A new heart and a new spirit

    February 27, 2024

    Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD,
    and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Ezekiel 18:31

    Lent is a season of sacrifice, prayer and charity ahead of the Easter miracle of new beginnings. Most choose to “give up” something (i.e. coffee, chocolate, alcohol), and others “add” something (i.e. more prayer, volunteering, alms). I personally find the season to be a reflective season: one that is more about exploring the things in my life that have become a regular fixture (or fixation). 

    To help with focus, I generally read a book as a navigation point for this reflection. This season’s book is from a favorite 20th century spiritual writer named Thomas Merton, who expresses an insight that aligns well with our readings. In Merton’s 1955 book, “No Man Is an Island,” he says:

    How can our conscience tell us whether or not we are renouncing things unless it first of all tells us that we know how to use them properly? For renunciation is not an end in itself: it helps us to use things better. It helps us to give them away. If reality revolts us, if we merely turn away from it in disgust, to whom shall we sacrifice it? How shall we consecrate it? How shall we make of it a gift to God and to men [humankind]?

    In our liturgical readings for today, we should look carefully at the verse before the Gospel Acclamation. This little verse is important, and we too often gloss over it during the liturgy as something “in between” the important readings. This simple verse has the sole purpose of preparing us for what we are about to hear!

    Before we can understand the Gospel message — where Jesus reminds us that nothing really matters except God and his Word and that we must discard our very idea of “holiness” to begin to understand — we hear the Prophet Ezekiel say, “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the LORD, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” Ezekiel is telling us to check our baggage, so that we can make an offering of ourselves through “a new heart and new spirit.”

    Is this not what Lent is about, an opportunity to check our baggage? Merton would challenge us to not only check it, but to “consecrate it,” and make a gift of the things we struggle with to God and all of humankind. It is in the struggle where grace can be received, and in the struggle, grace is shared with others.

    Kelley Henderson serves as the President and CEO of Catholic Social Services in Columbus Ohio, helping older adults and families reach their potential for over 78 years.

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