2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
Psalm 119.33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40 Resp. 33a
After many kings who did evil, King Josiah began the work of restoring the temple. When the book of the Law was found during the restoration, he wept and committed himself fully to the Law. He had it read to the people so that they too could follow the Law. King Josiah begins anew the covenant between Israel and the Lord. He rids Israel of the pagan religions and celebrates the Passover of the Lord, that great feast which had not been celebrated for hundreds of years.
So what happened to the great King Josiah, who “turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might”? He died. He was killed in battle by the Pharaoh of Egypt who took over the country until the Babylonians arrived a decade later. And the sons of Josiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah never really had a chance to make his reforms stick. Too much evil had been done in Judah by the previous generations, and it is not so easy to undo centuries of evil with one good king.
So also in our spiritual lives. One good intention is not enough to undo a lifetime of sin. One good retreat or one good prayer will not change us. Our willingness to sin has made us weak. We confess our sins, but then we return to them. It is not possible to give in to temptation a thousand times and then simply decide to stop sinning, not without grace. God can accomplish anything in us, if we allow him, but allowing him may be dangerous. To purify the Israelites, God sent them into exile for 70 years. Who knows how God will purify us! It probably will not be pleasant or easy. Perhaps we are afraid of life without sin, or of the suffering that will free us from our sins. We would so like to start over fresh, as if none of the past had ever happened, but we cannot, because it did. God forgives our sins, but in order to free us from them, there must be fire, either in this life or the next. If we truly want to be free, we will embrace the fire in this life and allow it to burn away the attachments we have formed. And we can make this fire burn hotter now by fasting and penance, if we wish.