The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Hosea is one of the most interesting prophetic books in the Bible because it makes clear how the God of Israel understands his relationship with the Israelite people.
From God’s perspective, his relationship with the Israelites is best understood as being akin to a marriage, and a troubled marriage at that.
The infidelity of the Israelites to abide by the covenant that established them in relationship with God (think of that covenant as being like marriage vows) causes all the pain and suffering that afflict a marriage that is beset with infidelity. Yet, God’s passion for his spouse is such that what he wants most is reconciliation. Despite the infidelity of his spouse, the Israelites, God remains faithful.
All of us are in a relationship with God. A covenant established that relationship when we were baptized and that relationship is affirmed and imbued with new life when we participate in the Sacraments of the Church. The Church (that means us) is the “Bride of Christ”, which means our relationship with God in Christ is properly likened to a marriage (and it can be a troubled marriage at times!).
God in Christ demonstrates his fidelity to his bride, the Church, by giving over his life to her (us) wholly and completely. On our part, the Church (us) is to give her (our) lives over to Christ wholly and completely. Think of that exchange or life for life as akin to the marriage vows of husband and wife. This is what is meant to happen each time we receive the Blessed Sacrament and our willingness to give ourselves over to Christ manifests our fidelity to him. When we give our lives over to Christ in response to the gift of his life to us, our lives are imbued with purpose and meaning and the Church becomes fruitful and grows. If we don’t, then our relationship with God is compromised and sterile.
It really is a distortion if we consider our relationship with Christ or our identity as the Church in the categories of institutions. No one can marry a building and buildings cannot constitute the substance of a relationship. The best way to consider our relationship with Christ or identity as the Church is in the terms that the Bible provides us- and the Bible gives priority to understanding God in Christ’s relationship with his Church as being like a marriage.
Today’s particular excerpt from the Book of the Prophet Hosea is densely packed with great theological and spiritual insights- one being a foreshadowing of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection “on the third day” and indicating that through all this, God is acting and revealing his power. In the revelation of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection God will reveal himself to us in an extraordinary and unexpected way, a way that imparts a new kind of life that can be likened to the advent of a heavenly springtime.
Further, the prophet foresees that God in Christ will set right the worship of his people, which has become perfunctory and ephemeral, inspiring a piety that passes away like morning cloud or a puff of smoke.
God in Christ will manifest in his suffering, death and resurrection that he gives his life to us as a sacrifice- and this act of love, the willing gift of oneself to the sake of love, is the worship that God desires.
This is the worship that we now experience in the Mass. For the Mass is our participation in the love of God in Christ. The Mass is the sacrifice of love that God desires and gives to us.
Christ the Lord warns us that the purpose of any righteousness or goodness that we accomplish or achieve for ourselves is nullified if we think that we are superior or better than others who accomplish less or fall short of the ideal.
The saint knows better than anyone that he is a sinner- and is readily willing to admit his own need to conversion.
If the saint is so willing, then what about all of us?
The Sacrament of Penance is given to us so that we can practice the humility that is required of a disciple and take our place among sinners, not above them, not over against them.
If we resist the humility that would bring us to the mercy of Christ offered in the Sacrament of Penance, we risk assigning ourselves a place, not among the sinners whom Christ loves and serves, but among the hypocrites, who think that, not only they are better than everyone else, but even superior to Christ himself!