As we listen to the readings each week at Mass, it seems to me that there are basically two types of gospel readings. There are those passages that are very uplifting, such as the birth of Christ, the annunciation, the calling of the disciples, and other such stories. And then there are those stories that we read and go “ooh”; they sting a little and can make us a bit uneasy because the message is a real challenge. This latter type is what we have today. We hear the Lord tell His disciples that not all who call out ‘Lord, Lord’ will be saved and enter the kingdom of Heaven. This can be a bit upsetting to us, especially when we see the people the Lord is talking seem to be quite qualified. We hear the claims ourselves – they had prophesied in the name of the Lord, cast out demons and done mighty deeds, assumedly healing people and other such miracles – and yet they heard from the Lord “depart from me, you evildoers.” And it would seem that if they couldn’t get in with all of those qualifications, then what are my chances? What are our chances? When was the last time we did any of these great things? BUT – this doesn’t mean we are doomed. Actually, there is great reason to have hope and it comes in four small words from the Lord. Before he tells those disciples to depart from Him, He first says ‘I never knew you.” It’s about having a relationship with the Lord, not simply doing things. Certainly doing things to live out the Catholic faith is good and even necessary, but we must first be in that relationship.
In the Old Testament the phrase ‘to know’ was often used as a euphemism for the marital embrace of a man and woman because in that embrace there is an intimacy that is shared that one doesn’t share with any, even a best friend. And this is the spiritual intimacy that the Lord seeks to have with us – to show the great love He has for us and for each of us to receive that love and give that love in return. This is what those rejected disciples failed to do – they did the great deeds but failed to have that relationship that gives them worth. This is not something only they had to deal with though, but is actually something that we still must concern ourselves with today. We can all list the things we’ve done throughout our lives – the number of Masses we’ve been to, the many charitable works we’ve done, the rosaries we’ve prayed and on and on. But it is possible that we too might hear Him say to us ‘depart from me’ if we don’t have that personal, intimate relationship with the Lord.
And really, if you think about it, this relationship with the Lord is the heart of the Gospel. It is God the Father who loved us so much that He sent the Son among us to reveal Him to us, that we might come to know Him. And He loved us so much that He even permitted His Only Begotten Son to die for us to show that love in a tangible way. The Son loves us so much that He took on our own flesh and endured our same temptations and sufferings to be in union with us. And so great was His love for us that He suffered death on the Cross while we were yet in our sin. Furthermore, He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven so as to send the Holy Spirit upon us. The Spirit so greatly loves us that He dwells in our hearts and guides us toward our salvation, where we might be able to live forever in Heaven in that eternal embrace of love. That is the Gospel message and that message is simply that God loves us and wants us to return that gift of love in return.
In just a few days Lent will be upon us as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and with that we enter into a season of great grace. The built in sources of grace that are fasting, abstinence, almsgiving, and prayer are certainly great ways to help build up that relationship with the Lord. And the Lord desires to work through those things to pour upon us many graces and blessings. So I hope and challenge all of you not to simply let this opportunity of grace pass by, but to really take advantage of this season in coming to know the Lord more deeply and coming to be known by Him as well.