Entering into the Catholic Church as an adult, as many are preparing to do during this Lenten season, is a movement of faith that takes time. Candidates often wonder if this is the “right” time or the “best” time. As they celebrate the scrutiny rites on this Third Sunday of Lent, they may even wonder whether they are worthy to make such a step.
But as the Apostle Paul promises, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2). Catechumens often display the wonder of the initiate inexorably drawn to God, like Moses in Exodus 3, who wants to approach God yet still believes he is not worthy to carry out God’s plan for him.
When God called Moses, one of the events on his résumé was murder. God’s choice to appear to Moses and reveal his plans for Israel was not an imprimatur on previous behavior, but an acknowledgement that in a fallen world, all whom God calls have sinned. And yet with God’s grace we are able to transcend our weaknesses and sins. God called Moses and revealed himself to Moses because God knew that Moses was able to carry out the mission God had planned for him. Moses was less certain.
When God appeared in the burning bush, Moses was drawn to the theophany; and when he came nearer, God announced his presence. God identified himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,” the God of his ancestors, but also as “I am who am”—a new name revealed to Moses. If the Israelites were to ask by whom Moses was sent, he was to tell them, “I AM sent me to you.”
Moses did not agree immediately to represent God; he continued to question God’s decision and whether he was the right person for the task. We all question God, both at points of initiation into the faith and at the revelation of new or deeper truths. Because the history of the covenant is a history of relationships, there is a record of questions people have asked of God: “Are you certain God? Is it me you want? Is this the path?”
Questions are essential to any relationship, but it is important that they not turn into obstinacy or willfulness when God’s way has been revealed and the truth opened to us. God is merciful, gentle and kind, but God ultimately must act if we do not. Questions can turn to grumbling against the ways of God; grumbling can turn to rejection of God. Paul speaks of grumbling against God’s ways in the time of the Israelite wandering as a warning for the people of God.
When Jesus is told about some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, he does not respond with the expected righteous indignation. Instead, as he often does, he turns a question to his interlocutors that asks them to look inward: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”
It is a hard saying: Repent or perish. But both newly initiated and longtime disciples need the truth of the warning. God is gentle and merciful, and in his mercy will wait, since God desires that all should live in his presence.
As Jesus says in the parable of the fig tree, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.” And if it does not? “If not, you can cut it down.”
John the Baptist says at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, to those who came to be initiated into the way of repentance: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Lk 3:8). It is true, of course, that God could raise up followers from stones, but God wants us. God hears our questions and waits on us but calls us to enter into his presence, to turn from sin and repent, to be near him.