Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2b
When I read the readings for today’s Mass, I was reminded of the Joni Mitchell song, Both Sides Now, made popular by Judy Collins in 1970, my ordination year. I remember incorporating it into our youth retreats. What beautiful lyrics and what a haunting melody! It was a song whose message led us into the temptation of looking at love and life as an either/or reality: illusion (unreal expectations) or real life (our weak humanity). It led to a dualistic view of life. If one chooses to live a life of illusion, one does not live a real life. The song concludes: “It’s life’s illusions I recall, I don’t know life at all.”
The readings for today’s Mass invite us to look at life, Eternal Life, from both sides, from the side of what not to do and from the side of what to do and to choose them both! God does not put before us an either/or reality, a reality that leads to failure and despair. Rather, God shows us a different path. In the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:31b, we read: “I shall show you a still more excellent way.” The more excellent way, it turns out, is the way of love!
The struggle between choosing the good and what is evil is not a theoretical struggle. It is an everyday struggle, with everyday examples. Let us look at what the first reading is telling us not to do: steal, lie, defraud, curse, give scandal, scapegoat others for our own faults. These “do nots” are very explicitly stated in the first reading.
What happens to us when we see wrong-doing in ourselves and in others? Do we give up? Do we collapse? Do we tolerate our sinful humanity in ourselves and in others? We now arrive at the very reason why we have Lent in our Church calendar!
The more excellent way to live is to denounce sin and accept grace!
I remember having a conversation with a “lapsed” Catholic who had a conversion in another faith community. The reason he left the Catholic church, he told me, was because we Catholics never preached about sin, and especially about his sinful behavior. He drank without moderation, he slept with anyone who accepted his advances, he stole, he cheated and so forth. I tried not to be too defensive. But I did remind him of readings like the ones we have in today’s Mass. Maybe he wasn’t ready to hear them. Have we become blind and deaf to the reality of sin in our lives?
Do we really not know what it means to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned? Do we really not know the Jesus who is sick and dying, who is hungry, who is without shelter and who is afraid and shivering, people who may be living within our parishes and communities? I think we do. We may even know some by name. However, that doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t feel helpless and powerless to help, but I believe that we know this Jesus.
Let us not be led astray by those who have turned their back to the Jesus of the Gospel. Let us choose the more excellent way, the Way of Love. We’ve looked at Life from both sides now and we choose Love!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Christ the King Community in Citrus Heights, California.