This is my talk to students on the second Monday of Lent, St. Michael Catholic High School, March 13, 2017
“The measure by which you measure will be measured out for you.” (Luke 6:38)
This is from the gospel reading today.
I wonder if we realize what we’re praying for each time we recite the “Our Father” : “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. “ What are we asking God to do? To forgive us to the extent that we forgive others! To treat us exactly the same. Ouch. I wonder if we really want God to do that.
There’s a story of an older man who dies and meets St. Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter has the man’s resume in front of him, and he’s looking it over. “To get in”, Peter tells the man, you have to have accumulated 1000 points over the course of your life. State your case” “OK,” the man thinks, “I’ve been pretty good, I think I can reach that standard,” so he says to Peter, “Well, I’ve been a faithful husband to my wife for over 50 years.” “Excellent, “ says St. Peter. “That’s one point.” The man gulps--one point? “Uh, I’ve been a good father to my children, provided for them well, raised them in the faith.” “Yes you have,” Peter says, “I can see that here in your resume. Another point. “ Panicked now, the man says “I’ve been a faithful Catholic all my life. I’ve kept the Sunday obligation, tithed to my church, supported the Church in its various ministries.” Peter says, “Yes, you’ve been quite admirable in this regard. Another point. “ “Three points?” the man says in utter despair. “A good husband, good father, faithful Catholic, and all I have is 3 lousy points? Who can get into heaven, then, unless God has mercy?” As soon as he says this, the pearly gates swing open wide. “997 points,” St. Peter says. “Welcome, good and faithful servant.”
God is merciful. God forgives. Fortunately, the dominant image of God the Father from the New Testament is not one of a judge who metes out justice, giving us what we deserve, but the Father who stands on his porch, waiting for his prodigal son to return home, and upon seeing him, runs to greet him and ends up throwing a big party for him!
But most of us, I believe, have a different view of things. It’s like our lives are a cosmic see-saw, with good on one side and bad on the other. If we die, the see-saw better be weighted down on the good side, in which case we’re going to heaven. If it’s weighted on the bad side, we’re going to hell. It’s as if God is a giant Santa Claus, “making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”
But this is actually a heresy--it’s called Pelagianism--because it suggests that we ourselves are responsible for our salvation--that we can “earn” it by being good. We can’t. Only God’s grace can save us. Only God’s mercy can save us.
But that is very good news, because God is merciful. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, God forgives us. Whatever sins weigh us down, if we ask God for forgiveness, he forgives us completely. Completely! He doesn’t just drag it to the trash can of our computer drive, where it can be retrieved if we open up our trash. It’s erased, and gone for-ever. FOR--EV--ER (for those of you who have seen Sandlot).
So that’s the good news of Lent. It's very good news! God stands on the porch, scanning the horizons like a hopeful Father, hoping that we will return to him, that we will come home. May God give us the grace this Lent to make that journey back to him.