1st Lenten Sunday C (21 Feb 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Wider and More Public
Earlier this month Pope Benedict welcomed Lutheran Bishop Mark Hanson and the delegation accompanying him to Rome. Pope Benedict reminded them and us that work toward chuch unity is more than a human project. He said, “To build on what has been achieved together...a spiritual ecumenism should be grounded in ardent prayer and in conversion to Christ, the source of grace and truth.”1 One of Lent’s pillars for conversion is prayer.
That encounter with the pope reminded me that prayer, like ecumenism, is a relationship with Jesus. Relationships grow and develop as words become actions. Pondering the papal greeting to the Lutheran delegation reminded me that Christian churches exist to confess in word and deed. For us Catholics the first function of the word confess connotes naming sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our scripture readings remind us that confess has an older, wider and more public meaning.
In worship to confess means to declare, and people confess because they have been moved deeply and desire to thank God. For Jews the exodus from slavery in Egypt to liberation motivated them to praise God, alone and assembled in worship. The exodus was no human project of escape but God’s graciousness, which left them in awe: God brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with [stunning] power, with signs and wonders.
The second exodus, Jesus’ passing through death to totally new life and way of being, is the culmination of Lent and its sacred Triduum. Like the Jews after Moses and the first exodus, you and I may not be as awe-inspired by the dying and rising of our Messiah Jesus. The prophets’ mission to the chosen people sought to help them get in touch again with the awe of God so that it would fill them and spill over onto the lives of others with effects which were felt and life-changing. Lent is that for us.
That second exodus and St. Paul’s experience of it moved him deeply, so deeply that he became an apostle of the risen Messiah Jesus. He expressed the baptismal confession of faith as each one’s Christian vocation: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For us contemporary disciples of Jesus, heart modifies the verb believe. We are fact-oriented, logic-driven and give the head a prominence, which undercuts knowing with our hearts.
It is not a matter of head or heart but of using them together. A problem may challenge the head, but the heart is engaged when we consider what moves us to address a problem. My head helps me decide ways to behave, but my heart moves me to thank another, to ask forgiveness, to savor my gifts or to share my bounty with people in need. My head marshals evidence, but my heart lets me know when my life cries out for meaning or enjoys it.
The more alert we are to our hearts guiding our heads, the more like Jesus we grow: single-minded. Single-minded about his relationship with God and his desire to allow God’s desire to be Jesus’ desire is how Luke portrays Jesus, not only in the desert but throughout his life. One does not live on bread alone2; You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve3; and You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test4: all are scriptural norms and guides for living in relationship with God and others. Jesus’ single-mindedness is the measure of his sinlessness, which we profess and desire to imitate. Growing more single-minded, with our hearts guiding our heads, is the goal of any lenten practice.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, make a deliberate pause at least to desire to be aware of our Triune God. Ask saints and angels to present you to Jesus. Converse with Jesus confessing your wonder that Jesus created and redeemed you; thank Jesus for equipping you with your talents and filling you with your desire to follow him. Ask Jesus for the grace to follow him more closely throughout Lent and beyond it. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The word or phrase that moves you most deeply may be the clue to how Jesus is inviting you to be his apostle of his risen life for others.
- Benedict’s greeting was on 10 Feb 2010.
- Deuteronomy 8.3 recalls with wonder the way God nourished the liberated Jews on their way to their own land.
- Deuteronomy 6.13 recalls that other creedal statement that made Jewish monotheism unique in the ancient Mediterranean world.
- Deuteronomy 6.16 recalls that even in the shadow of God’s signs and wonders, some of the Chosen People persisted to create God in their image.