Today, I want to refer you yet again to a beautiful text from Scripture. Allow me to give it some introduction. We are in Lent, the time “par excellence” to “go back to God”. A very good way of doing that is to remember just what kind of God he is. This remembrance has the natural effect of making us want to be like him. Because he is a very beautiful God. A God of justice and mercy. There are texts in the Old Testament which reveal this to us in incredibly powerful ways. Sometimes it is affirmed directly, and sometimes indirectly, as in the moral precepts that are given, together with the reason why. The reason is always the same. The absolutely most basic principle of Judeo-Christian morality is very simple: we are called to imitate God, “to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect” Mt 5,48. This principle is then usually followed by a series of more concrete precepts. The precepts spell out for us what it means to imitate God, and therefore, what God is like; what God would be like if he dwelt in our world.
Today, we will be using the readings from the mass for the First Scrutiny, since we are celebrating this First Scrutiny at the 11:15 mass. The first reading of what I thought was going to be today’s readings, that is, the ordinary mass for the third Sunday of Lent, provides us with just such a list of precepts. But it’s far from being the most powerful, the most effective of the several versions that we find in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible). There is a far more beautiful list in the book of Leviticus, chapter 19. It begins by affirming the principle: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” There follows a series of beautiful precepts, all of them, acts of either justice or compassion. And they are punctuated with the words: “I am the Lord.” Or “I, the Lord, am your God.” This repetition has the effect of reminding us, precept after precept, of why it is asked of us. As a result, when we finish reading this text, the precepts are all wrapped, in our hearts and minds, with the thought of the holiness of God, the reason why we want to do the things prescribed here, the notion that holiness simply means justice and mercy. This chapter from Leviticus is like a long meditation, a fleshing-out of the beautiful verse that we find in the prophet Micah: “You have been told, o mortal, what is good, what the Lord requires of you: only that you practice justice, that you love mercy, and that you walk humbly with your God.” Mi 6,8
Because this text is so much more powerful than the one that is provided in the first reading for the third Sunday of Lent, I want to make it available to you. Few things will be of greater benefit in this Lenten season than reading and meditating this text. You can access it online, in the same way that I indicated in last Sunday’s bulletin for the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Just go to the website of the “U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops”. Go to the title “Bible”. A list of sub-titles will appear. Click on “Books of the Bible”. A list of the books of the Bible will appear. Click on “Leviticus”, and then simply click on the chapter number: “19”. The text will appear on your screen. But again, I have provided paper copies of an abbreviated version of this text for those who, like me, prefer to read on paper. These copies are available on the parish-services table in the foyer.
I hope that you will take time to read this beautiful text during this Lenten season because I know that if you do, you will grow in your appreciation of God.
May he bless you all,