17 March 2012

Return to Him all that is His. . .

3rd Week of Lent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Hosea prophesies to those who turn from God, "Come, let us return to the LORD, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us . . . he will raise us up, to live in his presence. . .let us strive to know the Lord. . .” Let us strive to know the Lord! To know the Lord, to hear His Word and live according to His law, is the one sacrifice He will not refuse. To turn our heart and mind to His purpose and surrender our strength to His end is way back to His presence. But what turns us from the Lord in the first place? Hosea accuses God's people of practicing a piety “like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away.” Soft, thin, easily evaporated—a piety that collapses under the slightest pressure, that hides itself when threatened. Such a dainty love for God cannot stand along side the demands of righteousness. And it didn't. “For this reason I struck them through the prophets, I slew them by the words of my mouth. . .” If our Lord does want burnt offerings, if He rejects pietistic ritual and empty prayer, what does He want from us? “. . .it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” To be truly righteous, we must love God and come to know Him in that love.

Jesus preaches a parable: a Pharisee and a tax collector approach the temple to pray. The Pharisee is convinced of his own righteousness, while the tax collector is convicted in his sin. The Pharisee cries out, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous. . .I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” The tax collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” The Pharisee believes that fasting twice a week and paying a tithe on his whole income makes him righteous, makes him unlike the rest of us. He believes that his own actions—in following the Law—are the source of his holiness. His prayer is a lie. The tax collector approaches the temple, freely confessing his sin, and throws himself headlong into God's mercy, placing himself squarely and fully into God's hands. He knows that any righteousness he might enjoy is solely the work of the Lord. His prayer is true. Which of these two offers an acceptable sacrifice? Jesus says, “I tell you, the [tax collector] went home justified, not the [Pharisee]. . .” 

To be truly righteous, truly justified, we must love God and come to know Him in that love. And when we love God and come to know Him in that love, we are made righteous by Him whom we love. Hosea tells God's people that they have been humbled by the Lord b/c of their flimsy piety. Rather than humbling themselves like the tax collector, they choose instead to exalt themselves like the Pharisee; so now, they are urged to return to the Lord to be healed, to have their self-inflicted wounds bound by the very one they disobeyed. Hosea prophesies to God's fallen-away, “Let us strive to know the Lord!” And in knowing Him, love Him. He wants our contrite hearts, hearts well and truly turned to Him; He wants our strength, our courage turned to His purpose; He wants all of us, each of us; but He also wants all, everything from each of us. Not our pious gestures, nor our memorized and mumbled prayers. He wants from us all that He gives us: love, mercy, patience, and humility. Everything we have to give was first given. Before it all became ours, it was His. Return to Him all that is His; sacrifice your contrite heart. Know Him and love Him.

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