Thanks to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Romans 12 has seen a bit of a resurgence in popularity at weddings. At least in online popularity. The summary of this reading for weddings is nearly six years old. You can check it here.
What holds true for couples, likely fits and suits for a penitent and her or his relationships. Verse one of Romans 12 offers that line about offering one’s body as a living sacrifice:
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
My sense is that we see our pride as tangled up in our sins. Admitting I am wrong: this is a supreme sacrifice. How difficult for people in our age to say, “I am wrong. I am sincerely sorry.” We put conditions on our contrition, things like, “If anyone was offended …” And of course, it can be hard to imagine anyone being offended by us.
But contrition is in deed a sacrifice. Can we make it an act of worship? Do we see the Sacrament of Penance as an act of worship, as liturgy? I think we could, and it might offer a way out of the reticence of our age. And not just because we’re keeping our legal options open. Even Saint Paul speaks of non-conformity to the world’s notions:
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
The long list of virtues of verses 9-18 contains Christian virtues, but also good sense advice for getting along with others. What makes the difference between a wedding reading and a penance reading? Verse 19:
Beloved, do not look for revenge
but leave room for the wrath;
for it is written,
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
It’s a tradition going back to the Pentateuch, and embraced by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We do better to leave off the repayment for sin. In making peace with others, we do well to watch our own business, and let God take care of matters of universal justice and balance.
I think the Romans 12 reading works well for a communal celebration. It could be paired with any short Gospel, perhaps something that emphasizes Jesus as the new lawgiver, and the progression from Judaism to praise for the peacemakers, the meek of heart, and the poor.