“Go home, my people, and lock your doors!
for a little while
until this trial has passed.”
(Adapted from Isaiah 26:20)
“Go into your room,
close the door and pray.”
(Adapted from Isaiah 26:20)
In our country, in the whole world, today there is an overwhelming flood of news and information that can wash us away if we are not careful. Unfortunately, much of it is commentary disguised as factual news which can mislead well-intentioned people. With all this “virus” talk inundating us, it is easy to become overly skeptical of anything we hear or simply become deaf to it – tune it out and live in a news-free bubble.
The Gospel readings for these middle three weeks of Lent: last week the Samaritan woman, today the curing of the blind man, And next week the raising of Lazarus, are proclaimed every year at the liturgies that feature Scrutinies for those in RCIA. They tell of a Jesus who offers us new life in him. These are stories of a Savior who offers us living water, dispels the darkness of our blindness, and conquers the power of death. They are not simply the plot and climax of good stories. They tell the real truth. This isn’t simply factual news. It is the GOOD news. Jesus was and is real and the fact that he can heal us should be undisputed. Too many, however, too often live lives of anxiety, desperation and despair, seemingly unaware that Jesus wants to help us bear our burdens
This year with the public celebration of Mass suspended, the RCIA tradition of gathering of all the catechumens at diocesan cathedrals is prohibited. But the symbolism is not lost. We can join in solidarity – in prayer and sacrificial deprivation; in the challenges of social distancing and quarantine … we give witness to an awareness of our responsibility to care for one another.
Tomorrow, March 22, has been designated a worldwide day of solidarity and prayer especially for all those who are directly affected by the pandemic. I invite you tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. to unite yourself with the community for this intention. Stop whatever you are doing and turn yourself to prayer for all those who lives are impacted by Coronavirus (COVID-19). Maybe you’ll form a group that prays the Rosary at the Mary shrine – take time to commune with God in nature – recollect yourself in private – or gather in quiet prayer in the chapel.
Create your own litany. Call to mind care-takers, emergency workers, medical personnel… those who have the seemingly endless ministry of burying the dead … those who keep death-watch for loved ones they are prohibited from seeing because of fear of infection; pray for enlightenment for those who are frustrated because in their mental state they cannot recognize the seriousness of the situation – and for those who are burdened with an already existing anxiety disorder which is only compounded by 24/7 dire news – pray for those who are isolated and lonely, secluded in small spaces; pray in gratitude for those who check-in by phone with persons who live alone; pray for those who are called to make decisions, often unpopular, for those under their care and persons who make poor decisions seemingly oblivious to the ripple effect of their choices; pray for those whose theme song is “I am special” – and pray you never portray that attitude – projecting the image: “I don’t have to follow the guidelines – I don’t have to do what “they” tell me – I am the exception, I have God’s special protection. Remember those who suffer out of love for others what to them is unnecessary self-isolation and social distancing, the frequent hand-washing, hydrating every 15 minutes and seeing every room populated with hand-sanitizer. Unusual circumstances call for unusual (some would say heroic) responses.
Pray for all of us, pray for yourself – that we may be patient and fore-bearing with the situation and with each other. May we be graciously cooperative team players with an intact sense of humor. Strive to live up to the ideals Benedict proposes: pursue what you consider better for the other; be the first to show respect to the other, be patient with each other, earnestly compete in obedience (even when it goes against the grain) – in all circumstances, may we prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ. That together we may know Benedict’s promise of life in abundance. (RB 72). But, as S. Julia, Benedictine from Tulsa, says: “There is no precedent for us to follow. For Benedictines, so mindful of tradition, that is a lot to try to process!”
In the chapter before this Gospel passage Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They came up with a number of answers. Then Jesus asked “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” You’ll remember that Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Well, Peter was correct but Peter still did not realize the full meaning the declaration he had made. When Jesus predicts His death, Peter takes him aside and rebukes him. “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!’” To which Jesus replied: “Get behind me Satan…you’re not thinking like God but with human understanding.”
Now, at the transfiguration of Jesus, the veil was removed from the disciples’ eyes revealing who Jesus really is! Peter, James and John witnessed, if only for a moment, the glory of God revealed in the Son. Peter recognizes that Jesus’ dazzling appearance is significant: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” He trips over his tongue trying to talk it out – to speak words for the unspeakable. With that the Father speaks: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to HIM.” A stunned silence follows. There are times when it is best to just be quiet. Times when we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. There is more going on than we can process. We’ve entered a mystery that can’t be defined, only experienced.
This story of the transfiguration as told in today’s Gospel, in the exact way it happened, happened only once. But the disciples surely had many more “mountaintop” experiences when Jesus revealed His fullness little by little. It was a gift to those who took the time to stay with Him. That’s how we build relationships – by getting to know and understand each other – by experiencing life with the other … it’s how we live out our vow of stability.
When you’ve had a “mountaintop experience” you don’t forget it. When Christ removes the veil from your eyes and you behold Him as He really is, you can recall every tiny moment. Maybe it happened when you were on retreat, or on Recollection Sunday, during Adoration or Stations of the Cross, or it came out of the blue. Maybe it happened in the privacy of your own room or in a crowd. Maybe it happens every day at the Consecration of the Mass or when you look across the table at a confrere. The veil is wiped from your eyes and you recognize that person for who they really are.
Wouldn’t our lives be a bit of heaven on earth if every person we encountered awakened in us the reality: “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” If only, every time we open our mouths we were conscious that it is Christ using us to extend His love to the other. If our ears heard not simply the words spoken by the other but we could sense God saying, “This is my beloved child – hear her.”
We can echo the words of Peter, James and John: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” But, Jesus reminds us not to get too comfortable: “Rise,” he says, “Tell the vision to no one” – rather, live it and there will be no need for “telling.”
There is a sweet ad on TV for Pampers. Viewers see in one clip to the next, a variety of babies being cuddled by their mothers. In the voice over you hear what the babies are thinking. “You are smart. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are kind. You are perfect, just the way you are.” An adult voice continues, “Imagine if we saw ourselves as our babies see us.” I ask you, what if we saw ourselves – saw each other – as Jesus sees us?
You remember Flip Wilson? Then you remember Geraldine, too. And, “the Devil made me do it”? Every time Geraldine’s husband accused her of doing something he considered wrong, her excuse was always the same: “It wasn’t me. The Devil made me do it.”
Many of us grew up hearing that catchphrase, and it affected the way some folks see the devil. They believe he has the power to “make” them do things. Cartoons depict him as a little guy with pointy ears, wearing a red suit, grasping a pitchfork, sitting on one shoulder, whispering in an ear. And meanwhile, there’s a little angel perched on the other shoulder, trying to counteract whatever temptation the devil is whispering. And in the cartoons, the devil usually wins.
But is that how temptation works? Is the devil really equally as powerful as God? Can he “make” us do anything we don’t want to do? The short answer is no. The truth is, the devil and temptation doesn’t have any power over us that we don’t allow them to have. We are assured of this in the Letter of John: (4:4) “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome the enemy of Christ, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
Some people question whether Jesus was actually tempted out there in the desert. According to Scripture, YES, Jesus was clearly tempted. In this gospel, Jesus was coming off a spiritual high point in His life. He had just been baptized. The Holy Spirit had descended on Him. He’d heard the voice of His Heavenly Father say, “This is my beloved Son; with Him I am well pleased.” That’s when the devil tried to get His attention.
Granted, the devil can be persuasive, but for the temptation to work it requires the joining of desire and enticement. You’ve heard the advice to deter smash-and-grab theft of valuables from your car: lock your car and don’t leave valuables in sight. Or, it’s like a 4-year-old told me when asked why he had spit in his friend’s face, “I don’t rightly know: I thought of it – he was there – and I did it.”
You know from experience: the closer we are walking with God, the harder the devil will work to get us off track.
Pope Francis advises in a Lenten letter: “I’m not asking you to give up anything…if you spend your (Lent) in prayer, worship and sharing, you will know what you need to release from your life, and it will probably be something like worry or regret or rage rather than chocolate, soda, or bubble gum. Francis continues: What I am recommending is that you let Lent be a season of learning, growing and sharing and praying and worshiping. I promise you, if you will open yourself up to God in those ways, you will experience God so profoundly it will astound you.”
With assurance, we can pray an adaptation of the words of Psalm 78:
You bring forth your people like sheep, guiding them like a flock in the desert. You lead us to safety with nothing to fear and divide your heritage with us. You wake us from sleep and we remember your covenant. You tend us with integrity of heart and lead us with wisdom. Amen!
Lent is coming soon …
That last line is quite a challenge, isn’t it?? “Be perfect.”
In this book: Be A Perfect Person, Stephen Manes writes:
Congratulation! You’re not perfect! It’s ridiculous to want to be perfect anyway. But then, everybody’s ridiculous sometimes, except perfect people. You know what perfect is? Perfect is not eating or drinking or talking or moving a muscle or making even the teensiest mistake. Perfect is never doing anything wrong – which means never doing anything at all. Perfect is boring! So you’re not perfect! Wonderful! Have fun! … You can drink pickle juice and imitate gorillas and do silly dances and sing stupid songs and wear funny hats and be as imperfect as you please and still be a good person. Good people are hard to find nowadays. And they’re a lot more fun than perfect people any day of the week.
So if we believe Manes that we can never be perfect, and perhaps we should not even try to be, what do we do with this difficult word from Jesus? It’s helpful to learn that the word most often translated “perfect” actually comes from the Greek word telos, which means goal, end, or purpose. Jesus is not urging us to be what most people think of as “perfect,” but rather to be more like what God intends for us to be. You are a child of God, made in God’s image. Now live like it.
Now, that may not make things any easier, but it does help put the challenge into a more useful context. The only way we can possibly live as Jesus is asking – repaying evil with good, forgiving and praying for those who harm us, walking the extra mile – is by living into our God-given identity as beloved children. You know you can’t give what you don’t know. Only those who have known God’s love can possibly hope to share it with others. Jesus isn’t asking us, like some demanding parents, to make all “A’s,” get lots of trophies, be named “member of the year.” Jesus is nudging us to live the God-given identity you received at baptism: You are a child of God.
It is Jesus who gave us the greatest example – He was the perfect model – he talked the talk and walked the walk. Is it easy to follow His example? Certainly not. We struggle to overcome past disappointments, to overcome old grudges, deep-seated prejudices, smoldering resentments. It’s our greatest challenge … not to be perfect, but to be mindful of what is getting in our way and preventing us from being the people God wants us to be. So I ask …What is blocking you? What fears or memories or resentments keep you from being the person God wants you to be?
What is it that keeps us from living into our identity as a child of God? Lent is the time to remove the impediments so that you can truly embrace our God-given identity as citizens of his Heavenly Kingdom. Recall the lines credited to Saint Teresa of Calcutta:
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis it was never between you and them anyway; it is between you and God.
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Gospel Matthew 5:38-48
Reflection by S. Roberta Bailey, OSBContinue Reading