Temptations

No nos dejes caer en la tentación
Do not let us fall into temptation

 Today, the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel is the temptation of Jesus in the desert.

Yes, Jesus was tempted.

As Michael Casey writes in Fully Human, Fully Divine, this is a sign of Jesus’s humanity and his solidarity with us humans. He is like us in all things but sin and so he undergoes temptation.

It is also a sign of his divine sonship which was revealed at His baptism in the Jordan.

And so for us, as Michael Casey notes:

 The effect of being admitted to divine intimacy is instant dispatch to the front line of battle…. For Jesus to live consciously as God’s Son here on earth necessarily involves a struggle. To be with God means contending with “Satan” who, in the Old Testament, is not so much an anti-God but the adversary of humanity, the recorder and accuser of every misdeed. Our relationship with God is constantly undermined by the querulous murmur, “How an you be a child of God when you do such things?”

Satan, the accuser, tries to make us deny our dignity as children of God – either considering ourselves totally incapable of being forgiven by God or considering ourselves as without sin (or having to hide them).

But recognizing both our sinfulness and our dignity as children of God is a way to face the Accuser with God’s help.

As St. Augustine wrote in his Commentary on the Psalms:

 Christ accepted temptation as one of us and gave us the victory.

Facing temptation honestly helps to recognize this and to know ourselves in our reality of our sinfulness and incompleteness and in our calling to be with God.

As Augustine also wrote:

None know themselves if they have not been tempted.

What a joy and a source of hope.

Frederick Douglass, Thomas Merton, and Isaiah

They seek me day after day
and desire to know my ways,
as if there were a nation that does what is just.
Isaiah 58: 2

 It is so easy to think that we are the chosen ones, the just ones, the ones whom God has set apart.

It is so easy for nations to act as if they are doing God’s will. I’ve seen it in the US and I see it here in Honduras. God is called upon to justify the policies of a political party or a government. Here political leaders show up for the feast of Our Lady of Suyapa, the patroness of the country. Last year the president announced that the government was giving the church a radio station – at the Mass in the basilica.

But God is not to be mocked. God is beyond our petty political machinations and our desires to justify our policies – whether personal or political.

Do we really live as God wishes?

Isaiah clearly calls Israel to real change, to the real fasting of liberating the oppressed, sharing our bread with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and more.

But how do we really live? Frederick Douglass, who died on February 20, 1895, once said:

Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference – so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked…I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

Are we a people who really live the way of Christ, as expressed in Isaiah 58 and n Matthew 25?

Or do we deceive ourselves by relying on our public prayers and fasting as ways to try to placate God?

Do we trust more in our wealth and power than in the works of mercy?

I think Thomas Merton was right when he wrote

“It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility. If our affluent society ever breaks down and the facade is taken away, what are we going to have left?”

Will we be a people who fast from injustice – and not just from meat and chocolate?

Lent and fasting

Today I went to Dulce Nombre for the Mass to begin Lent. Padre German had invited all those who would lead celebrations of the Word in their communities to come for Mass where he blessed the ashes and distributed them to those who would sign the people in their community.

I had planned to go to two of the remotest villages. But on the way there I heard a terrible noise in the car and the warning lights came on. The most problematic was the one noting that the battery was not recharging. It would not be good to get stuck in Debajiados with a dead battery – though that might have been a good Lenten penance!

I turned around and went to a mechanic in Dulce Nombre who analyzed the problem as the alternator but told me that I’d have to get it fixed in Santa Rosa. So I went off to Santa Rosa and got it fixed.

I returned at about 6:00 pm to Plan Grande, a village – and a region – without electricity. At about 8:00 am in Santa Rosa truck struck a utility pole – and affected the lights in the entire region. When I left Santa Rosa electricity was slowly returning – but there’s none here now – at 8:39 pm.

Gloria had invited me to their Ash Wednesday service at 7:00 pm. When I arrived, she asked me to preside and lead the reflection. I had prepared for the visits to the other villages and so it was not a problem.

I decided to concentrate on the three practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

When I began to discuss fasting I asked the folks there how many times a week they eat meet. Almost all said only once or twice.

For the poor life is a continuous fast.

But I encouraged them to fast from vengeance, anger, gossip, watching too much television, and more – to open their hearts more to Christ in this time of conversion – so that we can be reconciled with God and with each other.

But what do fasting and abstinence mean for me – a vegetarian? Maybe less internet. More time spent with people in the village. Simpler meals. And more – or, rather, less.

But I think most of all it means austerity and solidarity.

As Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero said in his September 3, 1978 homily:

When Pope Paul VI modified the meaning of penance for the Christian people, he said that there are different ways to understand the meaning of penance in the Christian life.

Fasting is done in one way in developed countries, where people eat well, and another way in underdeveloped countries, where life is almost always lived in a fast.

In this situation, he said, penance means to put austerity where there is much well-being
and to put courage and solidarity with the suffering and efforts for a better world where life is almost a perpetual fast.

This is penance; this is God’s will.

And so I will try to fast in solidarity and austerity – so that God may move me even more to love.

Holy indifference

In his spiritual exercises St. Ignatius Loyola present his first principles and foundation. In one translation – excuse the non-inclusive language – it reads:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord,
and by this means to save his soul.
The other things on the face of the earth are created for man
to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.
Hence, man is to make use of them
in so far as they help him in the attainment of his end,
and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things,
as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.
Consequently, as far as we are concerned,
we should not prefer health to sickness,
riches to poverty,
honor to dishonor,
a long life to a short life.
The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive
to the end for which we are created.

Today I returned from a visit to Tegucigalpa. Our bishop in Santa Rosa, Monseñor Darwin Rudy Andino, had asked me to come with him to speak with Monseñor Juan José Pineda about something our bishop is proposing for me.

I went with a deep sense of what might best be called detachment.

I knew that what we would talk about might influence my future ministry.

Our bishop has proposed something that would possibly make my ministry more official and sacramental. But I felt a real holy indifference to what might result. What our bishop is proposing is something that I had not sought, but I am willing to pursue.

Monseñor Pineda was very welcoming – hugging everyone. I was surprised. But he is also very professional, being a canon lawyer. I appreciated his clarity and his straightforward approach.

I don’t think the meeting went as our bishop had hoped. I also shared a bit of our bishop’s hope. But I felt a great peace during the meeting and afterwards.

Where this will go, I do not know.

But I pray that God continues to grace me with the gift of holy indifference, holy detachment. But I also ask the grace to respond whole-heartedly to what God wants for me

So far it has been a great blessing.

The leper and me

In today’s Gospel, Mark 1: 40-45, a leper approaches Jesus, kneels before him and challenges him:

If you want to, you can make me clean.

A leper was not supposed to do that. As the first reading from Leviticus (13: 1-2,44-46) tell us, the leper was supposed to separate himself from all the “clean” people and cry out, “Unclean. Unclean.”

He knew he was unclean, a leper, but he refused to let himself be identified as a leper, as an unclean person. He saw a way out – healing by Jesus.

He did not hide himself – as Adam and Eve hid themselves when they realized that they were naked after having eaten the forbidden fruit.

No he sought the Lord. He sought a change of life. He wanted to be healed.

Lent will start on Wednesday.

Lent is traditionally a time of penance, of conversion.

Perhaps the first step on the road to conversion is recognizing our condition – as sinners, as people who are not perfect and who fail to live up to who we are called to be.

But the second step is essential: we need to turn to the Lord for healing.We must not let ourselves be defined by our condition.

This can be expressed better in some languages, like Spanish, were there is a distinction between two ways of being. “Ser” means to be in the sense of one’s nature, one’s identity, something that defines us: I am a US citizen. “Estar” involves a condition that can change: I am tired.

Sinfulness is our condition. It’s not our identity.

We are called to be holy.

Yes, we sin. But God can change that.

The leper knew that. He did not deny that he had leprosy, but he refused to be defined by his leprosy because he knew of the loving compassion of God, made manifest in Jesus.

Lent is a time to let out sins and faults out into the open – at least to ourselves and God. Then, approaching the throne of grace, we can ask the Lord to heal us.

And, as Jesus said to the leper, he says to us:

I want [to heal you]. Be clean.

Naked and afraid

I was afraid,
because I was naked;
so I hid myself.
Genesis 3: 10 

A few nights ago I began reading Michael Casey’s Fully Human, Fully Divine. The Australian Cistercian monk provides a meditative reading of Mark’s Gospel from the perspective of the Incarnation and divinization.

As I read the first chapter I was struck at how he focused on the incarnation as God assuming our humanity in everything (of course, except sin). As Fr. Michael put it, the humanity assumed by Christ was “the shriveled vulnerability we all share.”

But we are ashamed of our vulnerability.

Isn’t that what happens to Adam and Eve after the Fall. They are ashamed of their vulnerability, their humanity, their nakedness.

Isn’t that what we often try to do?

I know that one of my greatest problems is not wanting to appear to have made a mistake in the eyes of others. So I try to find ways to hide my failings.

Father Michael Casey asks the reader to examine this:

Ponder, for a moment, some of the uncreative ways by which we manifest our fear of being ourselves and of being seen as we are.

He notes four ways: disguise, conformity with the crowd, non-commitment, and “self-improvement.” There are probably many more.

How do I hide myself?

How often do I not let myself be seen as I am, with all my foibles and faults and sinfulness?

How often do I forget that God became flesh so that we may be transformed – not throwing aside our vulnerability but let it be transformed by God?

How often do I not recognize what St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, as cited in Fully Human, Fully Divine:

Nothing so demonstrates God’s positive attitude towards the human race as embracing my humanity. I repeat: my humanity, and not he flesh Adam had before the fall. What manifests God’s mercy more clearly than that he would embrace such misery?

I may be naked – but I need not fear.

A martyr to give us hope

Dorothy-StangTen years ago today, a 73-year old US Sister of Notre Dame de Namur was gunned down on a rural path in the state of Para in Brazil. Sister Dorothy Stang had spent almost forty years as a missionary in Brazil.

She worked with the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission and had worked for many years with the rural villagers and workers, accompanying them as they faced the onslaughts of ranchers, loggers, and other powerful economic interests. She recognized that this was a struggle not only for the land, the environment, but also for the people on the land.

She had received death threats as early as the 1990s but she continued her work, accompanying the people and denouncing the injustices they were suffering.

She knew that it was dangerous but she felt that God called her there.

I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.

The story of her death seems to come out of the early stories of martyrs.

She was on her way to a meeting in a rural community when her path was blocked by two hired gunmen. She took out her bible and began to read the Beatitudes. At that point she was shot and killed. She had to know that they were going to kill her, but she responded with such peace –

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice…

Blessed are those who have the spirit of the poor…

I pray and hope that I may have the same peace and presence that she had when she faced death.

I think the way that I can prepare myself is to pray as she did:

I light a candle and look at Jesus on the cross and ask for the strength to carry the suffering of the people. Don’t worry about my safety. The safety of the people is what’s important.

I do believe that accompanying the people and looking to the suffering Savior are keys to peace and to a life of love.

So today I want to celebrate the death of a modern martyr – with a renewed commitment to mission.

I do it with joy, and hope, realizing that Sister Dorothy was killed near a settlement named Boa Esperança – Good Hope.

——–

A short biography of Sister Dorothy can be found on her congregation’s site: here.