Hosea 6:1-6 (NRSVCE)
“Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes away early.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,
I have killed them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
It’s easy to be pious in a moment. It’s easy to give thanks to God at a single time. But we are called to faithfulness, to steadfast love, not a single moment of love. Israel is described in today’s reading as “a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.” Israel is pious and faithful for only a brief time, before falling away again. The entire Old Testament is story after story of Israel being called to faithfulness, remaining faithful for a time, and then falling away. Their love for God was not steadfast, it did not endure. I think many of us can say the same of ourselves. I know I can.
Now seems like the perfect time for us to reflect on this. We are engaged in our own penances for the season of Lent. We have promised a special form of piety for these forty(ish) days. But what happens when Easter comes, and Lent is over? It is a good thing to be pious in Lent, but let’s be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that it might actually be easier to be pious during these seasons. Everyone is participating by giving something up or taking something on or even by simply observing the “no meat on Fridays” bit. We know that we are all engaged in this journey together during the Lenten season, and that gives us strength to endure. This makes it easier to get to Mass on Sundays, and to go to confession regularly. This makes it easier to remember to pray, to give alms, to do works of charity. This is all great! But the truly difficult part comes when the penitential season is over, and we get sucked back into our day-to-day lives and all the habits that come with that.
Lent is a special time for us to repent and renounce our sinful ways, for us to focus ourselves intently on remaining faithful to God. These things are not meant to be temporary, they are meant to be transformative. “What happens in Lent stays in Lent” is not what we are going for. Rather what happens in Lent ought to carry over into the rest of our lives. The piety that we have in Lent, the faithfulness that we show, ought not be “like the dew that goes away early.” It is meant to endure, in steadfast love.
As Lent goes on, I have been thinking about this more and more. It’s so easy to reach the end of Lent with a feeling of relief. “Finally, I can have a cup of coffee again!” or “Now I can go get that chocolate bar I have been craving for so long!” That’s fine to do, but I worry that this feeling of relief is too easily translated to those things which should stay with us—namely, acts of faith and our love for God. We should be taking this season as a time to strengthen our love so that we can remain faithful throughout our lives, not simply to make it through Easter. So for the second half of this Lenten season, spend some time thinking and praying about how this is going to change your life in the long-term.
"For I desire steadfast love."