Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Journey Begins

Tissot's Jesus in the Wilderness
We have begun our Lenten journey from ashes to Easter.  Lent is a 40-day retreat: a time to ask who and what are our priorities in life.  It's a time to follow Jesus into the wilderness, to replenish ourselves with the gifts of the Spirit (for example, wisdom, good judgment, courage).  Lent is a time to recall how the Jews of old saw the desert: not only an abode of wild beasts and demons, but a place where a person encountered God and God encountered the person.

Maybe you're feeling an emptiness, dissatisfaction.   Things are going OK, but you're starting to wonder:  Is this what it's all about?  Let this be the season to focus on doing the right thing.

Maybe you find yourself facing new challenges, tough life-changing decisions.  As you struggle to find your way, remember that Jesus also trekked through the wilderness.  Stop and ask for directions; in the solitude of prayer and in conversation with those who love you.  Listen to Jesus' response to his “tempter”: God instead of bread, service instead of a self-centered life, humility and generosity instead of celebrity.

Lent is a time to stop, to look at our options, to ask who am I, where am I going and what's my purpose.  It's a time to reflect on why God gave us life in the first place. Lent challenges us to fix ourselves on the things that truly matter; to have a change of heart; to live in a better relationship with God and with one another.

The Book of Genesis tells us God fashioned a magnificent universe and created man and woman to enjoy it.   It's a symbolic story.  There's the tree of life.  And another tree, that gave knowledge of good and evil, a tree symboizing divine status. Enter the snake. It set people against one another and against God. They wanted divine status, to be self-sufficient; so, they ate the “forbidden fruit.” They suddenly were a laughing-stock, naked. They lost their friendship with God, they fell from grace.

God became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth: so we could have God's friendship again.  The author may be asking us whether we see God as our friend, as our walking companion.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is tempted. Would Jesus simply satisfy his physical hunger at the expense of his mission or purpose in life?  No.  Work signs and wonders so that people would puff up his ego?  No. Seek political power so that people would kowtow to him?  No. Jesus will only seek to do the will of his heavenly Father.

Lent tells us to ask God for the grace to get our priorities straight.  It's a time for prayer; a time to do without unnecessary things; a time to reach out with a helping hand.  For hundreds of years, Lent has focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Re-discover and re-treat yourselves to these age-old disciplines again this Lent.

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