Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Psalm 118: 1-2, 4-5, 7-8
The Spirit of Compunction
If yesterday’s Gospel pierced your heart with sorrow for the sin of anger, it is likely that today’s Gospel will open a fresh wound. At the Prayer Over the People on Ash Wednesday we asked God for the spirit of compunction, for the grace of a Word-pierced heart. Do you remember the prayer? It is a threshold text, one of great importance for the rest of Lent:
Upon those who bow themselves before your majesty, O Lord, graciously pour out the spirit of compunction, that, by your mercy, they may win the rewards promised to those who repent.
Wound Thou This Heart of Mine
We asked God to pierce our hearts through with the “two-edged sword of His Word” (Heb 4:11), not once, but again and again. Lent is all about becoming vulnerable; it is about approaching the Word of God with none of the protective gear we so cleverly devise against it. It is about saying to God, “Wound Thou this heart of mine; wound it again and again until by the wounding of Thy Word I am healed”
Pray For Those Who Persecute You
Today the command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us pierces our hearts. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:43-45). People ordinarily pass over this command of the Lord, saying, “I am not the sort of person to have enemies.”
An enemy is one who feels hatred for or fosters harmful designs against another. An enemy is one who lives in a state of enmity. Enmity is a feeling or condition of hostility, ill will, animosity, antipathy, or antagonism. Jesus does not address our being enemies in today’s passage; He focuses instead on how we are to respond to those who hold us in enmity, those who have hostile feelings towards us.
Cain and Abel Revisited
Return for a moment to Chapter 4 of the book of Genesis: it recounts the first enmity, the first hostility between brothers.
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell (Gen 4:3-4).
There you have the first indications of enmity: anger and the fallen countenance. The bile of enmity secreted in the heart makes for a bitter face.
Cain’s Fallen Countenance
God himself intervenes to save Cain from further sin.
The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it (Gen 4:6-7).
The whole psychology of sin is contained in these two verses. God reads the anger in Cain’s heart on his face and immediately offers him a way out of it. It is not too late for Cain to do well. God warns Cain of the sin that, like a wild beast, is couching at his door. Sin wants to devour Cain, but God tells him that he must “master it.” The taming of the beast! Master the beast of anger lest it overcome you and eat your heart!
Sin Upon Sin
You know the outcome of the story. Cain does not heed God’s warning. He is overcome by the wild beast of anger. “Cain said to Abel his brother, ‘Let us go out into the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him” (Gen 4:8). The ultimate sin is murder but, looking under it, what other sin do you find? Anger. And looking under anger, what sin do you find? Bitterness. And looking under bitterness, what sin do you find? Envy and jealousy.
The Snake Pit of the Heart
Our confessions are often superficial; we confess the sin that lies at the surface, the obvious sin. We fail to uncover what lies beneath it. The true examination of conscience is an excavation of the heart. We are afraid of overturning the rocks of our sins lest we find under them a pit of hissing vipers. Never fear to expose the snake pit of the heart in confession. As soon as the light of Christ strikes it, the snakes are driven out, but to uncover the pit, one sin after another must be overturned. The story of Cain and Abel teaches that the root of enmity lies, more often than not, in jealousy. Jealousy breeds resentment. Resentment breeds anger. Anger breeds violence. Violence escalates into murder.
Names and Faces From the Past
You may not think that you have enemies, or you may think that your enemies are all ghosts of the past, ghosts who will never come back to haunt you. An easy way to avoid obeying the command given us by the Lord today is to deny that we have enemies. But enmity, in varying degrees, is part of the human condition. Go to prayer then, assuming that you have enemies now and have had them in the past. No one is spared enmity in this life. Go to prayer, remembering those faces and names from the past that bring with them a twinge of pain, a feeling of hurt.
Praying for the “E” List
When you pray, remember to look at your “E list” (“E” for enemy), the list of those with whom you are at enmity, and even of those you imagine hate you. Imagined hatred is as poisonous to the one imagining it as is real hatred. Trust God to sort out the real from the imagined. Name your enemies before God; that is the first step in loving them. The merciful Christ will himself bring to perfection the prayer he commands. “;Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:45).
Prayer of Forgiveness and Reparation
Lord Jesus Christ,
Who revealed the infinite mercy of Your Sacred Heart
in saying: “Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44)
and again, “Bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:28),
give me, I beseech You,
grace to obey these commandments of yours,
and to persevere in praying daily
for those who, in any way,
have abused, cursed, hurt, or rejected me.
I pray for those who hate me,
for those who resent me
and for those who have spoken ill of me.
I beg you to bless them abundantly
and to pour into their hearts
such a profusion of healing mercies
that in them and around them
love will triumph over hatred,
friendship over resentment,
sweetness over bitterness,
meekness over anger,
and peace over enmity.
I further ask you to extend these graces
to their families and to all whom they hold dear.
In particular, I pray today for N. (and N.).
I present him/her/them
to Your Eucharistic Face,
asking You to envelop him/her/them in Its healing radiance,
dispelling whatever shadows of sin
may have darkened his/her/their mind(s)
or hardened his/her their heart(s)
in anger, hatred, or the refusal to forgive.
For my part,
with deep sorrow I confess
that I have sinned grievously against others,
causing them pain and even endangering their souls.
I pray you, O Merciful Jesus, to repair the evil I have done to others
and to heal the hurt I have inflicted on them.
In particular, I acknowledge my sins against N. (and N.)
imploring You to heal and repair the harm I have done him/her/them.
I ask you so to penetrate my heart
with the charity of Your Pierced Heart
that I will be able to forgive
those who have offended me,
to love them sincerely,
and to desire for them all that will contribute to their true happiness in this life and in the next.
By means of a permanent intention,
I desire to renew this prayer
in every offering of Your Holy Sacrifice.
Let the light of Your Eucharistic Face
shine in the hearts of all who harbour
hatred or resentment toward me,
to bring them healing and peace.
Let Your Precious Blood
triumph over evil
in those against whom I have sinned
and in those who have sinned against me,
so that, delivered from the shadows
of this valley of tears,
we may one day praise Your Mercy together
in the sweetness of a boundless charity.