The Sunday Propers: Crying Out to the Lord

Outside of Easter, Lent is probably one of the most important seasons of the Christian faith.  While contemporary Christianity simply defines Lent as “giving something up” the truth is actually far deeper.  The propers for this Sunday’s liturgy explore this.  Even though we are three weeks away from the Lenten season, the Church slowly begins to draw us into a Lenten state of mind.  The priest wears a penitential purple and the Gloria is omitted.

What are some of the characteristics of a Church that is in a Lenten state of mind?  The Introit describes a people of God surrounded by the sorrows of death and hell, and experiencing affliction.  We Christians are sometimes tempted to think that things have “never been this bad”, but the truth is that from the beginning God’s people have always been surrounded by death and hell, and the misery they unleash.  Such will always be the case until the Second Coming, and the Church begins her journey into Lent with this understanding front and center.

After describing the world around us, the Church then gives us the proper remedy.  A Lenten people are a people who do not cease “crying out to the Lord” because of this injustice.  How often do we begin everything we do by crying out to the Lord?  The Hebrew here is not so much a whimpering cry as a desperate shout for divine assistance.  How often do our parishes do this?  We have lots of ideas on how to improve the New Evangelization, which new parish programs to implement, which fancy new liturgical thinking to adopt, how much of our time is shouting to the Lord for aid?  Likewise, we have all these ideas for political action on how to right the injustices of society.  How many begin with a communal shout to God for help?

The Collect takes this line of thinking one step further.  The prayer describes the situation of being surrounded by affliction and death as not only a fact of life, but a fact we helped bring into the world by our sins.  It is probably incorrect to say we deserve affliction and death.  As children of God, we are called to ultimately enjoy an eternity where neither is present.  Yet because we sin, even if we don’t deserve it, it is a reality we must accept.  I remember a priest on EWTN years ago who theorized that if every Catholic in America spent 5 minutes praying for the country and for the Church, they would be so prosperous and successful we would not be able to recognize either.

Of course we do not do this.  We pray for other things, sometimes even selfish things.  Sometimes we feel prayer isn’t good enough, and go looking for action, and put our trust in something other than God’s deliverance and the power of the Gospel.  Maybe we just prefer to blame someone else in a blog.  The uncomfortable truth is that in the end, we are responsible for the state of things.  Do not look to the actions of the Pope for the state of your parish.  Do not look towards the priest.  Do not even look to your neighbor.  All of them may have some role to play, but in the end, these situations exist because people do not rise to overcome them.  They cannot rise because they do not rely on God to raise them up!

The idea of a Church that needs raising up can be a difficult concept to convey.  Normally we think of the Church, as Christ’s body, as a perfect organization.  She rises up the world via the sacraments, she does not raise up.  Yet we must never forget:  the Church can only raise a fallen world because she has been raised up by God.  She can only be raised up by God if she shouts with desperation towards the Lord for deliverance.  The liturgy describes this cry as one “from the depths”, the deepest part of our being.  Is that our cry?  If not, then this Sunday is a good time to start.  In addition to that cry being from the depths, it is one of a confident and even excited expectation in God’s deliverance.  While the text may say that “I have waited for thee, O Lord”, the simple word “wait” does not do it justice.  The very next verse says that we have waited on the Lord like more than the watchman who looks for morning.  The watchman looks with excitement for morning because at morning his people are safe, he can relax.  Likewise, when God delivers, we can be at peace, because nothing we have been delivered from can harm us.

St. Paul tells us in the Epistle to the Romans “having been justified by faith, we now have peace with God.”  (Romans 5:1)  Elsewhere he asks if there is anything that can separate us from the love of God once he has delivered us, and concludes that nothing, not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”  If God delivers you, none of those things that harmed you before can harm you.  Think of what we could do if we acted fully on this confidence.  Think of what happened if an entire parish acted on this confidence.  Far from a spirit of perpetual melancholy, the purpose of Lent is to get us back to being a people of the Resurrection, the ultimate sign of God’s deliverance of humanity.

If none of these things can harm us, why does the Church suffer so?  Why are our parishes emptying?  Why is our clergy embroiled in scandal after scandal?  The two readings today give us a brief answer.  The Gospel reminds us that many are called, but few are chosen.  God calls all of humanity, and all Catholics to cry out to Him continually for deliverance.  While this call is for all, few actually do it.  This isn’t because they are evil or horrible Catholics.  They just haven’t prepared themselves properly.

That is what Lent is for, and that is what the Church wants us to begin doing even before Lent starts.  She wants us to prepare our hearts and souls not only for God’s deliverance, but for every moment after that deliverance.  St. Paul tells us in the epistle this can only be done through constant preparation.  The greatest of athletes shine on the field because they spend hours a day in preparation for the event.  They condition their bodies not just with exercise but also a strict diet, so that their performance is maximized at every second.  That’s what St. Paul is calling us to do.  Like the great athletes, we must focus every moment on heaven, and prepare to live that life in heaven.  That’s a life of penance and constant calling upon the Lord, but as we learned earlier, that calling gives us much joy.

As we begin this holy season, let us return to a people who shout for God’s deliverance, revolve their entire life around that deliverance, and make the most of it once it arrives.

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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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