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RCIA – 3rd Sunday of Lent – Law and Commandments

March 10, 2012

Law and Commandments                                                         Third Sunday of Lent, 2012

Opening prayer: Loving God, you gather us today on this third Sunday of Lent. We are your people. You form us with your covenant and law. Open us to a deeper understanding of what it means to live as your people. We pray through Christ, our Lord, who saves us. Amen

Laws. Rules. Commandments. Sin. Forgiveness.

Acknowledging our sins is the main focus of Lent for all believers. We need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, to be pure in order to stand before God when the time comes, either our death or standing before Him in the Eucharist. That preparation involves self-awareness, introspection, understanding, confession and reconciliation.

Today we begin with the Ten Commandments. We see these as rules to live by, but they are more than that. They are a communication from God, where by God makes a covenant with his people. We are his people and this is what he expects from us. A covenant is an agreement, a promise, a vow between parties to pledge to do or not do something. We are to live our lives according to these promises. Similarly, a marriage is a covenant. A man and a woman come together before God and make vows and promises to each other. There are always three persons in the marriage covenant, the man, the woman and God.

The Ten Commandments are a covenant between God and the individual and his neighbor. The first three commandments outline our relationship with God and the last seven spell out our relationship with our neighbor.

We were chosen by God at our baptism, and now, with the advent of the Easter Vigil, and the receiving of the remaining Sacraments of Initiation, we have a higher calling as one chosen by God. With this calling comes a responsibility to live a righteous life as Jesus shows us in the Gospels. Hear God’s Word, act accordingly, and repent when we fall.

All just laws set boundaries. This doesn’t make them restrictive, rather they are freeing. God’s love shows us the proper way to live, just like a parent who has lovingly placed limits on a child’s behavior and shows them the better way to act. The child feels safer and loved having these boundaries in place. We too feel the safe harbor of God’s love when we honor His commandments.

Reading 1 Exodus 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery [God liberated us from our sins and gave us the gift of salvation]. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation [our behavior has consequences. God’s jealousy is for our own welfare because so many worldly things can draw us away from God]; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.” [If we lived in a perfect world where everyone kept these laws then the fear that we have of each other would disappear.]

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Do you think the Ten Commandments are reasonable? What guides your thoughts and actions? Are you grateful for having been taught right from wrong? At what age were you taught God’s way, if at all? What difference has it made in your life? Are the commandments important to you? If so why?

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to give to the Israelites. They are direct, incontestable commands from God. While the Israelites received them on stone tablets, God gives them to each and every one of us by writing them on our hearts. So we know what we have to do to be good, the problem is our human nature, as we will see in the Gospel, Jesus understands us very well. Breaking any of these commandments is a crime and a sin against God, and we require reconciliation with God to return to God’s grace.

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The events and stories and teachings of the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, are from long ago but they are still meant for us today. They help us get closer to God and better understand ourselves. We are not to be spectators of the Bible stories; rather we are to see ourselves in them.

Today we hear from the Gospel of St. John. Currently we are in Year B of our Lectionary cycle which takes most of its readings from the Gospel of St. Mark. Why the switch? John’s Gospel is used multiple times in every year of the Lectionary’s three year cycle because John has a special way of helping us see who Jesus really is and challenges us to make a personal response to him. The Gospel of John is a different style than the other three Gospels. There is a lot of symbolism in this Gospel, and most of John’s stories have two levels of meaning; they are allegories. The first level is the literal story, the story of Jesus’ life here on earth, the story line. The second story is the intentional meaning of the story; this is where the challenge to us is. It helps us to see how the risen Christ can relate to his followers on a more personal level, both the followers of John’s time and Christ’s followers in the Church today. So we see John more during Lent to challenge us to see our faults as Jesus sees them.

Take a moment and place yourself into the scene of today’s Gospel. Imagine you are in the temple. The Passover is near and many people are gathering there to pray. There are also people buying sheep and oxen and doves to offer sacrifice to God. It has the scurry of a marketplace more than a house of worship. Then you see Jesus enter into the temple:

Gospel John 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

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What do you think of Jesus’ reaction in the Temple?

What do you think the literal meaning of this passage is?  Now think about intentional meaning.

In this particular story we see a side of Jesus we may never have experienced before. He feels very passionate about the temple and he reacts to what is happening. Think about the times in your life you have felt passionate about something or someone. Now think if they or the thing were being disrespected. What would you do? Think about how you would feel?

Now think about being the person that is disrespecting something that a person feels passionate about. How would you reconcile yourself?

Connect your life to the Gospel. How are you like the individuals in the temple? How has the Church (temple) played in your relationship with Christ? What do you think Jesus meant by “this temple?”

The worship of God comes before all things, before our life’s goals, before our job, before monetary profits. Worshiping money means you place a very high value on it, higher than God and therefore it becomes your god. We need to recognize what is important in our lives and determine which has priority, things or God. If God is first in our lives, then we treat all other things in the light of God’s love. Things are in their right order.

Just as Jesus drives out the animals and the money changers from the temple, so must we drive out and tear down our own sins. The knotted cord that Jesus uses to drive them out is symbolic for all of our sins. Each knot is a sin, ours and our neighbors, all of them connected together. The zeal with which He drove them out symbolizes His intense love for the temple; He didn’t want to see it defiled. Here we are to imitate Christ’s zeal whenever we see something amiss; we must be on fire for the defense of the truth. Just as Jesus is driving out the marketplace from the place of worship, the Jews get all indignant and say who are you to do this. Jesus could already see the plotting in their eyes; they wanted to kill Him then. As the Gospel states, Jesus equates his body to the temple; he knew early in His ministry that His bodily temple was going to be destroyed by our sin. What we destroy, God rebuilds.

Examination of Conscience

An examination of conscience is something Catholics do prior to “going to Confession.” Going to Confession is a common term for the sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as Penance. There is a lot of sin in the world, but before we can begin to make reparation to God for the sins of others, we must confront our own sinfulness and bring those sins to Jesus in the sacrament and by the Grace of God be reconciled to Him once again.

Jesus instituted this Sacrament on the evening of His Resurrection. He gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins in His name. The Sacrament cleans our souls. It gives our soul a bath, so to speak. The priest is Christ’s instrument of forgiveness and reconciliation.

While Jesus, through His priests, forgives us, we must also do our part in this Sacrament. We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see ourselves as God sees us. Only God can show us our weaknesses and the areas of self-centeredness in our lives. Once God helps us to see our failings, He then shows us that we are in need of healing and reconciliation.

The examination of conscience is a great way to invoke God’s help to find our faults and weaknesses. The Holy Spirit helps us to see where we need conversion in our lives. This conversion is an on-going process throughout our whole lives. Additionally, we need to be sincere in our use of the Sacrament. We call this true contrition. We must realize that it is our sins that wounded Christ, and He died to save us from ourselves.

We realize that God knows all our sins before we confess them, but it is the act of saying them out loud to the priest that is key to receiving the grace of Reconciliation. We must acknowledge the types of sins, the details of them, and the number of times we committed them. This is how we humble ourselves before our God.

The examination of conscience itself walks us through the Ten Commandments, looking at each a little more deeply than their literal meaning to help us receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.

  • Do I give God time every day in prayer?
  • Do I treat money or power or fame as a god?

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

  • Have I used God’s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
  • Have I wished evil upon any other person?

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

  • Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
  • Do I do needless work on Sunday?

4. Honor your father and your mother.

  • Do I honor and obey my parents?
  • Do I try to bring peace into my home life?

5. You shall not kill.

  • Have I physically harmed anyone?
  • Have I been angry or resentful?
  • Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization?

6. You shall not commit adultery.

  • Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
  • Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
  • Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words, and actions?

7. You shall not steal.

  • Do I waste time at work, school or at home?
  • Do I pay my debts promptly?
  • Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

  • Have I lied?
  • Have I gossiped?
  • Am I sincere in my dealings with others?

9. You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.

  • Have I caused impure thoughts by impure reading, movies, conversation or curiosity?
  • Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?

10. You shall not desire your neighbor’s goods.

  • Am I jealous of what other people have?
  • Are material possessions the purpose of my life?
  • Do I trust that God will care for all of my material and spiritual needs?

How to go to Confession

  • Confession is always said to a priest, and you have the option receive the sacrament anonymously or face to face.
  • After the priest’s greeting, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to read some Scripture for reflection, then say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (say how long) since my last confession. These are my sins.”
  • Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. If you need more guidance, ask.
  • Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins. (Sometimes, the Act is said first in this step.)
  • The priest will dismiss you with words similar to “the Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.” You respond “Thanks be to God.”
  • Spend some quiet time with Our Lord thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible.

An Act of Contrition

  • O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

Heaven is not guaranteed. If it was there would be no need for Reconciliation. Jesus came to heal sinners. Pray for Jesus’ healing power.

Admitting sin is one of the hardest things to do. There are little sins like littering or telling a white lie, those are easy to confess. The more difficult sins to confess are the subtle sins, those sins that are a part of our daily lives, they are “normal”; they are a part of who we are. It is here where we need true conversion. And for this true conversion to take place we need Christ in our lives. Only he can show us the way out of our sinful normal.

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Include Christ in your daily life. In your daily prayer, of course, but also in activities outside of church, such as a Bible study, or remembering Jesus during a midday prayer, or having a visual reminder nearby, such as a statue or a plaque or a rosary.

One final thought from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: “A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble – because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ himself carried out.

“That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or – if they think there is not – at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.”

Closing Prayer: O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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