Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday word, 14 Feb 16

Distinctively Christian
Lenten Sunday1 C (14 Feb 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Lent begins early this year. As I caught my breath I recalled we recently celebrated Jesus’ incarnation and closed its annual festival a month ago. We rejoiced that the son of God joined our humanity to himself for us and everyone. Baptism unites us with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lent allows us together to recall our baptismal union with Jesus; Lent helps others prepare for their initiation into him and his church.1

Recalling baptism and preparing for it is a window on Christian character. Christian character points to what is distinctive about Jesus and us, his friends. Character is shaped, to paraphrase St. Augustine, by the ways life tests us.2

From its infancy Christianity has remembered Jesus was tested in his life: tested in every way [like us] yet without sin.3 Testing has happened to us; testing may be happening to others; and testing will visit us as long as we live. Our response when tested is what is important. Our response is important because our response shapes our character. Noticing the ways others respond to tests in life often begins personal reflection on how we want to be in the world. Noticing how Jesus responded to being tested in the wilderness helps us grow distinctly Christian.

Jesus gave himself to his Jewish tradition. They did not initiate relationship with God. God visited them before they knew God. God visited Moses the same way. When they first met God told Moses: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters…Therefore I have come down to rescue them.4 They remembered God’s unsolicited loving kindness when they worshiped. Not only did they proclaim it with their mouths they bow[ed] down in [God’s] presence. Bowing was not groveling; it reminded them that they received from God all they were and all they enjoyed. We are tempted to count on ourselves as makers of everything, even as our own saviors. Jesus was tempted the same way. Jesus responded to the tempter: It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve.

Our growing knowledge of creation helps us be its better stewards. Our knowledge also tempts: for too long humans have sought to control creation—as if we could! Caring for creation is not unlike caring for an infant: Caring for infants demands that we check our power even as we guide, provide and offer direction.5 Jesus was tempted to control creation by turning stones into bread to end his hunger. Jesus responded to the tempter: It is written, One does not live on bread alone.

During our sharpest testings we may find that we try to force God’s hand: I’ll do this if God helps me; I’ll never repeat that if God rescues me. Forcing God by whatever name we call it—bargaining, threatening or appeasing—prevents us from receiving God’s care. We close ourselves, we harden our hearts, we prevent ourselves from acknowledging God—exactly the opposite of what the scriptural dramas and Jesus himself invite us to do. Jesus was tempted to force God’s protection. His response? Honor God, admit God has a claim on us no one has, that God gives us life every moment: You shall not [force—]…test…the Lord, your God.

The wilderness test shaped Jesus’ character. Jesus acted and spoke in line with it. He chose to serve God by aligning himself with God’s faithful love. Jesus’ response to temptations reveals our distinctive way to be in the world: rejecting power over others; controlling our appetites—for honor, for possessions as well as food; and insisting to be on God’s side rather than forcing God to be on ours. Baptism into Jesus distinguishes us the same way. Into that same distinction we baptize others into Jesus’ body, his church.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause 15 minutes pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask saints and angels to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for revealing our humanity to us even as he showed God to us.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to live Lent so we may awaken to our Christian character and live it.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer to keep us rooted in him and to guide our lenten journey to what is more true, more humane and more godly.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy #109-110.
  2. The opening of his Commentary on Psalm 60.
  3. Hebrews 4.15; 2.17-18
  4. Exodus 3.7-8.
  5. Pope Francis used the word, “limiting” in his encyclical on caring for our common home. Paragraph 78.
Wiki-image: Jesus tempted in the wilderness PD-US Jesus alone PD-US

No comments: