Lent is not an ordinary time. It is a period in which we are called to reconsider our relationship with God while we go on living our “ordinary” lives. We are asked to fast from ordinary things, to nourish ourselves more from the Gospel, to strengthen our prayer, to intensify our charity towards the weak and to convert our hearts to the Lord just as we also go about the regular routine of our lives these forty days.
In many ways this ordinary extraordinary is given full expression in the story of the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:28b-36). Jesus invites Peter, James and John to journey with him up the mountain to pray and there he is transfigured before them yet they must return back down the mountain when it is all over to the ordinary of their lives. It does raise the question of how much of a separation there really is between the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary” in life – maybe not as much as we often suppose. Today’s Gospel teaches us that the key to life is learning and being enabled to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. In other words; to see with transfigured eyes.
The Catholic Center where I minister is situated in a large and old house. The chapel is located in the basement. A few years back we placed a simple icon of the Transfiguration (pictured) in the stairwell leading down to the chapel. The icon is not there just to fill in a blank wall. It has a purpose. The visual theology of the icon instructs all who enter into the chapel for liturgy and prayer that we are entering into a place of transfiguration. Here, in the Mass and in quiet prayer, Christ is truly present and he reveals himself to us.
There are a number of dynamics present in the movement of Transfiguration. The first and primary movement is that God comes to us. Before Christ takes the three disciples up the mountain to pray, the Son of God who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, … emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… (Philippians 2:6-7). This is always the first move.
The second movement is that Christ tears us away from the selfish and mean habits that keep us so often bound. Christ tears us away from our selfishness and carries us higher. Here, let us avoid the danger of self-congratulatory pop therapeutic lingo which is really just a manifestation of spiritual sloth. Each and every one of us has selfish attitudes which we need to be torn away from. If the very disciples who walked with our Lord in the flesh needed to be pulled away from their selfish and mean habits then so do we. Today’s Gospel says, Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray. The operative word here is “took”. He did not ask, he did not request. He took.
Every time we gather for the Sunday liturgy, we encounter Christ who takes us from our own little preoccupations, worries and sad divisions and are drawn into the life of Christ himself – his vocation, his mission and his journey! Talk about an adventure! We are drawn into the very life of God and the mission of the Kingdom! This is the third movement.
This brings us to an important point which is so often misunderstood in our day, both by those who have not encountered Christ as well as many who profess Christ. Jesus does not like to walk alone. Jesus does not see himself as the solitary action movie hero, almost condemned to be superior to everyone else. Christ binds himself to that first little group of followers and he kneads his very life into theirs even though he knows they are weak and limited. Throughout history Christ has continued to knead his very life into the life of his Church and he does so today even as he is aware of our weaknesses and limits. Jesus is that true shepherd who never grows tired of his friends and who always takes them with him. When we enter into the Eucharistic celebration not only do we receive the Body and Blood of Christ but we ourselves are also kneaded more deeply into the very life of Christ and into a life of communion with others.
As we live this mystery of the God who comes to us, who tears us away from our selfish and mean habits and who kneads his very life into ours we are brought more into the very Kingdom of God and we begin to recognize that the ordinary and the extraordinary are really not that far apart after all.
|Temptation of Christ by Eric Armusik|
In the Gospel story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness (Lk. 4:1-13) we are given a dramatic portrayal of the movement of temptation in life and also the corrosiveness of sin.
Luke writes that it was only after Jesus had fasted for forty days and he was in a weakened state that the devil came to tempt him. This is worthy of note. Temptation insinuates itself into the folds of our weaknesses and our fragility and it is from there that it seeks to carry out its destructive work. Do we carry fears within us? Then grasp for power at all costs! Are we insecure in our understanding of self? Then run after the approval of others! Do we covet? Then deny the dignity and rights of the other person! Do we envy? Then put down the other person! Do we doubt? Then shut out the love of God and other persons!
All temptations insinuate themselves into the folds of our weaknesses and frailties. Part of the spiritual journey is coming to recognize and accept this. A very holy and honest priest once told me that at one point in his faith journey he came to the realization that he was capable of about every sinful act imaginable. The truth is, we all are. We mark ourselves with ashes at the beginning of Lent for a number of reasons – one of these being the recognition and acceptance of our own weakness. Holiness is not achieved by denying or masking weakness. Authentic holiness comes about only through accepted weakness being transformed by God’s grace.
In my own spiritual journey as well as in my experience as a confessor I have come to the awareness that one of the most corrosive effects of sin in our lives is that sin plants a kernel of doubt in our thoughts that can easily and quickly fester into a debilitating and ever-present accusation. The accusation comes in a variety of voices: “Who do you think you are?”, “If people only knew the real you.”, “How can you believe that you are worth love?”, “Do you think God loves you or even cares?” Throughout the temptation scene in today’s gospel the devil continually tries to plant this kernel of accusation in the thought of our Lord. If you are the Son of God… Yet, Christ does not sin, he does not turn away from the Father and therefore the devil is unable to plant this kernel of doubt and despair. Christ triumphs over the devil in the desert not by his own strength and self-sufficiency but rather by clinging in obedience to the will and love of the Father and by calling to mind the Word of God and being strengthened by that Word.
The answer to both the insinuation of temptation as well as the corrosiveness of sin is in essence the same – to trust and truly hold to the reality that we are sons and daughters of God and that God is nothing other than love. God does not disdain us in our weakness. The truth is that his love and grace are all the more present. The Christian sense of being perfect is not that we have it all together but rather that we are being perfected in and through our cooperation with God’s love and mercy. In the face of the accusation of sin we remember that we are indeed loved by God and if we cannot remember then God will remember for us. I have seen this first-hand as a confessor. This is one of deep truths of the sacrament of reconciliation. When we have forgotten who we are through sin, God (in his mercy) remembers for us. God, in his forgiveness, calls forth the truth that we are his sons and daughters.
We all know how temptation insinuates itself into our weaknesses and we know how sin accuses us. This Lent and Easter may we hopefully come to know in a deeper way how God’s love and the truth of our being his sons and daughters sets us free.
How and where do I find life? How do I live the life I have been given? These are perennial questions and for our purpose here at this university Newman Center these are the questions that many in our community are being called to take up and begin to wrestle with, perhaps for the first time. The questions can be summarized in our Lord’s invitation to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water…”
This invitation and the questions are daunting and even frightening. There are many voices in our world that continually encourage us to stay on the shore, to ignore the invitation to set out into the deep water. This encouragement comes in a variety of forms: to live a distracted existence focused solely on self and ones own entertainment, to not question too deeply or to only question in an approved manner, to silence ones conscience and only live within the bubble of ones own ego. These voices call to us continually – subtle and not so subtle. They have a surface appeal but in the end they are deadening.
Our Lord invites Simon Peter (and us) to “put out into the deep water” exactly because he knows the depth of being that resides within every man and woman. Christ will not let us sell ourselves short in contrast to the voices that encourage us to stay on the shore. Our Lord knows that deep calls upon deep and that an isolated, self-absorbed existence is an impoverished existence.
Yet, not only does our Lord invite, he also empowers and this is the good news proclaimed for us today. In today’s gospel (Lk. 5:1-11) we find the means given by which we might set out into the deep.
The first is that we are never alone. We are not orphans left to our own devices in a senseless world. There is a creator, there is a purpose for creation and there is a purpose for each of our lives. Not only this but God walks with us. That day, Jesus came to the Lake of Gennesaret – to where Peter, James and John were – and when he instructs them to “put out into the deep water” he is in the boat with them. God never abandons us. As we put out into the deep of our lives we must continually trust that God is with us.
This leads us to the second means given us by God. The Lord’s instruction to Peter to put out into the deep comes after the Lord’s proclamation and teaching to the crowds from the boat. This is not incidental. We have been given the gospels and all the scripture as a means by which to live our lives and to set out into the deep waters and navigate these waters. We must develop the discipline of turning again and again to God’s word, especially the gospels, in order to truly live the life we each have been given.
The final means given us by God in this gospel passage is mercy and forgiveness. Peter’s immediate reaction upon the great catch of fish demonstrates our common human condition, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We all know our weaknesses, we all know our sins and our failings but that does not mean we have to remain in them and we do not have to let them dictate who we can ultimately become. It is worthy to note that Christ does not depart. He remains and in his love and mercy patiently given he offers Peter a different vision for his life, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not deny the forgiveness and mercy of God.
When Simon Peter and the others answered and obeyed the Lord’s invitation and instruction they made a great haul of fish. Here, I will not go down the road of the gospel of success and its error of material blessings for a life of faith. Rather, I interpret the great haul of fish as a life well lived which is abundant in joy, relationships, integrity and love.
“Put out into the deep water” instructs our Lord. Develop the means given and know a life well lived.
|Eli and Samuel|
On January 31st, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. John Bosco – a saint who devoted his life to helping young people. This saint and his feast day has led me to reflect on my own experience of ministering to youth and young adults, especially in a time and culture that is “youth obsessed”. We can readily see how this obsession is played out in all areas of society – the entertainment and news media industry, politics, sports, education, relationships – just to name a few. Yet, my own reflection led me to wonder how might this obsession with youth bleed into and perhaps even negatively influence the Church’s ministry to youth and young adults as they seek to claim their own Christian faith and spirituality?
- Eli has a relationship with the young Samuel while not pretending to be Samuel’s peer.
- Eli was a man of prayer who was able to eventually recognize what was occurring and give good instruction to the young man.
- Eli put what was in Samuel’s best interest before his own.
- Eli trusted in God.
The fact that the young Samuel is comfortable in seeking out the elder Eli each time he hears the voice of the Lord witnesses to an established relationship between the two persons yet nowhere is there expressed any confusion between their differing roles. Eli knows who he is and therefore he is comfortable in his own skin and he has no need to pretend to be something that he is not. An approach to Christian faith and ministry that needs to abandon itself and our great Christian heritage in order to chase after the world in the hopes of being relevant lacks maturity and therefore any real depth of insight to offer a young person who is searching. It might be flashy in the moment but beyond that there is just really not that much there.