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Covenant, Law, Happiness

Lenten meditations on justice and peace

Saturday, March 7

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Psalm 19, Matthew 5:43-48

Today Moses calls Israel to obedience to its covenant with God and the consequent importance of following God's laws. Meanwhile, Matthew continues to report Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and challenges us -- again -- regarding our relationships with problem people, especially our enemies.

These have been the common themes in the readings since Ash Wednesday. Repent and follow God's commandments -- specifically, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, pray for your enemies, do good to your enemies, be reconciled with your neighbor. A gentle reminder: ignoring God's laws seems to have no good long-term outcomes for individuals or societies, although the short-term-instant-gratification-razzle-dazzle-conventional-wisdom often tries to make it seem as if this isn't so. "Slippery slope? What slippery slope? I don't see any slippery slope, do you? There is no slippery slope here. Trust me. I know."

These actions seem important to God -- given the huge number of passages of Holy Scripture which talk about these things. They are also important to the Church, which has selected these readings for these particular days in our liturgical calendar. The Church is calling our attention to the nature of our relationship with God, and how that vertical relationship with God is woven together with our horizontal relationships with other human beings. We are learning that those relationships should be framed with justice, peace, and reconciliation.

There is no getting away from this. The Word of God is clear, and the will of the Church, as evidenced by the readings for these days, is no less so. That these are not easy sayings to hear is obvious, that we are constantly falling short of these standards is reality. What's the bottom line for Jesus? "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." Not much room to maneuver on that one.

Today's psalm brings a personal and emotional perspective. "Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord", sings the antiphon, a thought repeated in the first words of the psalm, which continues on to encompass evangelism, catechesis, orthodoxy (learning the just ordinances of God), and orthopraxis -- ("I will keep your statutes").

Justice and peace is not a marginal issue in Scripture nor is it an optional choice from a buffet of doctrines and practices up for grabs. Rather, these principles -- and our response, measured by concrete acts -- are central to God's will for all humanity.

Prayer intentions today:

+ For all those pushed to the edges of our society -- for the poor, the alienated, drug addicts, criminals, prostitutes (male and female), runaway and throwaway children, battered wives and children, the elderly who are alone, and all at risk for abortion -- that we who take upon ourselves the name of Christ will not see them as burdens to be eliminated but rather as human persons whose cry for help is a mandate from God.

+ For peaceful resolutions to the conflicts of the world.

+ For all who are our enemies.

Praxis today:

+ We have been making lists: (1) of people in need of reconciliation, (2) of poor people you are acquainted with, (3) of challenges our society faces, (4) of virtues, and (5) of sins. Continue to work on these lists, pray over them, and look for connections. Start a list of connections you are finding.

+ Do some act of service to the poor and marginalized today.