BEFORE THE CROSS | Make the pattern of your life one of seeking God’s mercy

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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What's the pattern of your life?

Every addict in recovery knows the fundamental patterns of thinking, feeling and acting that support their addiction or their recovery.

The Israelites, too, recognized fundamental patterns in their life as God's people.

One pattern is laid out clearly in the Book of Judges: Israel sins against God, everything goes wrong and they're conquered by a foreign nation, but God raises up a mighty leader (a judge) to bring them back to the covenant and free them, and when the judge dies Israel falls back into sin even worse than before. This pattern is repeated twelve times in Judges.

But there are successful patterns, as well. The Book of Ruth is a perfect example. Ruth showed her character — the fundamental pattern of her life — when she remained faithful to her mother-in-law, Naomi, rather than abandoning her to go it alone in the world after both of them were widowed. Ruth's faithfulness was rewarded: first by Naomi's relative Boaz, who let Ruth gather food from his crops; and then by God, who gave her a son who became the grandfather of King David.

In the readings this week, Jesus challenges us to look at fundamental patterns. He points out how the Pharisees preach but don't practice, and how they make burdens for others but don't help to lift them. Three times during the week, He cautions us that the last will be first, or that the humbled will be exalted. We hear His encounter with the rich young man — who claims to be seeking eternal life but isn't sure he can let go of earthly possessions to get there.

What about us? Sure, our days have many ups and downs. But if someone were to write a one-page summary of our lives — such as the one we hear from the Book of Judges on Monday — or to tell the whole story of our character in one episode — such as what we hear about Ruth on Friday — what would the fundamental pattern be? Would it be the story of time and energy frittered away on things that, in the end, won't last; or would it be the story of quiet but steady application to the things that matter most? Would it be the story of presumption that we're already as good as we need to be, or the story of a longing to be all that God wants us to be?

Here's the thing: whether it's the pattern of a sinner or the pattern of a saint — and, truth be told, our lives are always a combination of both — the key is to invite Jesus into it. Jesus can take a good pattern and make it better. He can take a bad pattern and turn it around. This is one of the most interesting — and hopeful — things about Dante's Divine Comedy. The difference between the people Dante places in purgatory and those he places in hell isn't whether they sinned. They all sinned; the difference is whether they repented. (There are even differences between the characters in purgatory depending on how deeply they repented.)

In the end, that pattern matters most: whether we ask the Lord for mercy in our places of need, and how we respond to His mercy. What will be the pattern of your life? 

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