How Has You’re our Lent Going?

Gospel LK 4:1-13 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031019.cfm

How has your lent been going? Have you honored your commitments? Have your practices of prayer, fasting, and charity been successful?

Have you found that what started with commitment and determination is now feeling like exercise? What was initially a beautiful garment adorned in anticipatory joy now looks a little bit used, with frayed edges, and subtle stains of doubt and discouragement.

Or, maybe everything is going great! Your prayer life is flourishing, your fasting is rewarding, and your almsgiving is overflowing. Despite the somber Liturgical season, you are finding personal satisfaction through self-sacrifice and each day brings new challenges offering greater reward.

Whether in a state of discouragement or joy, the truth is you are exactly where God intends you to be. If you entered into Lent with both intent and purpose, no matter how grand or how moderate, then whatever your current condition you are exactly where God wants you to be.

The Gospel reads, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.”

Jesus did not wander into the desert because he was lost. He did not accidently follow the wrong road because he was too full of pride to ask directions. No. Jesus “was led by the Spirit” and was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

Recognizing that truth helps bring into focus our current reality. We too have been led to this Liturgical season. We did not get lost and accidently stumble upon Ash Wednesday. We did not blindly follow “Siri” and accidentally find ourselves grumpy because it’s been 5 days since our last piece of chocolate, cup of coffee, or glass of beer.

We are here at this place and at this time because this is exactly where God wants us to be.

The road we are traveling, which began on Ash Wednesday and will end on Easter day, is not an easy road. It is a road will not be traveled quickly. It has speed bumps, yield signs, and traffic lights that take forever to change, and we are all traveling this road together with differing degrees of success.

As recorded in today’s Gospel reading there are 3 specific temptations that Jesus had to overcome. Though these 3 temptations were not the only temptations Jesus faced, these 3 are recorded for our benefit because in these temptations we can discover what we must be on the lookout for as we progress through this Lenten season.

The first temptation is the love of pleasure.

According to Luke, Satan presented Jesus this temptation when he was hungry and alone. Jesus was lacking in physical pleasure and comfort and that is exactly where Satan chose to attack.

At some point, most likely in the early stages of our Lenten experience, we will be tempted to succumb to our physical discomforts and lack of variety. We will tire of eating, or not eating, the same foods. We will tire of doing, or not doing, the same things. We will get bored, uncomfortable, and will crave something new or different. We must be on the look out for those moments, because it is during those moments when the tempters voice will fill our ears and our thoughts. Be aware and resist.

The second temptation for which we must be on guard is the love of possessions.

Satan offered Jesus all the world and all that it contained. A lie indeed, 1) because creation is not Satan’s to dispose of, and 2) Satan is a liar. However, the temptation to possess is a very real and tricky temptation.

We like to possess things because we want to control things. The more we possess the more we control, and the more we control the more significant we feel. During our Lenten journey we will be tempted to abandon our commitments for the illusion of control. Be aware and resist.

The Third the temptation is the love of glory.

Jesus was tempted by Satan to throw himself from the parapet of the temple trusting that God would not let him come to harm. This temptation, simply stated, is the temptation to manipulate God and to receive the glory that would bring.

During this Lenten season we will find ourselves tempted to manipulate God. We will add up the costs of our sacrifices and then present them as a bill, expecting full payment. What glory that would be, would it not? What glory to finally get physical, tangible, demonstratable evidence of God’s approval of our sacrifice. Of course I am speaking sarcastically, yet, I argue, that we all recognize that temptation all too well. Be aware and Resist.

Lent, as a liturgical season, can be a season of encouragement or a season of disappointment. Which, if we are honest, is exactly like any other time of the year. However, Lent is designed by Holy Mother Church, through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, to bring us into a deeper, more refined, and holy relationship with God and with one another.

Wherever you are at this day, in whatever emotional state, rest assured that you are in the very hands of God. Where you are now is not where God wants you to be 6 weeks from now. I encourage you my sisters and brothers to be aware and to resist.

There was time in my life when I thought I was done.

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of John 12:20-30

There was time in my life when I thought I was done. To be honest, there have a few moments and experiences in my span of 48 years when I felt like it was over. Moments when I was convinced that everything I had worked for, hoped for, and believed in were about to be wiped away, erased from the record, amounting for nothing. Fortunately for me, and for those of you who have also experienced similar such moments, those moments are just that… a moment. A period of time, some more brief than others, that pass away and move on into the past.

Here we are just a few weeks away from the end of our Lenten journey, and it is in today’s Gospel that we find Jesus having a similar moment. This moment when all that he had worked for, and all that he had hoped for, and all that he believed in was being put to the test. We read his words “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

Jesus, in his hour, the hour for which he came, spoke to his followers about a single grain of wheat. In a single grain of wheat there is exponentially more, however, that potential cannot be achieved unless it first dies. I read one biblical scholar who describe this reality in this way, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved.”

For those of us who know the end of this story, we modern day Christians, understand that when Jesus was talking about a single grain of wheat he was also talking about himself. Those who were standing next to Jesus at that moment and time lacked the perspective of history. They could not have understood that Jesus was describing the necessity of his passion, death, and resurrection for their salvation. But we do. We have the ability to look back, with the perspective of history, and read his words, trace his steps, and hear the accounts of others knowing that Jesus was speaking about his own manner of death and subsequent resurrection.

That part we get. (This is the part when all of God’s people say, ‘amen’!) What we often time fail to hear, or at least obey, in these words of Jesus is that we too must give our lives so that we too may have eternal life.

The words I quoted a moment before, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved” take on a new meaning and intent when we apply them to ourselves. Jesus was not just referencing himself in this example, he was also setting a standard for those of who follow him. We must give of ourselves in order that we too may become effective and fruitful.

This Lenten season you have been asked to seek God through prayer, serve God by serving others, and find our dependence upon God through self-sacrifice. All of these spiritual disciplines, exercises if you will, are designed to teach us and assist us in “giving up” our life in order that we may be used by God for his greater glory.

During those time in life… those dark times. Those moments when if feels as if the doors are being shut and hope is all but extinguished. It is those moments, when life is raw, unfiltered, and unrelenting when faith is but a thread. It is those moments when we must place our hope in God, just as Jesus did when he said, “Father, glorify your name.” Our example and model, Jesus, has asked us to place our lives, our hopes, and eternal salvation into the very hands of God.

The dark moments in life have come and will come again. We will not be exempted from those, but what we will be exempted from is despair. For just as Jesus was tested, so shall we. Just as Jesus came up against doubt and fear, so shall we. Just as Jesus surrendered his will to the Father, so should we. And, just as Jesus was glorified so shall we.