When the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem after 50 years in exile, they set about rebuilding the Temple. The destruction of the Temple wasn't their fault — that was due to the sins of others. But the task of rebuilding fell to them.
Their example serves as a pattern for our Lenten discipline and, really, for all of Christian life.
Seminarians and priests today — across the country and around the world — face a similar situation. The priesthood has been deeply scarred by the sins of a few men who were unfaithful to their promises. Seminarians and priests didn't ask for this situation and it isn't heir fault — but they're called to help rebuild it. They hear, anew, the words that Jesus once spoke to St. Francis of Assisi: "Rebuild my Church."
What about us? To some extent, most of us carry around a spiritual standard that says: "Those aren't my sins. I shouldn't have to pay for them." But is that really the standard of Christian life? Thankfully, it wasn't the standard of Jesus' life.
Jesus didn't take His own sins to the cross. He saw our sins and said: "I'll pay for those." He made reparation for our sins in His own body, so that we could be set free. That's supposed to be the standard of Christian life. It certainly helps us with our Lenten discipline.
When Jesus invites us — asks us, commands us! — to take up our cross and follow Him, He doesn't only mean the cross of penance for our own sins. Of course He means that, too. We have to do penance for our own sins. That, by itself, can be a pretty big task! But we're called to more. We're called to share in the mission of Jesus. That means we're called to make reparation for the sins of others, too.
This is part of the doctrine that we're united in one body — both in Adam and in Christ. Thanks to that unity, we inherit the sins of others. Thanks to that unity, we have access to salvation in Christ. Thanks to that unity, we have the help of the saints. Thanks to that unity, we're called to make up for the sins of others.
The people who returned from the exile knew this, and lived it. Priests and seminarians know this, and live it. As we dig in for the final few weeks of Lent, each of us is called to know this. Others have helped pay the price for our sins. Let's pay it forward.