The First Sunday of Lent: Remembering Who We Are

Today’s readings

The devil wants more than anything for us to forget who we are.  He really didn’t care if Jesus ruined his fast by turning some stones into bread, or if he killed himself trying to test God, and he certainly had no intention of making him king of the world.  What he wanted, what he really wanted, was for Jesus to forget who he was and give himself over to him.  And we see in the first reading that that’s how it all started.  The serpent didn’t care what tree Eve ate from, he just wanted her, and Adam, to forget who they were, to forget that they were beloved children of God and that God would take care of them.

So if I could suggest a theme for us for Lent, it might be “Remembering Who We Are.”  That’s why we have the Cross up here, front and center.  I want us to see that in the Cross, God gave us the very best he had, and that when we take up our own cross, God sustains us and makes us more than we could be on our own.  Just as Jesus remembered that he was God’s Son and that he came here for a reason, and that reason was to save us from our sins, so we have to remember that we are sons and daughters of God, and we are here for a reason.  The devil will try all sorts of tricks to get us to forget that.  He will throw at us job difficulties, serious illnesses, the death of loved ones, family strife, and the list goes on and on.  He will tempt us with the latest gadgets, the job promotion, the opportunity to get rich quick, and that list goes on and on too.  He wants us to forget who we are.

Because if we forget who we are, the devil’s job is an easy one.  If we forget that God made us and redeemed us out of love for us, then he’s got his foot in the door.  Once that happens, hell looks like something glamorous, enticing and exciting.  It feels like living on our own terms, looking out for number one, and doing what feels right to me.  And that’s awesome, except of course, that it’s hell.  And the glamour fades and the excitement turns to rancor, and we’ve wasted our lives chasing after stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The antidote to this hell of our own making, is letting go – giving what might even seem to be necessary to us, and trusting that God will give us what we need.  That can be the treasure of Lent for us.  In fasting, we can let go of the idea that we alone can provide what is necessary for our survival.  God can feed our hungers much better than we can.  In almsgiving, we can let go of the idea that everything is ours if we would just worship the one who cannot give us what we truly need.  God gives us what’s really necessary in life, and also life eternal.  And in prayer, we can let go of the fading pleasures of this world and of Satan and take on the enduring luster of a life lived as a son or daughter of God.

And so I would like to suggest a program of retreat for these forty days of Lent.  It’s nothing new; I didn’t create it.  It’s what the Church gives us every Lent, and I feel like if we want to remember who we are, we should take it on in its entirety.  So this retreat consists of the three things I just mentioned: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  And our parish gives you so many resources for choosing something to do for each of them.  You may have seen our Lenten tear-out sheet in last week’s bulletin.  If you missed it, we will be mailing it to each house in the parish in the coming days.  Take a look at it, post it on your fridge, and plan to make this Lent a good one.

For fasting, we have our day of Fasting and Reflection on April 1.  It’s a day that you do independently with some input from us.  Fast that day from 6am to 6pm, attend 8am Mass and pick up the reflection guide, attend Adoration from Noon to 1pm, then end the day with Mass and making lunches for PADS at 6pm.  It’s a day of making sense of fasting, and letting God give us what we need while we hunger for him.

For almsgiving, I’d like to encourage us to help with the 40 Cans for Lent.  Our parish food pantry is in need of restocking right now, and so your donations of a box or can of food each day of Lent help so much.  You can also help our Knights of Columbus in this effort by distributing food bags on March 4th and collecting them on the 11th.  And that’s just one example of almsgiving that will really make a difference.

And for prayer, our parish is doing the “Living the Eucharist” series this Lent.  This is an opportunity for us all to come to a greater understanding and love of the Eucharist that we share each week here at Mass.  So you can pick up a copy of the individual reflection booklet at the information desk today.  I’ve been using them for prayer the last few days and they are really good.  We also sent a family activity book home with each school and religious education family, so if you have one, please take some time as a family to work through it.  We also have a weekly reflection each Sunday of Lent in the bulletin.  And finally, it’s not too late to sign up for one of our “Living the Eucharist” small discussion groups; you can do that at the information desk today.

Fasting, almsgiving and prayer remind us that we are beloved sons and daughters of God who are always taken care of by God, if we let Him; that when we give of ourselves, we all become more; and that as we become more our prayer leads us into the life of God himself.  May we have a blessed, and joyful Lenten retreat, all of us, sons and daughters of God.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.

But I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let’s see if we can recognize this a bit more clearly.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s just a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and we go through life confused.

Until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who does nothing but please his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity.  And all of this is hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

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