The Third Sunday of Lent ( Year C) ~ The Warning of the Fig Tree
Before we begin, there are two liturgical texts for this and the following two Sundays. An alternate set from Year A is often used when Catechumens are present. But these are the prescribed texts for the day from the Gospel of St. Luke.
I must say that I found the first part of today’s gospel obscure. However, I can salvage this much: There’s a line in the first section about two catastrophes ~ incidents that are unknown to us, but then Jesus goes on to warn his hearers that if they did not repent they too would perish. What did he mean?
Jesus was warning them of what he foresaw and foretold: the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in AD 70 (cf. Lk. 21:21-24). He knew, sadly, that if they went on with their intrigues, their rebellions, their plottings, and their political ambitions, they were going to commit national suicide. He knew Rome would obliterate the nation, and that’s what happened.
And there is a warning for us today. For years I’ve been imploring my readers to pray personal transformation for the sake of the transformation of our nation. And in the present atmosphere of our country, looking ahead to the next election, again such prayer, and Jesus’ warning is quite apropos, as is the second part of today’s gospel—the parable of the fig tree . . . .
Barclay offers us several things to learn about this famous parable that I hadn’t realized before.
First, the fig tree occupied a specially favored position. It was not unusual to see fig trees, thorn trees and apple trees in the same vineyards. The soil was so shallow and poor that trees were grown wherever there was soil to grow them but the fig tree had its chance, and had not proved worthy of it.
Very often, Jesus reminded people, and by implication in this parable, that they would be judged according to the opportunities they had.
Second, the parable teaches that uselessness invites disaster. The whole process of evolution in this world is to produce useful things, and that what is useful will go on, while what is useless will be eliminated. The most searching question any of us can ask is—“Of what use were we in this world?”
During this Lent, it might be well to take stock of the opportunities that you’ve had in life and how you responded to them. As I approach the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination to my priesthood this May, I am beginning to look back over those fifty years with a little trepidation.
Third, the parable teaches that nothing that only takes, survives.The fig tree was drawing strength and sustenance from the soil; and in return was producing nothing. That, Barclay says, was precisely its sin. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who take out more than they put in, and those who put in more than they take out. We’ve inherited a Christian civilization and the great freedoms of this land. It’s our responsibility to hand them on to the generations to come, perhaps better than we found them. As for me, I am grateful for the opportunities for education my parents and my bishops have provided me, and the gifts God has given me to serve him and his people.
Fourth, the parable tells us of the gospel of the second chance. A fig tree, our scripture scholar tells us from his research, normally takes three years to reach maturity. If it doesn’t bear fruit by that time, it’s not likely to bear fruit at all. But this fig tree was given a second chance. In our sinfulness, it’s hard for us to realize the true depth and nature of our sin. This Lent is a good time to make a thoughtful review of our life and create a clean heart. Won’t you make a good confession before Easter?
It’s Jesus’ way to give us chance after chance after chance. Peter and Paul would gladly witness to that. God is forever kind to those who fall and rise again.
And that perhaps is the most important meaning for us to receive from this parable today, God never gives up on us! He will never give up on you! Ever! Ever, Ever! God doesn’t abandon us; it is we who abandon him. And that perhaps may be our sin. That we think that we aren’t any good. That we’re not worth it. But that’s really a sin of pride, isn’t it?
Fifth, the gospel makes it quite clear there’s a final chance. If we refuse chance after chance, if God’s appeal and challenge come again and again without us even turning towards him, the day finally comes, not when God has shut us out, but we by deliberate choice we refuse his grace and turn our back on him definitively.
But even in that, there may be something psychological that is operative in that person that would diminish that person’s guilt, and save him in spite of himself.
Awake, O sleeper, rise from death,
And Christ will give you light,
So learn his love ~ his length and breadth
It’s fullness, depth and height
For he descended here to bring
From sin and fears release
To give the Spirit’s unity
Which is the bond of peace.
For us Christ lived, for us he died
And conquered in the strife.
Awake, arise, go forth in faith,
And Christ shall give you life!
And now here’s a Lenten hymn for you, “Beyond the Days of Hope and Mystery.” Click here
Centering Prayer and the Need for Silence in our Lives (Part three) Friendship with God
In the past two issues of this Blog on Centering Prayer, we looked at the basics at how to get into it. In this one, we go a little deeper to take a look at where Centering Prayer is leading—towards real abiding friendship with God at the center of our being.I turn here to another book by Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault Wisdom Jesus.It was recommended by Father Bill Sheehan, O.M.I. at the last retreat I made with him this past January at the Passionist Retreat Center in North Palm Beach, Florida, He quoted extensively from it and I will do so here. (The image above is Father Bill teaching a group at that retreat with the traditional Passionist cross in the background. I captured the image but was a little nervous because I didn’t want to disturb the proceedings. Father Bill was at the moment talking about Cynthia Bourgeault’s teachings.
In her first chapter, she gives a bit of her story and says that she needed to learn “not what to seek but how to seek.”
“Who do you say that I am?”Jesus asks again and again throughout the gospels. Which really means, according to Bourgeault, “Who or what in you recognizes me?
In West civilization, we all grew up with the notion of St. Augustine’s doctrine of original sin that had so pervaded Protestant and Catholic teaching that many of us grew up with a sense of man’s depravity rather than goodness,
This mindset still can have a powerful hold on us today. I recall a dear old lady-friend telling me she couldn’t receive communion because “She flatuated and enjoyed it.” Now, that’s a bit of scrupulosity but it’s an indication of what Cynthia is saying here. This lady thought such a minor thing was a sin that would make her liable for the fires of hell!
And Cynthia was saying that when she gives Centering Prayer workshops, she’s utterly dismayed that when she speaks of the divine indwelling (“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” someone in the audience vigorously corrects her.
In the East, there was not a soteriology—a theology that Jesus is Savior—but a sophiology—a word that has its root in wisdom.
Later, Cynthia tells us that for the earliest Christians Jesus was not Savior but Life-Giver.
“In the original Aramaic of Jesus and his followers there was no word for salvation. Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was to be made alive.”(p.21.)
Bourgeault suggests this may seem strange to us, maybe even heretical. As the evidence is collected from the Gospel of Thomas, and the Nag Hammadi collection, from the Syriac liturgies, from the African desert fathers and mothers, from Celtic poetry, the same sophiological messages emerge.
The point is that the primary task of the Christian is not belief in theological premises but to put on the mind of Christ. In the West—both in Catholicism and in much of Protestantism our emphasis is on correct dogmatic teaching. (Perhaps we ought to re-think the recitation of the Nicean Creed at Mass on Sundays for something that reflects, “putting on the mind of Christ?)
The Hebrew equivalent Life-Giver is da’arth—the same word used for “love-making”—as in “David entered Bathsheba’s tent ‘knew’ her.”
The Greek word Gnosis is used in the New Testament and St. Paul uses it repeatedly to describe the intimate experiences of being known in Christ. (Throughout my blog writings, it has been my fervent hope and prayer to draw my readers into a closer friendship with Jesus. To get to know and love him personally and richly.)
Now let’s fix Jesus geographically because this is important to his education. Jesus grew up in Galilee. The Silk Road ran right through Capernaum where Jesus did a lot of his learning and teaching. He would’ve been exposed to a lot of ideas—as Cynthia says seemed “as the New Age of the time.”She thinks he “soaked up spiritual teaching like a sponge.” Jesus was his own person, doing his own thinking, but his mind was expanded beyond his Jewish upbringing to include other spiritual traditions that were brought to him from traders on the Silk Road, particularly Buddhism and Persian light mysticism. (p.25.)
Now let’s take a look at this teaching of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke . . . .
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.Do to others as you would have them do to you. [ . . . .] “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
In this passage we can see the“razor edge of Jesus’ brilliance”, as Cynthia puts it. He’s transforming proverbs into parables. A parable is not a moral lesson—the closest thing to it is a Zen koan—as I’ve offered before in my Blogs—“a deliberately subversive paradox aimed at turning our usual mind upside down.” One of her colleagues referred to parables as “spiritual hand grenades;” their job is not to confirm but to uproot.
Throughout all four gospels, we hear people saying, “Where did he get this teaching? Where did he come from? No one ever said anything like this before.”
Jesus response to these questions was always the same: “Come and see.” And this will be true for us as well as we complete our journey through Centering Prayer—and this the point of this third and final blog on this subject.
Within his Near Eastern context he emerges as a fully attuned, even cosmopolitan teacher, yet recognized fully to his Hebrew audience. We begin to see it’s not proverbs for every day living or ways of being virtuous that he’s laying before us.
No. “He’s proposing a total meltdown and recasting of human consciousness, bursting through the tiny acorn selfhood that we arrived on the planet with into an oak tree of our full realized personhood. (p.27,)
So the question is: How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we learn to think and feel as Jesus did? Or as a friend has on his email address, “WWJD”—What would Jesus do? Or as I have often prayed, “let your Body and mine become as one and your Blood course through my bloodstream.”
Ms. Bourgeault is saying that, “Putting on the mind of Christ is what Christian orthodoxy is really all about. “It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice!
So what about the phrase Jesus uses, “The kingdom of heaven is within you?” “”The kingdom of heaven is at hand?” That is, it’s here, now. “You don’t die into it; you awaken into it,” Cynthia suggests.
Where is it then? Relying on a colleague of hers, Jim Marion—and this makes a lot of sense to me—the Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it’s not a place you go to, but a place you come from.It’s what we would call today non-dual consciousness or unitive consciousness, which sees no separation—not between God and humans and not between humans and other humans.
I have a major piece of writing on this, called “Spirituality in the Balance” as opposed to Either-or Spirituality that has a tendency to cause unhealthy splits in human behavior. I’d like to enter some of it here . . . .
The curse which affects all of us is dualism, which pervades both Church and Society. It is also the curse of a deceptive spirituality. Earlier in my writings I wrote, I “was inwardly split ~ torn apart by two opposing forces,” In that, I embody the culture. My struggle has roots common to us all. Diabolein—to dispel or disperse—is a force that wants to tear us asunder—personally, ecclesially and societally. Dualism has been with us for a long time, running through the works of Plato, then Augustine, down to the present time. Symbolein—to draw together—is the opposite of diaboleinand is a positive force. What we need is a “Both—And ” spirituality, both inside and outside the church that draws us toward wholeness and that sees that disparate elements contain each other and each has value.
Both—And is the spirituality of God and Jesus:
God has given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ.
A plan to be carried out
in Christ, in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on the earth.
It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him
and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person,
Both on earth and in the heavens,
making peace through the blood of his cross.
The political scene in our country is split wide apart. Factions and divisions abound. We grow very weary of this. Government grinds to a halt by a refusal to cooperate. And then can we ever get beyond the dualism of pro-life and pro-choice so that there can be real healing? (This written in 2004!)
The Church also sees its factions and divisions. We become scandalized.
In our selves, we are often torn between “either / or” polarities. Should we end a bad marriage? Should we get out of an oppressive job? We get discouraged.
Jesus is Redeemer of both the left and the right—and both darkness and light. No one captures all of the truth, except Jesus. He’s the Stillpoint, the center of the whole universe and all of us who are contained therein! He calls each of us to wholeness and holiness.
Consider the following sets of antitheses:
Both body and soul. Soul and body. We are human, after all, which is to be known as being a body and a soul; we are neither pure flesh nor pure spirit. We must learn to tend to both body and soul.
Both good and bad . . . Bad and good. There would not be good without bad, nor bad without good. Those who say there is no bad within them are hypocrites (they like to portray themselves as filled with truth and light. and, therefore, can be evil incarnate. The hypocrites crucified Jesus; they still do.)
Church and world . . . World and church. There would not be church without world, and the world needs the church to call it back to God.
Left and right . . .Right and left. A person who is missing one of his arms misses something important. A church that does not embrace left and right misses part of the truth. So, too, a politic that does not embrace both left and right also misses part of the truth.
Sin and grace . . . Grace and sin. Jesus teaches us that it is the one who realizes he is a sinner is the one who is open to grace.
Spirituality and sexuality . . .Sexuality and spirituality. Every one of us has a body, and by that reason, are sexual beings, whether we are celibate or not. Spirituality needs a wholesome sexuality and sexuality needs spirituality to be redeemed and meaningful.
Heaven and earth . . . earth and heaven. As we strive for heaven, a place of bliss and fulfillment we remain rooted in our earthiness — “Dust thou art and unto dust we shall return.”
And finally to top off our reflection on all this . . . .
Cynthia shows us that Jesus’ most beautiful symbol for this in his teaching is in John 15 when he says,
“I am the vine; you are the branches, Abide in me as I in you. A few verse later, he says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”
There is no separation between humans and God, which expresses the indivisibility of divine love. We flow into God—and God into us because it is the nature of love to flow.
And our final word will be from St. Paul . . . .
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
But before you go, here’s the full version of the Eucharistic hymn, Adoro Te Devote as it’s sung accompanying a Eucharistic procession in a Latin country with English subtitles. Click here.
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
It’s a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
According to our Scripture-scholar friend William Barclay, this story is another of the great hinges in Jesus’ life on earth—and we’ll see why. He was just about to set out for Jerusalem, setting his face toward the cross.
The story is cloaked in mystery. We can only try to understand. We usually associate this event with Mount Tabor, which is in the south of Galilee. However, Luke tells us this event happened eight days after events in Caesarea Philippi which is in the north. Not on that, Tabor is only about 1,000 feet high, and in the time of Jesus, Barclay indicates there was a fortress on top. It’s much more likely that this event took place amidst the eternal snows of Mount Hermon which is 9,200 high and much nearer Caesarea Philippi. (The image above is from a Flicker photo of Mount Hermon taken in 2009.
Jesus took his favorite disciples, Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. On the mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. Moses was the great lawgiver of the people of Israel; Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. It was as if the princes of Israel’s life and thought and religion were affirming Jesus to go on.
There’s a vivid sentence here about the three apostles . . . .
“When they were fully awake they saw his glory.”
In life we miss so much because our minds are often asleep.
~ There are many of us who are so wrapped up in our own ideas that our minds are shut. “Someone may be knockin’ at the door” but we’re often like sleepers who will not awake.
~ There are others of us who refuse think about anything. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How many of us have thought things out and thought them through?
~ We can drug ourselves mentally against any disturbing thought until we are sound asleep that Big Brother can taken over. Ever seen the “Matrix?”
But life is full of things designed to awaken us.
~ There is sorrow. Often sorrow can rudely awaken us, but in a moment, through the tears, we will see the glory.
~ There is love. Barclay references a poem by Robert Browning telling of two people who fell in love: She looked at him; he looked at her—“and suddenly life awoke.”
I remember a similar experience in reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain for the second time several years ago. When I finished it I found myself immersed in joyous tears for weeks on end—filled with love for Jesus that this young monk and elicited in me. This Lent, I’m trying to re-enable that experience.
~ There is a sense of need. It’s easy enough to live the routine life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some unanswerable question, some overwhelming temptation, some summons to an effort that we feel is beyond our strength. And that sense of need can awaken us to God.
We would do well to pray, “Lord, keep me always awake to you.”
Source: William Barclay /Gospel of Luke pages 147-8.
But here’s a couple of other observations from the February 2016 issue of the Magnificat liturgical magazine:
After the disciples witnessed Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, this appears in the text . . . .
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. (Lk. 9:34)
The overshadowing of the divine Spirit does not darken, according to Saint Ambrose, but reveals secret things to the hearts of people. It is the luminous cloud the soaks us from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith sent by the voice of the almighty God.
He’s talking about mystical experience that arise from deep prayer or centering prayer sometimes or even just experiencing an amazing sunset or an exhilarating conversation with a friend.
Anyway, what a gorgeous sentence that is “a luminous cloud that soaks us / from the dew that sprinkles the minds of people with faith” . . . Wow! Think on that one.
Immediately following, we here from the cloud a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
It is a call to heed Jesus’ teaching about his Passion and our need to take up our cross and follow him: Jesus is he Messiah who suffers.
“After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent” . . . .
Their silence was a mark of awe. As it was on the last day of Jesus’ life, when he said, “It is finished.”
You may never had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even one mountain top experience — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
And now before you go, here is the Eucharistic hymn sung by a young boy and a mass choir~ Ave Verum Corpus. Click here.
First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ March 10, 2019
This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.
This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.
Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.
He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazeinhas a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.
One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac? God was testing him, not tempting him!
So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.
We have to note further where this test took place. 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 or rather the Father was shaping him ~ testing his mettle ~ for his mission.
Then there are these other points to take note . . . .
First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism. As St. Luke describes it: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days to be tempted by the devil.”Barclay suggests to us that we do well to be on guard when life brings us to the heights that that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.
Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul. The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This is an inner struggle.
It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we almost see the devil.
(Pope Francis in a meditation in the Magnificat liturgical magazine was saying that Christian life is a battle. And then cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, ‘Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century. And must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.’”)
Third, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release. Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.
Forth, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them. We are always tempted through our gifts. We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others. (A word to some of today’s political leaders perhaps?)
Fifth, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness. No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.
We must always approach this story with unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul.
The story of Jesus moving into the desert this year, of course this year, is from the Gospel of Luke.
Here’s what Barclay has to say . . . .
No sooner than Jesus is has been immersed in his own baptism by John the Jordan River and basks for a moment in that glory that the battle of temptations begins.
Luke tells us that the Spiritled Jesus out into the wilderness for his testing time. The very Spirit that came upon him during his baptism.
In this life it’s impossible to escape the assault of temptations; but they’re not sent to make us fail. They’re sent to strengthen the nerve and our sinews of the mind and heart and souls. They’re not meant for our ruin, but for our good.
The Lord once found his people in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert(Dt 32:10) That’s where we first find Jesus and that’s where he first finds us—in a wasteland of sorrow, confusion, suffering, sin. Magnificat
Barclay gives the example of a football player who is showing signs of real promise. The manager isn’t going to put on the third team where he’ll hardly break a sweat, but on the first team where he’ll be tested and have a chance to prove himself.
That’s what temptation is meant to do—to enable us to prove our strength of character and to emerge stronger for the fight.
From this episode, our first lesson should be that human life on earth is a life of warfare and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. Reading in the Gospel that Jesus was tempted right after he was baptized, they will not grow fainthearted and fearful if they experience keener temptations from the temptations from the devil after their conversion or baptism than before—even if persecution should be their lot. Magnificat
And then there’s this: Forty days is not to be taken literally. It’s the regular Hebrew phrase for a considerable period of time. Moses was said to be on the mountain with God for forty days.
And it was Satan that tempted Jesus.. The word Satan in Hebrew means adversary.
The other title for Satan is the Devil: the word comes from the Greek diabolos, which literally means a slanderer.It’s a small step from the thought of one who searches for everything that can be said against a man (adversary) to the thought of one who maliciously and deliberately slanders man in the presence of God.
In the New Testament, we learn that it is the Devil or Satan who causes human disease and suffering. It is the devil who seduces Judas. It is the devil who is destined for the final destruction.
And I wrote this many years ago. . . .
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.
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.
Another harsh voice tempted him to throw himself down from the parapet of the temple, a 450 ft. drop, and have his angels come and raise him up. 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.
A third 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.
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.
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, 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 which Jesus tamed and quieted ~the voices of greed or accolade or power–we must tame and quiet, relying on his power as elder Son.
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.
Luke ends today’s Gospel passage by saying: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him . . . for a time.” Words that we should prayerfully consider and take heed.
And before you go, here’s the ol’ Gospel song, “Jesus walked that lonesome valley. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people. One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message. That’s important, but we’re 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 to deliver ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within our own home that damage the souls of our spouses and our children.
Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.
Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person. We need to choose our words carefully. To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths. To realize our words create life or death.
In today’s 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)
My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan here. That’s a Zen word for a riddle given to a student to mull over until the the student gets the insight.
Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Copy it on a card and repeat it often until you get it.
Jesus’ message is so counter-cultural. In our society people do anything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check for diabetes. And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. Some folks do this by getting a hasty divorce to run away from our problems or by dumping a girlfriend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.
Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it as our Savior, yes, but also as a model for us. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey. He knew he would make people angry by proclaiming the truth he saw in his heart. He knew that it would lead him to death, but he never strayed from the road 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.
He was a person of absolute integrity. No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.
This is the Jesus I know and love: The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my Lord, my Savior, my mentor, if you will. I would like very much to be like that. How ’bout you?
Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert’ (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission. Now before you go, here’s a hymn about taking up your cross. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter is late this year ~ Sunday April 19th.
So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?
We Catholics like symbols. (So does Harry Potter.)
What can they tell us about life? And death? And reality?
When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,
or REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.
So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.
Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?
Have made an ash-heap of our life?
Are we sitting in an ash-heap?
Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?
If so, do we despair?
Or can we dream of re-building?
Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.
That’s what the ashes signify. And Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence from meat to remind us that we should begin this penitential season well.
Here’s an article that explains the theological significance of the season of Lent.
Consisting of forty days, in commemoration of the time the Lord Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in which we believers prepare ourselves for the joyful celebration of the Paschal Mystery.
While the phrase “paschal mystery” is fundamentally Christian and should be a term readily known by every Christian disciple, most believers are unaware of its meaning and miss its significance.
With this observation in mind, let’s ask: What is the Paschal Mystery?Why does it require a penitential season to prepare for its celebration?
The Paschal Mystery is nothing more or less than the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, the purpose of his messianic mission in destroying sin and death, and the unfolding expression of his immense love for us. The Paschal Mystery is the source of our belief in eternal life and the foundation of the hope we have of dwelling forever in heaven.
Anyone who claims the title of “Christian,” therefore, must realize what the Paschal Mystery is and what its role is in our desire for redemption.
It is for this reason that we believers needs Lent. The mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection requires constant reflection and re-living in the lives of believers in order for the mystery to be fully assimilated in our hearts and appreciated in our everyday lives. With the pace of life and the multiple distractions presented by our world, it’s too easy for a Christian to miss the mystery. And so, Lent comes and commands a pause. It orders us – through various penances, some universal to all believers, while others of a more personal choosing – to slow down and see the mystery, feel the love, and desire heaven above all things.
And so, Lent is not a season about self-help or self-improvement for their own sake. It’s not just about giving up caffeine or chocolate (although these could be good penances) or about eating right or being more punctual (although it could be good to improve these habits). No, above all these things, Lent is about the believer deepening in her knowledge and experience of the Suffering, Crucified, and Resurrected God who loves her and seeks to be with her. It’s about grasping – and being grasped by – the radical and self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.
A good Lent, therefore, is reflected in a devout and attentive celebration of Holy Week and Easter. The rejoicing that’s a part of these holiest days should not occur because the believer sees it as a reprieve from a dislikable and contested time of penance but because the believer has been purified even more from darkness and is able to more profoundly understand and share in the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.
The purpose of Lent, therefore, is a microcosm of the life and worldview of the Christian believer. Knowing ourselves to be the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, everything we think, feel, and do is placed in the light and hope of eternity. This gives the disciple of Jesus Christ the strength to forgive an enemy, control their sexual passions, suffer patiently, and selflessly serve others. When the Resurrection is lived and heaven is seen as a real possibility for the righteous, then everything is worth it and everything becomes ordered to it.
It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes on their forehead without the slightest intention of doing what they symbolize: CHANGE.
And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.
I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.
Make the sign Mean Something!
Let it transform you from inside out.
The question is: Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?
So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.
During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.
And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.
Whether you are Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some wisdom,
some meaning for your life in these pages. Join us as we walk the journey together
as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2019.
God of pardon and of love,
Mercy past all measure,
You alone can grant us peace,
You, our holy treasure.
Now before you go, here’s a short hymn about an offering of ashes. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them Click here.
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 (or early March this year) 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 merrymakers 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 to discover our Lord in a new way and at the same time your deepest Self. Be ready to experience new life, new growth for yourself 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 Wednesday with 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.
We ask you, Lord, to lead the way.
But, before you go, here’s a 14-minute video just taken of this year’s Carnival celebration on March 1st and 2nd in Rio! Be sure to enter full screen. Click here.
(Ladies: Let your husbands have some fun – um ~ it’s not exactly R-rated.)