I didn’t give a homily in English this weekend. This is a reflection somewhat similar to the homily I gave in Portuguese, based on today’s readings.
Have you ever heard of fractals? They are mathematical patterns that are “self-similar” – which is to say, they have identical or similar structures on different scales or levels of magnification. Put more simply, if you look at one part of the pattern, then zoom in closer (or zoom out), it still looks the much the same as it did before. The same kinds of structures or patterns happen on the small, medium, and large scales (see the illustration below).
What does this have to do with our faith? In a way, the history of salvation is like a fractal.
The overall story is that humanity has become alienated from God through the sin of the first human beings, Adam and Eve. Through God’s initiative (as described by St. Paul in the second reading), we are reconciled to God through God’s Chosen One, Jesus Christ. As the Gospel tells us, God so loved the world that He gave us His only-begotten Son to save the world. He forgives us and starts us on the path to the Promised Land of Heaven, where all the redeemed will be reunited with God and each other at the end of time.
This is the big picture, but we can also “zoom in” and see the same structure of sin, God’s initiative for reconciliation, and the path back to happiness, in the details.
In the first reading, we hear a summary of how the people of Israel were unfaithful to God, and were exiled, alienated from the Promised Land, as a result. God takes the initiative through the Persian king, Cyrus, and allows the people to return home and renew their covenant with God. That’s just one example; the same story plays out over and over again on a greater or smaler scale throughout the Old Testament.
We can see this same pattern on a smaller scale in the lives of individuals like King David. He sins through his adultery with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah, and hence David is separated from God. God in turn takes the initiative through the prophet Nathan, who rebukes David to set him back on the right path. David converts and turns back to the Lord, and remains essentially faithful until his death (with a few downs and ups along the way).
Lent is, in part, about recognizing this same pattern in our own lives. It’s a special time that God gives us through the Church, when we can examine our lives to see what keeps us from being closer to God, what keeps us to a greater or lesser degree in spiritual exile. By dedicating more time to prayer, we open our hearts to hear the Holy Spirit calling us to recognize and repent from those obstacles to our friendship with God. Through self-sacrifice and works of charity, we show our rejection of our sins and selfishness and our desire to love God and neighbor. This sets us firmly back on the path to our salvation and to eternity in heaven with God. As we live this season of renewal each year, we build the great trajectory of our lives, which should be a story of ongoing conversion and journeying towards God, guided by His love and mercy.
Thus, our own personal story becomes part of the greater picture of salvation history, a mirror of the great return of all creation to God in response to God’s loving initiatives. May our constant efforts to live our faith, with love for God and neighbor, bring us – and all those whose lives we touch – to the definitive Promised Land of heaven.