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Father Vincent Hawkswell

Forget the past and start again

Voices April 1, 2019

Jesus writes in the ground beside the woman caught in adultery. “He offers untiring forgiveness for the past, but he demands nothing short of perfection for the future,” writes Father Hawkswell. (Pieter van Lint/Wikimedia Commons)

5th Sunday of Lent, Year C
First Reading: Isa 43:16-21
Second Reading: Phil 3:8-14 
Gospel Reading: Jn 8:1-11

This Sunday is the fifth in Lent. If you made a Lenten resolution, you may have broken it by now, and breaking a resolution even once may tempt you to abandon it completely.

The proper thing to do, of course, is “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” As a banner in a Protestant church in Vancouver puts it, “Our God is a God of second chances.”

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal,” we hear in this Sunday’s Second Reading. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old,” God says in the First Reading. “I am about to do a new thing.”

Do not wait for some great occasion, like New Year’s Day, to begin again. Never leave virtue for the future, because that future may not arrive. The present is the only time we have to perform a duty or receive a grace; it is our daily bread we are told to ask for.

Do not wait until some distraction in your life has ended. “I could be holy if only I had a different job, or my children or my colleagues weren’t so difficult,” we think. “I’ll wait until I get a new job, or I finish paying for the house, or my children leave home.”

Those who become holy are those who want God so much that they seek him even under unfavourable conditions. Indeed, God uses just those conditions to work out our salvation. “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,” he told Isaiah.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey encourages us to divide our duties into four categories: important and urgent; urgent, but not important; important, but not urgent; and not important and not urgent.

Our holiness is important and urgent. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” Jesus said. “Happy that servant whom his master discovers at work on his return!”

Never think of your duty to God as important but not urgent, like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Scarlett always planned to become a great, good, and gracious lady like her mother, but only after the Civil War was over, when she and her family had enough to eat, etc. “I won’t think about that now,” she said to herself repeatedly; “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

The Gospel Reading shows us how God deals with us. “Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked. “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” He offers untiring forgiveness for the past, but he demands nothing short of perfection for the future.

We may never, before we die, drive Satan out of our souls and our lives completely, but when God comes, he must find us in the Resistance movement, not collaborating with the enemy. “I know I’m not going to become a saint just because I become a Catholic,” a convert once told me shortly before his baptism; “but I know this is the way to fight.”

If you have fallen away this Lent from your first high ideals of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, try again. It is not too late. It is never too late.

Almost every parish has a penitential service scheduled for the last week in Lent, but do not wait until then.

“What good do you get by delaying your confession, or putting off Holy Communion?” Christ asks in Thomas … Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. “Cleanse your soul as soon as possible, spit out the poison quickly, and then make haste to take the antidote” – Holy Communion.

“It is I who have called you; I have commanded it to be done; I will supply what is wanting to you; come and receive me.”

For a list of penitential services throughout the Archdiocese of Vancouver visit rcav.org/lent-penitential-services.