intercedes for us. – Romans 8:31b-34
In this short passage there are five questions. What convinces you that the last sentence is the answer to all five questions?
Share a time when you felt God’s support at a difficult time in your life.
During this Lenten Season, what can I let go of so I can die to self to make Christ more visible?