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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

February 17, 2013
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Deuteronomy summarizes the story of Jacob and his family, who went to Egypt during a famine, and became a numerous and strong nation in a foreign land. Perceived as a threat, they were enslaved and maltreated. God, having heard the cries of an anguished people, led them out of Egypt with signs and wonders into the desert where they roamed for forty years until they settled in the land flowing with milk and honey. The priest set up altars to the Lord in thanksgiving for his steadfast guidance. All people of God bowed before God’s very presence.

Luke provides an extensive account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. As all the Gospels report, the temptation follows his baptism when he is filled with the Holy Spirit and it lasts for forty days, the length of Noah’s flood and a symbolic re-enactment of the forty years of desert wandering of the Israelites after their deliverance from Egypt. Deserts are harsh places that can test any person’s mental and physical health under the best circumstances. Jesus undergoes additional testing as the devil, the opponent of God, tests both his strength and weakness.

Jesus was tempted in three ways: (1.) in his hunger, he could have easily turned a stone into bread, (2.) he could have received power and glory from all the kingdoms of the world where he could have easily preached his message from God, and (3.) as he stood on the parapet of the Temple in Jerusalem, he could have thrown himself down with the knowledge that the powers of heaven would protect him. The great temptation was that Jesus desired some part of what was offered him. What person would not want the incredible power the devil offers? When he successfully resisted each temptation, the devil left him – only for a time.

We think we sin from our weakness, but we sin more from our strengths. The grade school athlete who can run the fastest always get challenged by a lesser opponent who wants to dethrone him. He accepts the challenge to retain his title. A chess champion likewise gets challenged and she usually is up for making sure she remains the best at her game. In all athletics, a good coach makes sure the team challenges the best skill of the best player. It levels the playing field and gives the opponent an advantage. We get tested on our strengths and we want to prove we are good at our craft. No healthy person will routinely challenge a slow runner, the inept chess player, or the clumsy athlete because no one gains anything from doing so.

Likewise, the devil tempts our strengths. If I am an over-eater, the devil will send someone to ask me if I want a pound of chocolates. Of course, the answer is “yes.” If I like to solve puzzles, I may be tempted to buy more games to solve a more complex puzzle. If I like to control outcomes, I will sorely be tempted to seek that promotion that gives me administration over other people and processes. These temptations feed our egos, honor, and prestige and we take great pride in them.

We may have had many experiences when we’ve said to ourselves, “I’m good at this” and then we find ourselves challenged beyond our abilities. Today, I had the experience of completing a drawing in my 3rd day of art class and I was handed another assignment way beyond my abilities and I immediately defaulted to thinking, “let me figure out how to start this so I can do it well.” Doing well and perfecting a new technique tempted me. We love the challenges, even the ones that land us in trouble.

It is all right to accept the challenge, but it is good to do what the roaming Israelites did whenever they could. They paused and they offered everything back to God. They realized all was given to them through and by God and it is only right to offer back to God what we have made with our gifts. It is right and just to develop these gifts and use them for God’s greater glory, but we must stop and remind ourselves of the source of these gifts. Otherwise we are worshiping our abilities and ourselves and this serves no one.

As we enter Lent and we choose the way we will live out these next forty days, let us pause and ask God what he wants for us. Let’s not make the mistake of sinning from our strength and choosing for us by ourselves. Then, let’s replicate the good example of our forebears who set everything they had before the Lord as an offering. Let us offer the most menial of our tasks to the Lord, and let us especially offer those tasks that we do well and need no help in accomplishing, for these are the most important offerings we can make. We bow before his presence and simply say, “thank you.”

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Leviticus, Moses stands in front of the people and teaches them the Ten Commandments. In Isaiah, the Lord says, “just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and they don’t return until they have watered the earth…, so shall my word go forth from my mouth. It shall do my will achieving the end for which I sent it.” In Jonah, the prophet is sent out to the great city of Nineveh demanding that they repent from sinful ways and fast. The King rose from his throne and covered himself in sackcloth and ashes before he proclaimed a fast. God saw their actions and did not carry out the evil he threatened to do to them. In Esther, the anguished queen prayed to the Lord for help as her enemies were upon her. In Deuteronomy, Moses gives the people the choice to choose life and prosper or to turn away from the commandments and choose death.

Gospel: We begin Lent by looking at the last things. Jesus is talking about the eschatological banquet in which the goats and sheep will be separated according to their good or wicked deeds. He reminds us, “what you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me.” He then teaches the disciples to pray what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus criticizes the crowd because they demand a sign. They fail to see that something, someone greater than Solomon and Jonah is in their midst. Following the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores people to ask and it will be given to you, knock and the door will be opened, seek and you will find. Be bold and bring your requests to God, the Father, in the name of Jesus. He then reminds people of the challenging words of God. You are to love your enemy and strive for perfection the way that the Father is perfect.

Saints of the Week

February 17: The Seven Founders of the Servites (Thirteenth Century) were from Florence and they joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, who were also known as Praisers. They devoted their apostolate to prayer and service and withdrew to a deserted mountain to build a church and hermitage. After adopting a rule and gaining recruits, they changed their name to the Servants of Mary.

February 21: Peter Damian, bishop and Doctor (1007-1072), was orphaned and raised by his brother, Damian, a priest in Ravenna. He began as a hermit monk and was then made abbot and cardinal. He became a reformer in the church often speaking out against clerical laxness.

February 22: The Chair of Peter is celebrated on this day. Previously, both Peter and Paul were remembered until their feast was transferred to June 29th. As the custom was ingrained in practice, Christians continued to honor the contributions Peter made to the church as the first of the apostles in continuous succession.

February 23: Polycarp, bishop and martyr (69-155), was made bishop of Smyrna and was the leader of the second generation Christians. He was a disciple of the apostle John and a friend of Ignatius of Antioch. He wrote catecheses and rites for initiation into the Christian community. He was martyred in 155 and is a Father of the early church.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Feb 17, 1775. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan Ambassadors in Rome intimate to the newly elected Pope Pius VI the will of their respective sovereigns that the Jesuits imprisoned in Castel S Angelo should not be released.
·      Feb 18, 1595. St Robert Southwell, after two and a half years imprisonment in the tower, was removed to Newgate and there thrust into a dungeon known as "Limbo."
·      Feb 19, 1581. The election of Fr. Claude Acquaviva as fifth general in the Fourth General Congregation. He was only 37 years of age and a Jesuit for only l4 years. He was general under eight popes. He had been a fellow novice with St Stanislaus.
·      Feb 20, 1860. Pope Pius IX visits the rooms of St Ignatius.
·      Feb 21, 1595. At Tyburn, the martyrdom of Robert Southwell after he had suffered brutal tortures in Topcliffe's house and in prison. He embraced the jailer who brought him word that he was to be executed. As he breathed his last, Lord Mountjoy, who presided over the execution, exclaimed: "May my soul be one day with that of this man."
·      Feb 22, 1599. By order of Pope Clement VIII, the superiors general of the Jesuits and the Dominicans, assisted by others, met to settle, if possible, the controversies about grace. Nothing came of the meeting, since the Dominicans insisted on the condemnation of the writings of Fr. Molina.
·      Feb 23, 1551. The Roman College, the major school of the Society later to become the Gregorian University, began its first scholastic year with 15 teachers and 60 students.

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