Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Sunday in Lent

March 13, 2011
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

It does not take long for simple matters to get complicated. For example, Mark, in the first Gospel written, addresses the temptations of Jesus in two brief lines. For Mark, temptation is essentially a personal inner experience. In Matthew’s account that we hear today, the author is interpreting the events for his audience in a way that is pastorally meaningful. Therefore, deep rich cultural experiences are projected onto the life of Jesus.

Matthew connects the temptations of Jesus in the desert with the 40-day fast of Moses and also with Elijah’s time in the desert. Furthermore, it hearkens to the experience of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. God’s patience was tested by the people when they doubted God’s care. They rebelled against God’s nourishment of them by becoming dissatisfied with the daily manna and they turned away by offering sacrifices to a golden calf. Jesus is representing the ordinary experiences of the people of God.

Matthew’s account is to be read with the background of Deuteronomy 6-8, which details the temptations offered to the people. Jesus is responding to these temptations. He is offering a way of fulfilling the great commandment to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Heart refers to the affective side of us that drives us to do good or evil; soul means ‘life’ – even to the extent of martyrdom; and might means wealth, property, and external possessions. These temptations are formidable, but Jesus has an answer for each of them and his fundamental answer relies upon trusting in the providential love of God.

Jesus is acting as the representative of Israel. He is teaching them about God’s providence. Turning desert stones into bread is tantamount to rebelling against God’s will. The word of God becomes the chief nourishment. The second temptation, throwing oneself down from the holy city of Jerusalem, is testing God’s care of each person by unnecessarily and recklessly risking one’s life. The tempter is mocking the Christian custom of martyrdom. To invite Jesus to inherit all the magnificent, earthly kingdoms, the tempter appeals to the human preference for wealth and power to the love of God. This violates the covenant with God.

Jesus is able to answer each temptation with scripture; the tempter has his own scriptural foundations. His approach appeals to the good desires within us. The temptations are logical, clearly reasoned, and sensible. They are cogent and coherent and are found in our own beloved Scripture. We can easily be led astray.

Jesus shows us that only God is worthy of our worship. For the people of his day, Jesus represents the beginning of a new people of God. In a sense, he is the founder of a new humanity. Humanity’s basic temptation is not to love God with a unified heart, at the risk of life, at the cost of wealth. Jesus is the perfect lover of God. We learn from him because our love is imperfect and we are not as strong as he. This is a reason for our increased fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Yes, we do become more like him when we imitate him. We also need his grace so we can have insights into our own temptations and strengths. Through his abiding presence, we have a spiritual ally who has withstood the greatest tests. He won!

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The first week of Lent highlights stories that tell of a person’s repentance and conversion to God. The good shall live. Those who follow the will of God’s inherit eternal life. The Ten Commandments are given to the Israelites by God through Moses in the Book of Leviticus. Isaiah reminds the people that the word of God is like a seed that needs to be nourished on fertile ground. Jonah sets out for the great city of Nineveh to announce God’s word. The King, upon hearing the news of Jonah, relents and repents, bringing himself favor by God. Queen Esther falls prostrate and begs help from the Lord for she finds herself alone except for the steadfast presence of God. Ezekiel tells of the wicked man who turns from sin and finds eternal life; he also tells of the virtuous man who breaks from righteousness and commits sin will surely die.

Gospel: Matthew 25’s famous eschatological begins the Lenten season as the last judgment will separate the righteous from wayward sinners. The criterion is one’s mercy and compassion to the least among us. Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. He teaches them the “Our Father.” He then tells the people that they are to look closer. They pay homage to Jonah and Solomon, but he is greater than both these heroic men. To pray effectively, Jesus tells his friends to ask for whatever they want in his name and the generous Father will grant their requests. He tells them to deal with their anger and make reconciliation part and parcel of their habits. A reconciled life will bear great fruit in this life and the next.

Saints of the Week

Thursday: Patrick, bishop (389-461) is the revered Apostle of Ireland and patron saint of many U.S. dioceses. At age 16, he was kidnapped from Britain and brought to Ireland where he herded sheep and cattle. When he escaped, he decided to return to Ireland as a priest. Pope Celestine ordered him to bring the faith to Ireland. He is credited for converting many pagans, establishing Christianity, and setting up a local clergy in the land.

Friday: Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop and doctor (315-387) was a well-educated man who had connections to Caesar. He became a scholar of the early church before he was elected as Bishop of Jerusalem. He defended the work of the Nicene Council against the Arians and he wrote 24 treatises on catechesis.

Saturday: Joseph, husband of Mary, is honored today for his support of Mary in their marriage. He is portrayed as a righteous man who obeys the will of God. Therefore, his ancestry is upheld as a virtuous stock through which God’s promises come true. We seldom contemplate his marital relationship to Mary and his responsibility to love and raise Jesus as his son.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Mar 13, 1568. John Segura and five companions set sail from Spain for Florida, a fertile field of martyrs. (Nine Jesuits were killed there between 1566 and 1571.)
• Mar 14, 1535. Ignatius received his degree from the University of Paris.
• Mar 15, 1632. The death of Diego Ruiz, a great theologian, who studied on his knees.
• Mar 16, 1649. The martyrdom in Canada of St John de Brebeuf, apostle to the Huron Indians. Captured by the Iroquois along with some Christian Hurons, he endured horrible tortures.
• Mar 17, 1964. The death of Joseph O'Callahan. He was awarded the US Medal of Honor for heroism as chaplain on the USS Franklin, off Japan on March 19, 1945.
• Mar 18, 1541. Two letters arrived from Lisbon from Francis Xavier. One was addressed to Ignatius, the other to Frs. LeJay and Laynez. They were written just before his departure to India.
• Mar 19, 1836. By imperial decree, the Society was allowed to re-enter the Austrian dominions.

Libya, Ivory Coast, and other lands of unrest

We continue to pray for the people of Libya, the Ivory Coast, and other lands of instability. Certain strategic countries command greater media attention. We are to pray for those who are forgotten or are out of the media spotlight. May innocent people be free from harm. May freedom ring loud and clear in the hearts of all. We must not judge what is happening through our worldview because we do not know what is happening within the experiences of the people.

Rite of Election

Candidates (baptized) and catechumen (unbaptized) has been preparing to receive the Easter sacraments for months. They have been sent from their congregations throughout the year to break open the word of God with their catechists. This Sunday their names are inscribed in the Book of Elect at the local cathedral. They are scrutinized each week in front of the congregation who will attest if they are ready to enter the local community of faith. Pray for our newly elect!