Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Even as our Lenten journey has just recently begun, it is true to say that the Church is calling us to already look ahead to the celebration of the paschal mystery, the Easter Triduum, the evening of April 13, Holy Thursday to the evening of Easter Sunday, April 16.

While sadly we have no one who is entering their final period of preparation for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, fact is all over the world our catechumens are being sent on the First Sunday of Lent to a special liturgy with the bishop in which they will be accepted as the Elect and experience a time of purification and enlightenment as they and their parish communities look ahead and look forward to the Easter Vigil.  We will join with the whole church in praying for them during the Lenten season.
But what about us.  Lent long ago became a  season of conversion, growth, and renewal not only for the Elect but for all of us as we prepare for the Triduum and the renewal of our baptismal promises.  I hope you have the tools you need to make this time fruitful.  Many of us received our ashes on Ash Wednesday and were reminded of our mortality and the call of the Lenten Season to repent and believe in the Gospel in mind, heart and action.

We received booklets with daily reflections that can serve as prayer starters from Pope Francis and Rice Bowls and calendars so we can educate ourselves about God's poor and practice almsgiving, saving our money, especially money saved through self-sacrifice throughout this season.  We have encouragement and opportunities to add spiritual times both in communal settings and private ones to connect more closely with Jesus and grow in appreciation of all that he has done and does for us.  We don't have to and probably can't go to the desert to get away from the world and be one with God, but we have our church, our 24/7 Eucharistic chapel, and our quiet places to retreat to for a few minutes or longer throughout these 40 days.

We will have beautiful stories proclaimed to us during the Sundays of Lent that speak of conversion and the power of God in the life of a Samaritan Woman and a blind man and at the Transfiguration and at Bethany with the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

With all this before us and in front of us, including Jesus victories over Satan in the desert today, you might be surprised that I am spending time today looking backwards to some things we heard in some of the readings of the Sundays in Ordinary Time that have led up to this Lenten season.  They are some of Jesus' strongest and clearest teachings and if taken to heart they can lead us to repent of ways we have not followed Jesus and his teaching and make a firm resolution to follow in his ways, that are often not the ways of the world in which we live.

A good example of that is the recent happenings that might be leading to a resumption of capital punishment in Arkansas due to a decision by the U. S. Supreme Court not to hear a challenge to our state's death penalty statues.  I have to say, that I wasn't aware of the happy fact that we have not had an execution in Arkansas since 2005, but now, if nothing stops it, 4 executions are scheduled to take place in a ten day period in Arkansas ironically right after we celebrate Easter Sunday from April 17-27.

Before quoting eight reasons for putting an end to all executions in Arkansas and in most places around the world that are spelled out in an editorial in the Arkansas Catholic this week, that also quotes Pope Francis who is true to Catholic teaching of course in calling for the abolition of the death penalty all over the world, let me quote some of God's Word that we recently heard in Church.  On the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we heard the story of Cain murdering his brother Abel.  In the aftermath, not only did God not kill Cain for his crime, he forbid anyone from killing Cain.  On the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear God speak long ago in the book of Leviticus saying: "Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people."  Often people, including perhaps especially the families of victims of horrible crimes do indeed want or demand revenge in the form of the death penalty to those who have taken the life of their loved one believing that will bring them peace and closure, while Jesus message and example in his ministry and on the cross says only forgiveness brings true peace and closure.

Speaking of revenge, while many who propose the death penalty want to quote the passage of the Old Testament that speaks of an eye for an eye (which actually was trying to limit violence that was done when murder or other serious crime happened), we all heard Jesus speak in Mathew's Gospel a few weeks ago, refuting the eye for an eye mentality and telling us and everyone to love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.

Since what I've quoted from recent scripture that we have heard proclaimed, gives us much to ponder with regard to the "death penalty" a penalty that so many elected officials including those in our state legislature and our governor, as well as many Catholics support, I've decided not to speak of all 8 reasons that are spelled out in an editorial in the Arkansas Catholic to do away with Capital Punishment.  I'll find ways to spell these out in print over the next few weeks.  I will though mention one, the one that an untold number of innocent people have been wrongly executed for crimes that it was found out after their conviction that they didn't commit.  Fact is we have a constant reminder of such people every time we look at the crucifix and see the most innocent of all adults who ever lived, who was executed, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Lent is indeed a time of conversion and action.  I dare say there are some here and in many other places who need conversion with regard to the death penalty and many of us who know it to be wrong need to be inspired to act now to speak to our governor and others in an effort to try to stop the executions that are planned to take place soon and promote and support a law that will hopefully forever stop executions from taking place in our state.

I’d like to end with a quote from the book of Sirach which we heard on the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him"