Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday in Lent
March 9, 2014
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

God formed us out of the clay of the ground and blew into our nostrils the breath of life and we became a living being. Ah! The power of a breath. We take it for granted because it is part of our autonomic nervous system and we do it without thinking, but we all need time and space to catch our breath every now and then. Once we breathe in a manner that give us back our life, we can face the demands the world makes upon us.

Jesus goes to the desert to catch his breath before he begins his public ministry. He needs a few moments away where he can be alone with God to get fortified before he withstands a journey that will carry him fast to a future that is not entirely his own. He is indeed given the Spirit-filled breath that keeps him close to God, and we know that whenever a good person moves towards becoming a better person, the tempter will be there to derail us from our silly plans. Jesus withstands the temptations because he keeps his eyes on the long-term goal – life with God in abundance. The allures of the world are real, but they cannot have the lasting effect upon his consciousness as the attraction that God has.

The time Jesus spent in the desert reminds me of the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises that were developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is a prayer consideration called the “First Principle and Foundation” and it is for a person to keep in the forefront of her consciousness as she begins a 30-day silent retreat, which an exercitant likens to one’s time in the desert. Here is the text:

The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God's life to flow into us without limit.
 
All the things in this world are gifts from God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
 
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
 
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God's deepening his life in me.

It seems to me that this could be the prayer of Jesus as he enters the desert. It orients his entire life to merely direct all his current and future activities to the greater goal God has for him. It is a prayer that satisfies.

Jesus went into the desert because it was the isolated wilderness near to him. It was both a harsh and a mysteriously beautiful place where people would commune with God. You may have your own desert type places where you can go, even if it is a metaphorical place in your mind. In my youth, I listened to various popular songs that would transport me to a place of refuge and shelter, like James Taylor’s “Up on the Roof,” the Beach Boys “In my Room,” or Three Dog Night’s “Out in the Country.” You may have a more contemporary song, but whether I am in the desert or the city, I can always escape to the country, to the forests of my childhood, and find God present to me. Here are some of the lyrics: “Whenever I need to leave it all behind, or feel the need to get away, I find a quiet place, far from the human race, out in the country. Before the breathing air is gone, before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime, out where the rivers like to sun I stand alone and take back something worth remembering.”

This week, let us find our proverbial deserts, even if it is just a song, where we can recall the purpose of our lives with God. Let us breathe in the God-like air that gives us life and restores us to God’s dream for us. The fresh air cleanses our minds and helps us to bring to life that which is important. The time away helps us remember the words of Ignatius, I come from God; hence, I belong to God. I am destined for God, who is not only my Creator and my Master, but also my last end. Thus my end is to know God, to love God, to serve God.” Let us go to that place where we take back something worth remembering. Our memory of God will sustain us in the days and weeks ahead.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Leviticus, Moses begins to hand down the Law to all the children of Israel. He gives them rules for their relationship with God and with others. Isaiah tells the people that the word of God will go out to the ends of the earth and where it encounters fertile soil, it shall take root. In Jonah, the prophet sets out for Nineveh to announce a message of repentance and metanoia. When news of Jonah’s word reaches the king, the monarch lays aside his robe and covers himself in sackcloth and ashes. Queen Esther, who prays in anguish, asks the Lord God for help to save them from her nation’s enemies. In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks about the virtuous man who turned away from doing good and faced the wrath of God, while the sinner turned away from his sins to find the face of God. Moses instructs the people to observe the statutes and decrees that come from God if they want to receive life in abundance.

Gospel: Jesus tells his disciples of the great Day of Judgment at the end of time when those who cared for the most vulnerable will be rewarded with eternal life. Jesus teaches the people to pray the great Jewish prayer that has become known as the Lord’s prayer. Jesus calls attention to the work of Jonah and he declares that the people of the day of Jesus have someone greater than Jonah in their midst. Jesus tells his friends to ask for what they want in his name and it will be given to them abundantly. Jesus then speaks to his apostles and tells them that their righteousness has to surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes. Their fundamental attitude has to be moved toward a loving exchange if they are to lives as disciples. He then talks about radical love of enemies as the true test of faith. God is at work in all peoples – good and bad alike.

Saints of the Week

March 9: Frances of Rome (1384-1440), was born into a wealthy Roman family and was married at age 13. She bore six children and when two died in infancy, she worked to bring the needs of the less fortunate to others. She took food to the poor, visited the sick, cared for the needy in their homes. When other women joined in her mission, they became Benedictine oblates. She founded a monastery for them after her husband's death.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Mar 9, 1764. In France, all Jesuits who refused to abjure the Society were ordered by Parliament to leave the realm within a month. Out of 4,000 members only five priests, two scholastics, and eight brothers took the required oath; the others were driven into exile.
·      Mar 10, 1615. The martyrdom in Glascow, Scotland, of St John Ogilvie.
·      Mar 11, 1848. In Naples, Italy, during the 1848 revolution, 114 Jesuits, after much suffering, were put into carts and driven ignominiously out of the city and the kingdom.
·      Mar 12, 1622. Pope Gregory XV canonized Sts Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, and Philip Neri.
·      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.