Leaving the past behind: A homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

1773565Lent is almost behind us. Thanks be to God. A few days ago on Friday there was a little gathering of priests. We were talking about the visions that various saints have had as a result of their Lenten disciplines.  St Catherine of Sienna ate nothing for seven years except the Eucharist! And she had many visions. St. Faustina had many visions of purgatory. Then one of the priests asked if any of us had had any Lenten visions.  It being a Friday in Lent, one of our less reverent brothers said,  “I’m having a vision right now of a cheeseburger and fries right now.”

Lent it almost over. That is a good thing. It is a good thing to be excited about what is coming, to be looking ahead. It is an important disposition of a Christian to be excited about the future, about the things God has in store.

I say that because I think there can be a tendency to be preoccupied with the past and its failures and mistakes.  I know a number of people who relive the things that didn’t work out, who love to keep a woe is me attitude. They’re always opening old wounds and talking about them like they happened yesterday. I think there are many folks who are prisoners of their pasts, who have a hard time letting a bygone be a bygone.

Look at the readings today.  We see the folks in the first reading who had suffered slavery, and the only thing that got them through it was the prospect of coming home. And then they came home only to find that it had been destroyed. Their past–it was filled with difficulties and trials. They were in a state of woe as they cried and cried over their recent afflictions, over their past. But then God says, “I’m doing something new!” Calm down. Forget about the past, mourn it, but look towards the future, towards a time of restoration. In the Gospel, we see the woman caught in adultery. Her life was over because of her past, but then Jesus comes to meet her. He gives her a new start, a new lease on life, and he tells her that now that she is forgiven, it’s time to move forward, time to move on. She must have been overjoyed! And then we have the second reading. St. Paul looks back on his past, even on the good stuff. He says it’s all nothing compared to what God has in store, to his future in Christ Jesus. Paul is telling us to look forward.

It’s am essage for us all, myself included. The other day I put a few pieces of pizza in the staff fridge. I went back for them later and they had were gone. I spent five minutes looking in every corner of the fridge, and then I spent the next hour wondering who could be responsible and how such a tragedy could take place on parochial soil. That injustice done to me–I didn’t forget about it and I was still talking about it the next day. Now I’m talking about it now. God wants us to let it go and move on.

But it happens with so many bigger things in life, too. The marriage that failed, the friendship that seems lost and maybe is, the word that was yelled that seems to have wrecked everything. Sometimes it’s being fired from a job or just having been mistreated. Sometimes it’s the bad geometry grade or the broken high school heart.

God is inviting us today to bury our pasts. Yes, they made us who we are–thanks be to God. But God is telling us we don’t have to relive our mistakes and failings every day. Give them to the Lord in prayer and confession and forget about them. One time, a priest told me after confession, “Your sins are forgiven and forgotten.” Those were the words I needed to hear. Pope Francis says God forgets our sins, he chooses to forget them: the is scripture. He buries our past. We have to do the same. Maybe we did mess up and we wish we could take it back. It’s time to move on.

I’m reading a book now called The Walking Drum. There was a line in what I read just the other night. They are on a boat and one of the characters remarks, “the boat doesn’t sail by yesterday’s winds.” The wind of the Spirit is doing something new in our lives.  Yesterday’s wind brought us to where we are today. The Spirit today, he is doing something new!  What thing int he past do you need to let go of?  Leave it behind and look forward, see where the Spirit is taking us now. As our Eucharistic prayer says it today, we have a God who never ceases to spur us on to possess a more abundant life.

The Church this extraordinary year of mercy has a concrete way for us to walk out of what was and into what is and will be.  Every diocese has a holy door. Because we’re big e have two: one at the Cathedral and one at St Meinrad. The idea of the door is that we are leaving the past behind and walking into the new life God has prepared. We are planning a trip to both the Cathedral and St Meinrad. In both cases, there is a plenary indulgence. This is something that comes from the treasury of the Church’s grace entrusted to the pope. It means that when you die, all punishment for your sins committed until now is wiped away. You can also walk through the door for a loved one. It’s a way of reminding us that we are meant to move forward into a wonderful place God has prepared for us.

We get a new start–like the ones in the readings today–at every sacramental encounter. With each sacrament, God invites us to something new, to put the past away and walk into a more glorious future. All the sacraments. Soon we will see some new folks get baptized here. They will leave Egypt behind and enter the Promised Land of the Church. We will see the Spirit enter about 50 souls. Msgr says he has never seen as many confessions as we’ve had lately in all his priesthood. It is time to go. I’m doing more marriage prep than I can keep on top of; five couples just this weekend. Soon we’ll see ordinations. And of course there is the anointing of the sick, which ushers a person right into Glory. And the Eucharist. Our every reception of it ought to change us, make us better, help us enter a more blessed, more favored future. Let us go to the altar of God!