I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, "Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
"Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.
Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged;do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Perfection and shame
Where Matthew has Jesus say, on the mountain: "You must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48), Luke, in the sermon on the plain, reads: "Be compassionate, as your Father is compassionate." Luke's expectations are more specific and more attainable. All sinners ought to be capable of compassion, as they continually seek this very response of mercy from God. Yet, Jesus does not allow half-measures; it must be all, it seems, or nothing! Pardon must be bestowed so generously upon anyone who has hurt us, that it runs over and pours into the folds of one's own garments. We are expected to bestow twice as much love as the other person showed us hate, twice as much trust as the other party manifested suspicion.
This divine compassion can be partly learned, as we meditate upon the example of Jesus who died for us when as yet we were God's enemies by our sins (Rom 5:8). Yet, this attitude of overwhelming goodness and understanding can never be fully and adequately learned by study nor be acquired by human effort, no matter how diligent and persevering we may be. We cannot transform ourselves into God, as the human race should have learned at the beginning (Gen 3:5).
The only way to surrender ourselves to God is unconditionally and without reservation. Without anticipating all that will happen to us and be asked of us, we give ourselves totally into God's hands. We repeat Jesus' beautiful, heroic prayer: "not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). God will then act through us, reaching others with infinite compassion, infinite tenderness, infinite trust! Without counting the cost or the outcome, such divine life will overflow into the folds of our garments! Lenten fasting may weaken our physical strength and reduce the aggressiveness of our human response. If it is accompanied, however, by a surrender of our spirit to God, then divine strength and infinite responsiveness will flow through us. Our fasting reminds us and symbolizes to others that God alone is the source of our decisions and actions.
We can pray for mercy as Daniel did in today's first reading. We have only to admit that "we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and laws."Daniel admits several times to be "shamefaced." We seem to have a problem today, to admit being ashamed of anything. But while shame can be destructive it can also be purifying and transforming. Sometimes when people reject shame they lose all sense of moral right and wrong. A genuine kind of shame casts off pride and make-belief. It begets a wholesome humility and honesty. It freely admits whatever was wrong, this time from the attitude of a delicate conscience. It helps the adult to be again as a child in spirit, in trust, in a wholesome purity. Such an adult t