Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Journey of the Heart Has Practical Goals
We have entered our great spiritual exercise of Lent with its double purpose: to recall our own Christian initiation of baptism, confirmation and eucharist; and to prepare others for their own Christian initiation. Each Lent the Pope and his Vatican staff enter Lent in a focused way by having someone guide them in retreat. In 1983 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, guided the papal retreat that Lent.
The present pope noted something important as we enter Lent: the liturgical readings during the Year of Luke “suggest the theme of being on a journey.”/1/ Throughout Luke’s gospel Jesus journeyed, forming a people as he went. Lent is our annual, focused journey in concert with Christians the world over. We seek to be formed ever more deeply as Jesus’ faithful people.
That means that our Lenten journey is not a geographical one. Our Lenten journey is one of the heart, that is, the core of who a person is. Remember last Thursday’s Plain Dealer’s front page? It carried this photograph of a person being marked with ashes on Wednesday. The photo was on the fold and the full width of the front page. From boyhood I remember other, even larger photos in newspapers the day after.
The publicity given to Lent every year suggests that deep within, in our hearts, at the core of being human, people long to journey in order to reach meaning, which is true, humane and even godly. Christian initiation--when we were baptized into Christ’s death and rising; sealed by his holy Spirit to become more like him; and nourished on his body and blood each day--sets us on our journey to meaning, which is true, humane and godly.
While human living is an expansive experience of every sort, the oppressive, the uncomfortable and cries for help are as real as liberation, comfort and security are. The fact is that oppression and crying for help are embedded in the history of salvation, of our relationship with God.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, [who] heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression [and] brought us out of Egypt.The cry of our ancestors in faith we make our own: Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble. As God heard the cry of the people God led out of Egypt, our faith assures us that God hears us and replies favorably, too. Do we cry out?
This is not to be escapist. Our faith is tied with the very real vagaries life hurls at us humans. Life’s violent turns trouble us in many ways, oppress us, even seduce us not to be human. The photo in last week’s Plain Dealer, the publicity Lent receives annually and the numbers of people who seek ashes traced on their foreheads convince me that something deep within beckons people to be more truly human, to connect with the divine.
Our Christian initiation grafts us onto Jesus. The temptations of Jesus remind us that temptation is human, and that we need to stand against temptation as Jesus did. His temptations also show us that, while our particulars differ from Jesus, the tempter also seduces us to assume inordinate power over creation to satisfy our appetites; over people to wrap ourselves in self-satisfaction and others’ praise; and even over God--as if that were possible!--God, who is our survival now. Those choices are precisely what Jesus rejected!
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, come before the Trinity feeling your life depends upon the divine Persons. Acknowledge Jesus as human, who knew temptation very well. Tell Jesus in your voice how you experience temptation: the dizzying ways the tempter suggests power, glory and riches to you. Ask Jesus for courageous strength to dismiss the tempter from your presence, something we need to ask often. Pray for light to alert you more to the tempter's subtle ways. Close by slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer to keep you rooted in Jesus and to guide your Lenten journey to what is more true, humane and godly.
/1/ Pope Benedict XVI, Journey to Easter: Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, Reprint edition, 25 February 2006, p. 10.
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