25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday Meditation

This passage from St. Gregory the Great's The Book of Pastoral Rule is addressed specifically to those who have experienced sins of the flesh, but also applies to all sinners in general. It also serves as a great meditation for this Ash Wednesday.

God Calls the Sinner

For indeed, this merciful calling for us to return after our sin is well expressed through the prophet when to a man who had turned [from God] it is said: ‘Your eyes will be your teacher and your ears will hear the words of the one behind you encouraging you.’ [Is. 30.20-21] For the Lord did, indeed, admonish the human race to its face when it was created in paradise, given free will, and told how it should act. But humanity turned its back on the face of God when through pride it spurned his commands. Even then, God did not desert the prideful race, for he gave humanity a law for the purpose of recalling mortality. Therefore, ‘standing behind our back, he advised us,’ for even though we are contemptible, he recalled us to the recuperation of his grace. Therefore, what we can say generally about all, it is necessary to speak of individually. For everyone, as if standing before God, hears the words of his admonition when the precepts of his will are made known to us just before we sin. For to stand before his face is not the same thing as to despise him through sin. But when one abandons the good of innocence and freely chooses iniquity, it is as though he turns his back on the face of God. But behold, even after one turns his back, God follows and advises in that even after sin, he invites the sinner to return. He calls him to return; his is not mindful of the transgression but expands the bosom of mercy to the one who returns. And so, we ‘hear the words of the one behind us encouraging us’ if, after our sins, we at least return to the Lord, who welcomes us. (St. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, III, 28)

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