This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.
This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.
First of all, let’s think about the scene. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine. Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles. It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the devastation.” The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted.
(William Barclay / The Gospel of Luke p.52)
So, this is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.
This is a story of confrontation and testing.
Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and fast.
There, he would shape his mission. He was searching for the answer of the question: What kind of spiritual leader would he be? He was pondering the question of how he could win over people.
There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.
First, a harsh voice prompted Jesus to turn stones into bread as a way of manipulating others to get them to follow him. Jesus could have made people dependent on him; instead, he shared with them what he realized: Our common dependence on the Father of all, who gives us our daily bread. Limestone, according to Barclay, looks like loaves.
A second harsh voice promised Jesus the whole world, saying: “You’ve got the power to gain the whole world. You can be king of this world. This is the temptation to compromise: Don’t set your standards too high.
And Jesus sadly realized that many of his followers, even in the Church, would succumb to greed of every form. They would kill in Crusades and Inquisitions in the name of love.
As he was tempted, he was led into a soul-embracing love of the One he was to reveal. In the desert, Jesus must have knelt down and promised in all simplicity to seek and to do the will of the Father from moment to moment. And in that act of fidelity, in that decision, the new covenant surely was sealed in Jesus’ heart.
Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple and have his angels come and raise him up. This was the temptation to do something sensational. He could put together a traveling road show of clever signs and wonders. Things would be easier that way. People would easily follow a clever magician. But this would draw people away from the Father, not toward him.
The soft voice was simply asking Jesus to reveal the real order of the Father’s kingdom.
Jesus realized his mission in life was to reveal Abba’s love as Father of all. Jesus was to let the world know that there was a soft voice within us all, who is there to affirm and to love, to test and to guide.
In the desert and its temptations, the whole of humanity was drawn into the possibility of intimate experience of the divine. Because one person was willing to be led into the holy of holies, we all can go with him. We can go–provided that we–like Jesus, are willing to be tested and cleansed, strengthened and purified.
In this story, at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, is the answer to the question: Why did Jesus have to die?
The answer was: to surrender himself into the hands of evil people was the only way Jesus could be faithful. God could have intervened on behalf of his own son. But that was out of the question. The world could not accept God as a gentle Father. They found his message of love much too demanding. And since the authorities could not and would not accept him and his message, the only recourse left to him was simply to give witness to that message–even to the end. He chose to be faithful to the soft Voice of the Father , not compromise the message, even if it led to his death.
Jesus had to suffer and die because, tragically, that was the only way the world would allow him to be faithful to the Word he heard and preached.
The Father was more pleased with the fidelity of one son than he would have been with the spread of a message that did not reveal his love.
This is a powerful lesson for those among us who would coerce others into being good.
The false voices that Jesus tamed and quieted–the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.
But there’s a final warning for us here. The Gospel passage today ends with this sentence: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him ~ for a time.”
The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear. And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the Jesus I know and love.
And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father. Through Jesus, may we be faithful too.
And now, before you go, here’s a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ Be Not Afraid. Click here. Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Also a HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY to everyone!
I promised you that I’d reflect on the Jesus I know and Love. This will continue through Sunday’s readings. These are the readings for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday.
In the first reading, Moses says:
“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendents may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
We often hear the word’s Choose Life as a Pro-Life message; that’s important. But each of us are invited to choose life again and again, every day. This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and extricate ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within the walls of our own home that cauterise the souls of our spouse and our children.
Choose Life this day in the way you speak to and about everyone you meet today. Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person. Choose your words carefully. Preside over and take responsibility for what comes out of your mouth; realize your words create life or death.
In the gospel, Jesus says,
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? (Luke 9: 22-25)
Jesus gives us a koan, a Zen word that denotes a riddle that often takes a long time to get it. Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Repeat it often until you get it.
It’s a counter-cultural message. In our society people do everything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. They even have numbing pads so that you don’t feel an Accu-check stick. And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. We might be tempted to do this by running away. A quicky divorce or a cruel text message to dump a girl friend who no longer suits you.
The Cross of Jesus is all about commitment. Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face immense suffering on his journey. He knew he would make people angry by telling the truth he realized in his heart. He knew that it would lead him to death as he made his way up to Jerusalem. The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.
Jesus brought a brand new thinking and being into the world. His message was that his Father-God embraces every person without exception. His message was that He, Jesus, transcended the Law; that the only law was to love. This went against the grain of those who saw him as a threat to all they knew.
In the desert, Jesus made a firm commitment to BE the truth that he saw in his heart no matter what. Jesus embodied that highest moral standard: to commit his life to justice and love, no matter what it cost him. His mission was very simple: Stay on message, no matter what. He was a person of absolute integrity. No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.
Very sadly, many in the church say that they believe in Jesus but are quick to condemn, quick to hate. If you are one who has been condemned by the church or treated hatefully, I, for one, ask forgiveness from you for I know Jesus would never want that for you. And I ask for forgiveness and change of heart for those who do the condemning and the hating, even in this political season.
Finally, I would like to be in solidarity with so many of us these days have crosses to bear that are profoundly difficult. Let us help each other to bear the cross we must carry. But remember, the key is acceptance. Acceptance, the willingness to be nailed is the secret to our recovery.
This is the Jesus I know and love: The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my hero. I would like very much to be like that. How ’bout you? Now. before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the prayer of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola “Take, Lord, Receive”. Click here.
And here are all of the readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
Valentine’s Day this year coincides with the First Sunday of Lent, February 14th.
We’ve been talking about St. Paul’s Ode to Love (1 Corinthians 13) ~ the awesome love that transforms.
But many of us don’t know how to love in a way that transforms because we’re more interested in getting love than giving it.
So, let’s think about that for a moment.
Many young folks in our society haven’t experienced the love that transforms, even from their own parents or their spouses. Very often, their relationships center on their own needs, even when they’re “giving” to their significant other.
But in order to love in a transforming way, we have to be loved in a way that frees us.
So I ask you ~
Who are the people in your life who were able to recognize the YOU inside you?
Who knew who-you-were behind the mask you present to the world each day?
Who are the people who recognized-your gifts and called them forth from the deep-within-you?
Who drew forth the goodness they saw in you when that you were presenting to the world you thought wasn’t very good at all?
That’s the love that transforms! That heals. That gets us going again. That moves us down the road a bit.
At this moment I want to name one such man who has had an enormous influence on my life. He is Father Eugene Walsh. We used to call him Gino. He was the rector of my seminary the year I was preparing for ordination. He was a Father-figure for me and a mentor; I learned most of what I know about the sacred liturgy from him.
I had the good fortunate to get on his short list to have him as my spiritual director. He had a way of listening deeply below the level of my words.
I remember one night in his study. We were sitting across from each other in two easy chairs. I was always intrigued that the wall behind him was bright orange with a large abstract painting on it. I was struggling that night about whether I would proceed toward ordination.
Of a sudden, he sprung from his chair, hugged me and whispered in my ear my name ~ Bob ~ and I heard it resonate for the longest time. His voice found Me ~ some place deep within and called me forth.
I can still hear him calling me. At that moment, his deep, resonating love ~ transformed me. Affirmed me, confirmed me.
More than any other person, there is Jesus; I’ve tried to be like him. He was deeply human. He taught me how to be a human being, above all. A simple, decent, human being. And to be human, most of all, is to be capable of loving and receiving love. The same was true of Father Walsh.
And that’s what I’ve always taught:
Sin is the refusal Of love, the refusal To love, as well as the refusal to grow and the refusal to give thanks.
So ask yourself: Who are the people who really knew who-you-were on the inside, accepted you as you are–the good and the bad–and called you forth to be the best person you could be?
Why don’t you reflect on this through the day — while you’re driving, sitting on the john or doing the dishes. Give thanks for folk. And maybe give them a call. Not an email; a phone call.
And finally, I want to honor the two-love birds in the picture above. They are John and Betsy Walders of Sebastian, Florida. They would have been married sixty-six years next week (February 19, 2016) and were as much in love as the day they met as teens. (Take note that in this image they’re both still wearing denim.) In their eighties they went on a serendipitying around the country, quite oblivious to the fact that they weren’t teenagers anymore! The joy and memory of all those years sustains Betsy as she witnessed her beloved withdraw into Alzheimer’s. John passed away on September 28th, 2016 a few days before his 92nd birthday. Betsy is 90.
Asked if they ever considered a divorce, she thought a moment and said, “Divorce, no, murder, yes!”
I love them dearly and miss visiting, but Betsy and I still talk and have many a laugh on the phone every couple of weeks.
Dear Friends, see if you can make this prayer your own ~
Good and gracious God,
You are the One most of all who has loved me into wholeness,
who is calling me forth to be the best person I can be,
calling me not so much to want to be loved as to love.
I thank you for sending people into my life who, even for a brief moment,
have touched me deep within and helped to transform me into a more deeply loving person.
Help me always to be a person who is capable of transforming love.
And now, before you go, here’s Cold Play’s True Love. Click here. Turn up your speakers. Be sure to enter full screen.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
Well, this week the Big Easy and Rio have one thing in common — one huge party. And what is so interesting its very Catholic. It’s a time to let your hair down before the strike of midnight Ash Wednesday when we Catholics used to abstain from meat during the six-week Lenten season.
The root of the word “CARnival is the same as the word “inCARnation”~ a word that means the enfleshment of the Son of God.
Now here’s a bit of carnival or Mardi Gras history for you.
A carnival is a celebration combining parades, pageantry, folk drama, and feasting, usually held in Catholic countries during the weeks before Lent. The term Carnival probably comes from the Latin word “carnelevarium”, meaning “to remove meat.” Typically the Carnival season begins early in the new year, often on Epiphany, January 6, and ends in February on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French).
Probably originating in pagan spring fertility rites, the first recorded carnival was the Egyptian feast of Osiris, an event marking the receding of the Nile’s flood water. Carnivals reached a peak of riotous dissipation with the Roman BACCHANALIA and Saturnalia.
In the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church tried to suppress all pagan ideas, it failed when it came to this celebration. The Church incorporated the rite into its own calendar as a period of thanksgiving. Popes sometimes served as patrons.
The nations of Europe, especially France, Spain, and Portugal, gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks, and dancing in the streets. All three colonizing powers carried the tradition with them to the New World, but in Brazil it landed with a difference. Not only did the Portuguese have a taste for abandoned merriment, (they brought the “entrudo”, a prank where merry-makers throw water, flour, face powder, and many other things at each other’s faces), but the Negro slaves also took to the celebration. They would smear their faces with flour, borrow an old wig or frayed shirt of the master, and give themselves over to mad revelry for the three days. Many masters even let their slaves roam freely during the celebration. Since the slaves were grateful for the chance to enjoy themselves, they rarely used the occasion as a chance to run away.
Pre-Christian, medieval, and modern carnivals share important thematic features. They celebrate the death of winter and the rebirth of nature, ultimately re-committing the individual to the spiritual and social codes of the culture. Ancient fertility rites, with their sacrifices to the gods, exemplify this commitment, as do the Christian Shrovetide plays. On the other hand, carnivals allow parody of, and offer temporary release from, social and religious constraints. For example, slaves were the equals of their masters during the Roman Saturnalia; the medieval feast of fools included a blasphemous mass; and during carnival masquerades sexual and social taboos are sometimes temporarily suspended.
Tomorrow: Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday?
May I suggest that by Wednesday morning to try be ready to enter into a deeper journey into your inner depths to discover our Lord and at the same time your deepest Self. Be ready to experience new life, new growth for your self and for our country.
Today we let our hair down a bit and when the fun is over,
may we be ready to enter the desert on Wednesdayith you
and discover how desert experiences can cleanse and purify us and make us whole.
Let us enter the desert willingly and learn its lessons well.
In this Jubilee year of Mercy, may we know your mercy ways,
receive your merciful love, and extend mercy to others.
We ask you, Lord, to lead the way.
But, before you go, here’s a musical slide show of what a Carnival parade is like down in Rio. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen.
(Ladies: Let your husbands have some fun – um ~ it’s not exactly R-rated.)
Our society finds it quite acceptable for people to hop into one relationship after another or just satisfy their needs by”hooking up”.
How many times have young people thought that this was the person of their dreams and been dumped by a rude text message ~ or done the dumping themselves?
How many marriages have ended when one spouse shows up in the kitchen and announces, “I want a divorce!” No discussion. No attempt to work out problems. No mercy. No forgiveness. It’s over. Done.
And what happens is that we may add one unsuccessful relationship on top of another. As a result, our heart can become more and more wounded. And less and less trusting, less and less capable of loving . . . unless we somehow find a way to believe again, to hope again.
So, let’s take a deeper look at the truth and the transforming power of St. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13 we’re reflecting on in this series “What is Love?”
LOVE . . .
. . . it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
it bears all things.
believes all things,
hopes all things.
endures all things.
Love never fails.
We just have to learn to love anyway.
At least, that’s what St. Paul is getting at “Love does not brood over injuries.”
In the Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s classic book written in 1956, consider his statement that will blow most of us out of the water:
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person: it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment or an enlarged egotism . . . If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world; I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say”I love in you everybody. I love through you the world, I love in you also myself” ~ p. 39.)
This is, of course, the heart of Jesus’ message, but many, if not most of us who say we’re his followers still don’t get it.
As tech opportunities for “communication” proliferate the less we communicate. We communicate more and more on a superficial level. You can’t really know someone through texting or on Facebook or in an email. A person can present a false persona. The only real way to communicate with someone is to be in their presence using all our senses.
We need to learn, once again how to come to true intimacy ~ the coming together of two or more persons who have the courage open themselves to the transformative power of love.
If you are one who seeks that, I’m with you. That’s what my writing is about.
Good and gracious God,
we ask you to heal the hearts that are broken.
Help us to see even in the midst of our brokenness the depth of Your Love for us.
And may we see Your brokenness when we reject Your love.
We may feel we cannot take the risk to open our hearts once more.
Give us the courage and strength to stop destructive patterns that lead only to more pain.
Give us hope, Lord.
Instead of seeking to find our true love,
let us simply become persons who love —
. . . whomever we’re with,
. . . to grow in our capacity to love that we can hold the whole world in our embrace
as You do at every moment,
in every time and place.
To You, God of our understanding,
we give You praise, now and forever.
Now before you go, look at that tree above weathering the mountaintop at 8000 feet. It has been jilted by the weather. But it still stands nobly and proudly — broken, gnarled and twisted — but a fine lesson to us of the meaning of life.
And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13) once again. Savor each phrase and see how you measure up. . . .
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. So faith, hope love remain, these, but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13
Now, before you go, here’s the Beatles singing “All my loving” with lyrics. Click here.