On this last Sunday before the beginning of Lent, Holy Mother Church wants us to be clear about the real meaning of penance. None of the acts of self-denial we might offer up serve any purpose at all if they are not animated by true love of God and neighbour, in other words if we are not in a state of grace. Our Lord’s word is clear: If you love me, keep my commandments. So if we do not keep the commandments, we do not love. We could fast on bread and water every day of Lent and lacerate our flesh with the discipline, if we do not live in the grace of God it would serve no purpose.
The hymn to charity that St Paul gives us in today’s epistle tells us much about this all-important virtue. True charity has a number of attributes that distinguish it from its counterfeits. For today, let’s concentrate on two of them. Charity, says the apostle, “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth”. What gives joy to a person who loves God is the truth, not wickedness. In other words, for one who has things in the proper perspective, there is nothing unjust or evil that could possibly be cause for joy. This is precisely the reason for which, as Catholics, we may not rejoice or congratulate those who are living in “irregular situations”, otherwise known as a adultery or sodomy. Our entire family might be there to celebrate; everyone may be clapping their hands and saying how wonderful it is. A Catholic may not. St Paul is clear: Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth.
We cannot celebrate a relationship based on something that is contrary to God’s law. We cannot bless those who are engaged in it. The answer is simple, it is easy, it is clear. Love the person, hate the vice, and hating the vice means not condoning, not celebrating, not blessing, not letting on that things are OK, that we’re all fine. To do so is to declare that it is not love of God and neighbour that we have, but love of self, love of being seen as a nice person, but not as a good, a truly good person who hates iniquity.
Many fail to understand this, and that is why in today’s Gospel, we find the blind man beseeching Our Blessed Lord: Lord, that I may see! Lord, please give me the grace to see. And so it is that we must pray for all those who do not see, who do not understand the simplicity of the Gospel and its demands which never change.
Let us beseech Him this Lent to open the eyes of those who are blind to the truth, who have grown so used to playing games with the truth that they have lost all understanding of what objective truth is. All they know is their truth, but their truth is not the truth, it is self-seeking. Let us beseech Him through Our Lady of Lourdes for the grace to ever cherish all that is truly holy and to shun all that is fake and counterfeit. The time is short. This could be our last Lent. May it be our best.