They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country,
the father of Alexander and Rufus,to carry his cross. Mark 14:1—15:47
In the early Church any sort of sin that obviously impacted the community: such as betrayal of Christ or the Church, or unfaithfulness to family or spouse, required an obvious, visible penance. The Sacrament of Reconciliation involved acknowledgment of the sin and public penance. Punishing was not the goal as much as was discouraging harmful behavior and encouraging a new start in the way of Jesus.
The season of Lent was the time for public sinners to prepare by prayer, alms giving, and fasting to re-enter the Church during the Easter Triduum. Often churches had a special section where these Christians sat during their time of penance.
It did not take long before other Catholics began sitting with these people and sharing their penances out of a sense of solidarity. Eventually, the reality that we are all sinners—-whether our sin be well known or not—-led the entire Church to take on the 40 days of extra-focused attention on penance, faith, and religious practice.
To say that we are all sinners could sound like a put down. And there is no doubt that there are times when this reality of our human condition gets presented in a pessimistic way by misguided preachers or teachers. Also thinking of ourselves as “just sinners” can be used as an excuse not to aspire to the vision God has for us, his children.
Observance of Lent intends to remind us that we all fail, make mistakes, and sometime fall short of our own values and of God’s call. The season wants us to have an honest and healthy realization that of our weaknesses——and that we are people who are forgiven and given second chances by our all knowing and loving Savior.
Thank God for second chances. I can easily think of dozens of Camden neighbors who are living their second—-or third, or forth chance.
Ethan is a Latino man who always gives me a warm greeting with a brotherly hug when I see him. As a boy and younger man, he sold drugs, and used them. But the loss of a baby and then of his younger brother who had followed him out into the ways of the streets stopped him in his tracks. These tragedies helped him to see clearly the only fruit his former way of life would bear.
He completely changed. He now works with people who are homeless, offering strength and gentleness to all he serves. Now he no longer has loads of quick cash—-and the “friends” who came along with that lifestyle are gone. But he works hard and is honest and dependable. He offers a very different example to his young kids.
-Are there situations when we share solidarity with individuals or groups who are outsiders in some way?
-What effect does our observance of Lent have?
-Have you gotten any second chances?