(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)
As silver tarnishes with time, we lose our baptismal innocence. Our appetites deceive us in wanting more pleasure, power, or prestige than our due. Our minds also can lead us astray. Often we think that we might do a little evil in order to achieve a significant good. This is the justification for artificial contraception. But the resultant harm often enough lies beneath the surface and may not reveal itself for eons. In any case, sin not only destroys us inwardly through the loss of innocence, but our downfall like silver that has lost its shine also results in others not being drawn to God. In the second reading St. Paul asks us to reverse the process.
Paul could hardly be more attention-grabbing than when he writes that Christ became sin to save humans from their sinfulness. He is not implying that Jesus was a kind of Robin Hood himself doing evil in order to bestow something good on humanity. Rather he is saying that Jesus was executed as a criminal at the hands of a totally corrupt humanity represented by the jealous Jewish leaders, the brutal Roman authority, and the cowardly disciples. Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been spared the necessity of such errant behavior. They only have to take advantage of the gift by recognizing their sins.
The same is our task during Lent. We first ask ourselves what sins are weighing us down – lust, harsh judgment, perhaps lying and cheating. Then we confess our faults in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finally, we use the rest of the forty days doing a penance that sets us on the road to reform.