Great Is Our God

“Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those who love you and observe your commandments!”

The Old Testament reading today starts out on a promising note–God is great and awesome–we can get on board with this. God is great and awesome; He loves us and is so happy with all of the ‘nice’ things we do.

We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; But wait, what’s this stuff about sin?  Wicked? I haven’t been wicked–I keep my lawn mowed and my snow plowed, wave to my neighbors, and smile at service people. I may lose my temper occasionally, or cut corners here and there, but nothing that’s wicked.

It can be difficult in our clean, well-fed, comfortable world to think we’ve done anything wicked. Our ‘problems’ aren’t sins, they’re addictions. You think my behavior is wrong, but I don’t see it that way. We just need to understand more, to be better educated and more tolerant; then God will look at us and smile.

…we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.

This all seems rather vague–rebelled, departed from commandments. I’m pretty sure I didn’t intend to do any such thing. But if, through no fault of my own, I did, please excuse me, and I’ll do better in the future.

The passage opens with the greatness of God–his awe-inspiring merciful covenant. Perfection itself has entered into a covenant with us, and we’ve ignored Him. And, to top it off, we don’t think doing that is so bad. We’ve stopped meditating on God, and instead are busy looking at ourselves. Our spiritual practices during Lent are just one more item on the to-do list, one more box to check. Instead of being the means to an end, they become the end itself.

In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Screwtape offers Wormwood on how to keep his human from prayer:  

“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meet to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves, and not notice that this is what they are doing….Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.”

To know the mercy and love of God in Christ, we must keep our focus always on Him. And Lenten fasts, almsgiving, and works of mercy are tangible ways for us to do this, along with Stations of the Cross, praying (not just saying) the Rosary and countless other spiritual practices. These all increase our longing for Jesus.

So, the rest of this Lent, keep the words of the classic hymn in mind:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of his glory and grace.  (Helen Lemmel, 1863-1961)

Pamela Pettibone joined Diocesan’s staff in 2006, after a number of years in the non-profit sector. Her experience is in non-profit administration including management, finance, and program development, along with database management and communications. She was a catechist in her parish RCIA program for over 15 years, as well as chairperson of their Liturgy Commision. Received into the Catholic Church as an adult, Pamela’s faith formation was influenced by her Mennonite extended family, her Baptist childhood, and her years as a Reformed Presbyterian (think Scott Hahn).