This Lenten Season has been one of the most unusual that I have encountered in recent memory. While Lent is to be a time of personal reflection and repentance, these past 40 days and 40 nights had become much more, both in the life of the Church and within society. We saw young lives taken away by violence, only to view the survivors of that tragedy rally for their classmates to enact meaningful change at the same time critics question the authenticity of their convictions. How we react to sorrow and grief is just as important on we react to joy and happiness. When we understand that, then we can truly appreciate the meaning of Lent.
The word Lent comes from Old English meaning “spring season.” As anyone who lives in Mid-America knows that the weather in springtime can incredibly unpredictable. It starts in cold and darkness. The snow on the ground starts to melt, the temperatures begin to warm up, but not before a few serious storms (not to mention Tornadoes) will come through and ravage the land. In fact, this year marked the 70th Commemoration of my hometown, Bunker Hill, Illinois, was practically levelled by a Tornado. To this day, the town has not recovered. Springtime is not just green grass, growing flowers and birds returning. It is also the path by which those things are allowed to occur. Much like the phrase “April Showers bring May flowers” the joy of Easter can only be experienced until the sorrow of Lent is complete.
This Lenten Season had been one of contradictions. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a day of fasting, abstinence and wearing of ashes on our head fell on the feast day of St. Valentine, a day of love and romance. Palm Sunday, the day that commemorated Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem with swaying of palms and lying of cloaks on the road was the same day as the traditional feast of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel came in silence to a Virgin named Mary sitting alone in her home and telling her that she would be the Mother of God.
This might seem to be an oddity, and admittingly, an amazing one at that. Yet then again, if we looked at the Scriptures, we would find even more instances of contradictions. God created Man and Woman in his own image. But when they wanted to be equal to wisdom as God, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. When Moses saw the Burning Bush, God told him that he would be the deliverer of the Hebrews from Egypt. But when he attempted to give these same Hebrews water from the side of a mountain, God kept him from entering the Promised Land. When John the Baptist began his ministry, he promoted the forgiveness of sins to attain the grace of God. But when he attempted to change the heart of King Herod, he was killed due to the hatred of the Queen. Our faith is based on contradiction, yet even in those contradictions do we see our salvation presenting itself to the entire world.
When the contradictions get the best of us, sometimes it is best to step back, walk away and listen to that voice within yourself in order to bring clarity in our lives. Lent is the time for us to do that. When Jesus went into the desert, he used this time to gain a better understanding of how he was to minister to his Father’s creation. He understood what it meant to be an observant Jew as well as the Son of God, but how was he to explain this image effectively to those around him? The many noises that were being emanated in Israel were making everyone nervous and uptight. Jesus could feel those emotions and it was putting a strain on Jesus. His human side was being pulled away from his divine side, for lack of a better term.
During his time studying the Scriptures, he began to understand what his Father’s actions on the world had done, such as The Great Flood that destroyed the earth, with only Noah, his family and the animals enclosed in the ark. Jesus looked at the world around him and saw the factions that had taken control over the Children of God: The Priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. Even the Roman occupiers of the land had a great influence over the minds and hearts of those whom God had chosen for his own. The Israelites were losing their focus; their identity of what it meant to be in covenant with God. So it would stand to reason that Jesus, being all Man as well as all God, would be feeling it as well. In order to keep Jesus’ focus on what he was sent to do, the Holy Spirit grabbed him and sent him to the desert. For 40 days, Jesus was secluded to gain the wisdom he needed to speak with the people. It gave him the time he needed to get a perspective on what was going on, what he needed to do, how to do it and when it would be time to return to his Father in heaven. What Lent is to do for us is to “recreate” that time in the desert for our own personal sanity so we can move forward in our journey to paradise.
To make a retreat is to get away from the problems of the world so we can listen to the voice of God. Yet no matter how much we try to get away from them, our problems and concerns are waiting for us when we get back. Yet how we handle those problems is the difference between being in control of them or is the slave of them. I had heard a description of how Satan temps us. It was not by offering large fortunes or extreme power. It was by showing us the things that could have been if we had chosen different paths. If one looks at the Temptation of Christ by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11/Mk. 1:12-13/Lk.4:1-13) in this manner instead of what we have normally read as an enticement to serve Satan, then we can see how Satan entices us in the same way he enticed Jesus. For example, Jesus was hungry, and Satan appealed to his sense of hunger. When Satan wanted him to give a demonstration of his power, he appealed to his vanity. And when Satan offered Jesus an offer of power that he did not have, it was an appeal to his greed. To Jesus, all of those temptations could have accelerated his plans to become the Messiah in the spiritual as well as the terrestrial plane. But he also knew any one of those temptations would distract from the mission that he had already planned. It is not enough that we step back and gain perspective in our lives. It also takes the courage to know that the choices we make are the ones that make the most sense for us in our quest toward salvation.
For those who mentor anyone realize that at some point in this relationship that the mentored leaves the mentor and goes on their own. Whether they are a parent, teacher or pastor, every lesson they give is presented so that the one who is being taught can use those lessons during their lives and, eventually, pass on those lessons to someone else. In John’s Gospel (12:20-33) there were some Greeks who were in Jerusalem for Passover who asked to see Jesus. They were not the Chosen People. The Messiah was only for those whom God called. Yet Jesus’ words were so inspiring that they transcended those who they were for and has spread out amongst the known world.
It was at this point, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Once his message went out beyond the border walls of the Jewish society, Jesus knew that it was time for the final moments of his life to begin. In order for his message to spread further, he had to be that grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it would produce much fruit. That is the task of a mentor: to be a trusted advisor and friend. And when the time comes that the student should go on, it is the duty of the mentor to bid them well. To do otherwise is to be nothing more than a leader of a cult. They try to act in the place of God, but when that moment comes, the perks of being God are not there. For the mentor to see their student to go on their way, knowing that they have taught them well, and see that student become a mentor of others, then they have the satisfaction that their work was not in vain.
Once we are done with the contradictions of Lent, we come upon the final contradiction of faith: Easter. On the calendar, Easter 2018, the day we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead falls on April Fool’s Day, a day dedicated for jokes and pranks to be played on one another. Yet as the story is presented, I have wondered if this year the connection would not be appropriate? The Gospel of John (20:1-9) states that it was Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning. She was visibly upset after all of the events that had occurred in the past few days. So it must have been truly upsetting to see that the stone that was in front of the tomb had been moved and the body of the one that she adored was gone. Was this some sort of prank? Did someone grab his body? Did the Romans, or worse, the Chief Priests steal his body to discredit Jesus’ disciples?
Mary ran back to the Upper Room where the Apostles were hiding and told them what she had seen. Peter and the “Disciple whom Jesus loved” went to the tomb. They saw the burial cloth lying in the tomb, with the head covering setting somewhere else. At the time, they were just a befuddled, but later put the pieces together. Any doubts that they had regarding the true identity of Jesus had gone. He had indeed risen from the dead. He is the Messiah, the Son of God. The act of despair and ridicule to those who were there has now become the act of joy and happiness for all of eternity. How’s that for an April Fool’s prank!?!
Now comes the hard part. What are we to do? Jesus has risen. We are the benefactors of that miracle. And as benefactors, we have an obligation to continue the mission of Jesus and those with whom he had loved. This is not a day of celebration just to be forgotten the next day. It is a wake-up call from Christ that we are the ones that he entrusts to carry the Good News to all the earth. Those who have been called to ministry can only do so much. It is as much a responsibility to the laity as it is to the ordained to proclaim witness to the Paschal Mystery in thought, word and deed.
Every year during the Chrism Mass, the Bishop asks the priests in his care to renew the promises they made at their ordination. During the Mass, everyone present renews their baptismal promises when they recite the Creed. During the Easter Season, this would be a good time to take a look at the Creed and see how it relates to your life. For those who have questions or concerns regarding the Creed and your life, then take as much time or study needed to find those answers. No one is forcing anyone to accept it. But what they can do is understand it. Only from understanding something can intelligent dialogue begin which results in effective resolutions.
Christ is risen! He left the world in good hands-ours. Now is the time to start using those hands to do the task of God.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK