Monday, February 26, 2018

The Second Sunday of Lent - February , 2018

One of my favorite plays is Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. I have been privileged to appear in the play twice, once in the dual roles of Professor Willard and Joe Stoddard, and the other time in the role of Doctor Gibbs. In one of those productions, I had a director (Jim Critchfield, who worked with some of our students at the Father Ryan Arts Center) who gave us some very good advice. He told us, “Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer Prize for that play. So don’t think you can improve upon his writing. Say the lines the way he wrote them.”

That advice is very good for an actor presenting a classic play. I think it is even better advise for a priest celebrating Mass. The Church, in its wisdom, has given us some very beautiful prayers. Some of them may not be as easy to follow in the current translation as in the former translation, but there can be great profit from working through such language. So today I would like to offer a Lenten reflection by looking at a text we hear more often during this time. Along with the four standard Eucharistic Prayers, the Church gives us two special Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation. I particularly like the first of those two prayers, and I look forward to using it every year during Lent.

Much of this prayer comes across as a reminder of God’s eternal love for us, even when we have turned away from Him. “From the world’s beginning [you] are ceaselessly at work, so that the human race may become holy, just as you yourself are holy.” I am always touched by the image of Christ’s cross as a sign of that love, an image that leads into the Institution Narrative by reminding us, “Before his arms were outstretched between heaven and earth, to become the lasting sign of your covenant, he desired to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.”

The theme of reconciliation, in this prayer as in Lent itself, includes not just reconciliation with God. When we find ourselves in the right relationship with God, we then become more open to one another. To me, the difference between the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation is one of emphasis. The one I am looking at here could be summed up as “We are reconciled to God and thus to one another.” The second prayer strikes me as saying, “We are reconciled to God and thus to one another.” So in the first of these prayers, we pray for all the faithful by asking God, “grant that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, they may be gathered into one Body in Christ, who heals every division.”

What touches me most strongly in this prayer is the theme, throughout the entire prayer, of the great hope held in store for us. We speak to the Father of “your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom we, too, are your sons and daughters.” Throughout the prayer, we see more deeply that we are called beyond the merely human to share in the divinity of Christ. We are looking forward to “the hour when we stand before you, Saints among the Saints in the halls of heaven.” That theme is strong as the prayer draws to its conclusion. As this Lent is meant to lead us to Easter, so this whole prayer concludes, “Then, freed at last from the wound of corruption and made fully into a new creation, we shall sing to you with gladness the thanksgiving of Christ, who lives for all eternity.”
                                                                                        Father H