By Father John P. Cush, STD
ON THIS FIFTH Sunday of Lent, we read from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, who speaks the word of the Lord. Our loving and just God states, through the prophet:
“The days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.”
What was the covenant made between God and the people of Israel? A covenant is an agreement between two parties, one superior, one inferior. It comes from the Hebrew word “berith”. The superior party, obviously, is God and the inferior one, humanity. God makes a promise of being our loving, sustaining Creator. We have the responsibility to remain faithful to the statutes God has laid out for us.
There are many covenants throughout the Old Testament: God makes a covenant with Adam, the first man; the Lord makes a covenant with his servant, Noah, who trusts in him and in the plan laid out before him, despite the absurdity of it in the eyes of the world; the Creator makes a covenant with Abraham, our father in faith; the law is given in covenant to the lawgiver and liberator of his people, Moses; and with David the King, a covenant is made between the Lord who dwells among His chosen Israel, and the shepherd-warrior.
In today’s reading, we hear proclaimed the new covenant, one that will be not just for the people of Israel, but for all of humanity.
One thing is consistent throughout the Old Testament: God is always faithful to His end of the covenant, and mankind is perpetually unfaithful. Mankind, infected with the stain of original sin, falls and fails time and again. In and through the Person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, by his Incarnation (His becoming man) and through his Paschal mystery (His Passion, death and resurrection), all are welcomed into the fulfillment of all of the other covenants. Jesus is the new covenant made with humankind. He is the fulfillment of salvation history. The Church is the fulfillment of the restoration of Israel.
This Lent, we need to acknowledge that we, each in our own way, have failed to live up to the covenant of love established in the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord, Jesus. Each and every one us sin; we turn away from the Love who is Jesus.
Since we have failed, individually and collectively, to live up to our part in the covenant, how can we renew it? Lent affords us the opportunity for deep reflection on our relationship with God.
Sin is threefold alienation from God, others and ourselves. In the Holy Cross of Christ, we find threefold reconciliation. The sacrament of penance is the surest way for us sinners to make peace with God, others and our souls. Take the time this Lent to avail ourselves of the reconciliation offered so freely by Jesus. The Lord loves us and wants to heal us. His arms are open wide in an embrace of love for you and me.
In the person of the ordained priest, the minister of reconciliation, Jesus is present and wants to give us his healing love. We should not fear; we need not despair. No sin is too great to be forgiven if only we have true sorrow for it and a firm purpose of amendment. No sin is too miniscule that we should fear we are wasting the confessor’s time. All we need to do is come to him. Jesus is waiting to reconcile us and to love us back to life. The Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah:
“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives
how to know the Lord.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord,
for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”
The surest sign of the covenant is the Eucharist. There is no better time to get back to the practice of confession than during Lent. If you have been away from Mass, come back to the greatest act of covenantal love in the Eucharist. All of the other sacraments give us God’s grace; only the Eucharist gives us Jesus Himself, truly, sacramentally present.
Come this Lent and renew your covenant; come and be saved through penance and the Eucharist.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Jeremiah 31: 31-34
Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Hebrews 5: 7-9
John 12: 20-33
Father Cush, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, is an academic dean and formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State, and an associate professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.