In our first reading for today, God speaks through the prophet Ezekiel about repentance and conversion. God is willing to give life to those who turn away from sin and start following God’s commandments. God will not hold their past against them. This is good news for us! God does not hold our past sins against us! For our part, we are to turn away from doing those things that take us apart from God.
But then comes a more difficult part to hear. For the one who turns away from being virtuous, and begins doing evil, God will not remember their virtuous deeds, and they “shall die.”
Most of us, I think, do virtuous deeds, but we also sin. We strive to do better, but we’re not perfect. But if we were to strive doing evil, not only would God have forgotten our good deeds, so would we! We would have put aside our relationship to God to choose something else. We would have chosen death.
In reflecting on words like this I find that I need to remember that we are not locked in to how we live with regard to sin and virtue. There are always opportunities, especially during Lent, for us to repent and turn back to God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus challenges us to extend the mercy God has shown us to one another. Not only are we to refrain from actually killing someone, we are to refrain from getting angry. We know too well how people let their anger build up to the point of doing violence. Jesus also connects our repentance toward God to our reconciliation with each other: “…if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother [or sister] has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother [or sister], and then come and offer your gift.”
When we choose to turn back to God, we choose life. When we choose reconciliation and forgiveness, we choose life. May we, “with the help of God’s grace” always choose life.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Community in Detroit, Michigan.