Father David's Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent
Discipleship is Remembering and Reflecting
How have the celebrations in our society formed you? Has celebrating Thanksgiving Day every year
implanted any attitude in you? Does the Christmas Season affect the way you think and feel about life? About other people? About God? Does celebrating birthdays help you to appreciate people more? Why do Americans celebrate the Fourth of July? Memorial Day? Do these celebrations form us as a society? Have they shaped any attitudes and values in you?
To "celebrate" is to "single out for grateful remembrance." How much has remembering contributed to shaping or sustaining your attitudes? Your convictions? Your ideals?
The Entrance Antiphon promises God's help to those who call upon God. We need to act, to interact with him. One element of "religion" is to set times for doing this, just as we set times and dates for celebrations. Schedules remind us to remember. Remembering keeps us conscious of God. Keeping conscious of God is a key element in discipleship. And discipleship - which is a commitment to keep learning - is a process of continual conversion. The word "disciple" means "student" - one who learns in order to live more fully. The goal of learning is change. That is what Lent is all about.
Lent is just a scheduled season of remembering. It is a time when we use various means to focus our minds on some particular truths we tend to lose sight of. But we focus on these truths, not for the sake of abstract knowledge, but in order to live them. The "three Rs" of discipleship are Remembering, Reflecting and Responding.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask God: "Help us understand the meaning of your Son's death and resurrection" so that we might "reflect it in our lives." We ask God: "In this time of repentance [which means "a change of mind and direction"] bring us back. to the life your Son won for us." Lent is all about living - living life to the full.
The Prayer over the Gifts asks: "May this sacrifice help us to change our lives." The Prayer After Communion reminds us that to live "life to the full" means "to live by your words and to seek Christ, our bread of life." The three prayers proper to this Mass urge us to forward motion and point us in the right direction. What Lent is all about is conversion guided by discipleship.
God responds if we call
The Responsorial Psalm echoes the Entrance Antiphon in reminding us that God answers those who call on him and rescues them (Psalm 91). We affirm our faith in this by praying: "Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble." The readings show us how to live out this faith in action.
In Deuteronomy 26: 4-10 Moses commits the people to a yearly celebration of remembrance. When they harvest the first fruits of the year's crop, they are to take a basket of them to put before the altar of God. Then they are to recite out loud the history of God's dealing with them. The key phrase is, "We called on the Lord, the God of our fathers." This is why God delivered them.
We remember what God has done in order to increase our faith in what he will do. But this faith does not help us unless we act on it, because, as St. James says, "Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead."1 We act out our faith in God's willingness to respond to us by calling on him: "Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble." If we do not do this, we will not be conscious of God or of our faith. Then, if he helps us, we will not recognize the help as coming from him, and we will not grow in relationship with him. But relationship with God is what religion is all about.
Growing in relationship with God is what Lent is all about. It is what disciple- ship is all about. We remember and reflect on God's great deeds, and on his words, in order to respond to them out of greater knowledge and love. The goal of discipleship and of religion itself is intimate knowledge and love of God.
The season and ceremonies of Lent are all to help us do what we ask for in the Prayer After Communion: "to live by your words and to seek Christ, our bread of life."
Jesus was a disciple. All his life he was a student of the word of God. In his human consciousness the knowledge he had of the Father was nourished by remembering and reflecting on God's words and deeds as recorded in Scripture. In his human consciousness as a man he did not always have full and automatic access to the divine knowledge he had as God - any more than you and I always have conscious and explicit access to the divine knowledge of God that is poured out into our hearts with the gift of the Holy Spirit.2
Today's Gospel, Luke 4: 1-13, shows us the fruit of discipleship in Jesus. It was out of his knowledge of Scripture that he responded to the temptations of the devil: "But Jesus replied, 'Scripture says..'" He answered all three temptations by quoting the words of God in Scripture. If Jesus himself found knowledge of God's word useful, how much more useful - and necessary - must it be for us! Do we think we need to study the words of God less than Jesus did? How can we "call on the Lord" intelligently if we have no knowledge of him to call on? We call on God most effectively when we call up the knowledge we have of his words, of his actions on earth and his interaction with other people that reveal his heart and mind to us.
This is discipleship. This is the basis for enlightened conversion, for the life- giving changes of attitudes, values and behavior that Lent calls us into. Unless we remember and reflect on God's words, how can we respond to God in a way that will let Jesus lead us to that "life to the full" he came to give?3
Saint Catherine of Siena, doctor of the Church, says, speaking out of both study and mystical prayer, that we experience ourselves as being in the "image of God" in three ways: through memory, intellect and will. By the power of memory we can call something into existence in our consciousness just by saying, "Let it be!" the way the Father created the world. By intellect we perceive our rational compatibility with God the Son, called in John's Gospel the "Word" - in Greek Logos - which means the "intelligibility" of God.4
And in using our wills we experience the Holy Spirit moving and empowering us by love. These are the three "Rs" of discipleship: remembering, reflecting and responding to the self-revelation of God. If we neglect them we fail to live consciously in the image of God (by nature) or on the level of God (by grace). This is to "fall short" of that fullness of life Jesus came to give.5
In his desert temptations Jesus taught us by example that it does no good to fill our stomachs with food for the body to draw on if we do not fill our minds with the word of God for our memories to draw on. And when the devil quoted Scripture to mislead him, Jesus taught us to use our intellects to interpret God's words. Particular words of God cannot be applied at face-value to every situation, any more than particular prescriptions from doctors can be used to treat every disease. So Jesus refused to put God's promise of protection to a test based on any limited human perspective. And when the devil offered him an apparent human fulfillment of all his desires - "all this power and the glory of these kingdoms" - Jesus focused and fixed his will on its only authentic object: "You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone."
Everyone who calls…
Romans 10: 8-13 reiterates that faith, to be effective, must be expressed. Both in words - "confessing with your lips" (which is faith expressed in a physical "work")- and in action. We are "saved," not just by our human conduct ("works" alone) but by conduct or "works" that are divine, because they are the expression, the embodiment of faith. To be like Christ is to give human expression to his divine life within us.
1 James 2:26.
2 Romans 5:5; John 14:16.
3 John 10:10.
4 John 1:1-14. We use "logos" with this meaning in "geo-logy," the intelligibility of the earth; in "bio- logy", the study of physical life, etc.
5 The New Testament word for "sin" is hamartia, which means "to miss" or "to fall short."
Do I appreciate the value of the "three Rs" - using memory, intellect and will to absorb and respond to God's words? Enough to do it?
Be a disciple: Reflect 5 minutes each day on the Mass readings used during Lent.