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Contents: Volume 2 - The First Sunday of LENT (A)
February 23, 2020


 

  The

  First

Sunday

LENT

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. --

5. --(Your reflection can be here!)

 

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1.

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Lent 1 A

The details of the account of the temptation of Eve in the first reading from the Book of Genesis make fascinating reading. The same is true of the temptations of Jesus in the Gospel account according to Matthew. There is much to learn and ponder about "the human condition" from these details, but one thing is sure: the Evil One, in whatever form he chooses to take, is incredibly cunning!

The Evil One does not usually lie outright and completely. No, he (or she) either twists the truth or presents half-truths or tells only part of the issue, the part that is SO VERY appealing to us. Evil or wrongdoing is made to appear OK if not actually good... and we occasionally or usually fall for it!

How does Eve's thinking sound to you? She thought, "the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom." Pretty OK, except she forgot the "you shall not" part that God said ! OOPs!

In the Gospel, Jesus is led willingly into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted. Jesus chooses to think differently than Eve, and, after fasting 40 days and nights, trusts the Father rather than what he wants. He is able to reject the human inclinations of hunger, favoritism, and power that the devil presents and holds fast to doing the Father's will.

Lent 2020 is a time to accept God's graces and be strengthened against the temptations we face. While the foibles that come along with the human condition are ever present in our world, each of us has a particular weakness that usually is the cause of our sin. The devil does not "make us do it", but the devil does knows our weakness.... do we?

Extra time in honest prayer will help that weakness come out of the hidden darkness into light. Grace will help us face its darkness. Grace will help us overcome it.

We are in the midst of a serious controversy where I now live. Our pastor prayerfully said something to the effect that whatever happens, the outcome ought to be based on the solid combination of truth and love.

Part of our discernment about weakness, sin, justice, primacy of conscience, etc. , in this serious public matter or in a personal one we might have, I think, is to figure out how and why we think the way we do. Should we just follow a church rule blindly? Should we just not follow a church rule because it suits us not to or is easier? Acting in truth and love means we must be open minded enough to explore both truth and love in ourselves and on both sides of a temptation or question. That includes dialogue with those who have the same view as well as those who hold the opposing view.

The Church's thinking/"rules" have changed on many things from the time of Galileo and the Crusades, to the place of slaves and women in the world. The list continues as it is based on a living faith and tradition. As scientific research and dialogue play a more prominent part in helping us form our consciences, we must continue to be open to grace. That is the only way to do the will of the Father and not make the devil smile as he/she slithers or shape-shifts to the next person.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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2.

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First Sunday of Lent March 1 2020

Genesis 2:7-9 & 3:1-7; Responsorial Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:1-11

This first Sunday of Lent the readings provide the truth about us as wonderful beings who carry the baggage of a history of terrible decisions. The stories of ancient civilizations always begin with narratives about the world and how it came to be. The Middle East is particularly poetic with many diverse accounts of the beginning. Well, not only the beginning of the universe and its creator. It focuses as well on a power that intends to destroy beauty, wonder, and relationships based on appreciation of others. It seems that creation is bi-polar: at once it is a network of interactive systems and beings in a synergistic unity. At the same time, we experience an extremely powerful, violent, and disruptive engine of chaos.

The religions that began with the ancient patriarch, Abraham, begin with a Creator putting order into unbridled chaos. Water is separated from earth and given boundaries. Day and night are separated and given their place. The sun rules over the day and the moon and stars give light at night. Plants and trees are given a home. Birds and fish fill the air and the waters. And lastly living being are created out of the dirt on the earth. In last place in this creation story, in a place of prominence and authority humanity is created. These stories speak of the wonder of all creation. The stories give thoughts and words to the Creator. Everything the Creator sees is declared to be good. And when it comes to the final phase of creation of living beings and ultimately of humanity, the Creator is pictured as smiling with thoughts and words of "this is very, very good." These ancient stories insist creation is good because the Creator sees it as good. How does evil enter this paradise of goodness?

Many persons, considering themselves educated and wise, think these ancient stories as springing from slightly intelligent, modestly self-conscious ancestors. For such persons these stories are just myths, untruths created by poets and charlatans who wish to control and manipulate the affections and thoughts of lesser intelligent and educated persons. They teach that evidence from astral physics and understandings of how living beings and plants evolve expose the lie of the creation stories. For some people of faith, those thoughts and speculations are troubling. If these people of faith choose to believe the stories teach us truth, some of those think they must ignore and deny science and rational thought. The trouble with such an approach is that their faith creates a god that fits their experience of how things work. The Creator God is free of the patterns and logic of human thoughts. As humans we work to fit our thoughts of God into our way of understanding without believing it possible our way is not a complete way. We see evidence of the goodness of creation. For persons of faith, God can do as God does. God can create, God can intervene, God can inspire, God can transform in whatever method, in whatever fashion God chooses. The "Big Bang" theory of creation is not a contradiction of God’s creative action. We know through science that the universe is continuing to expand, that more space is being created, that more galaxies are appearing. Seems this fact adds to the existence of God without limits.

The ancient creation myths and attending narratives about the evil are complex and open ended. Evil works hard and long to gain mastery over goodness. Anyone who watches news understands this. Unity and flourishing of each human life are God’s will. Yet in our socio, economic, religious, and political endeavors there abound efforts to divide, to disenfranchise, to overwhelm, to exclude. That is our continual human experience.

We are cursed in our time to think of all knowledge in definitions of three second soundbites with carefully selected accompanying video. Our religious myths came to be over tens of thousands of years. The Hebrew Scriptures were committed to writing only in the sixth century before the birth of Jesus during the Jews’ Babylonian Captivity. These writings were derived from traditions carried on in word stories, songs, and rituals. Of those traditions, there are four that contain the understandings of the ancient Hebrews. A careful reading of the first two chapters of the first book of Genesis will expose two of those traditions. In those first two chapters there are two separate accounts of creation, each coming from a different tradition.

It is the experience of persons of faith that God speaks to us, provides us with inspiration, encourages us with understanding. Even the pre-history, written in the first ten chapters of Genesis, comes from humanity’s experiences of the wonder of creation and the image and likeness to the Creator of each person. This experience is built on the living of many, many generations and written under the inspiration of the God who walks with us. Fathers and mothers taught their children of the goodness of a Creator. The writings are the collection of individual and community experience of the goodness experienced. At the same time, evil is exposed in collections of stories of the Fall, the murder of Abel, the chaotic, overwhelming flood, and the pride that caused communication to fail.

These peoples came to realize there was a force that encouraged them to choose thoughts and actions that looked good to the eye, to the taste, to gaining wisdom and power and wealth, but contained also hidden elements that harmed oneself, others, and creation. How could they teach their children about these experiences?

They learned from experiences about choices. Choosing what appeared good could also contain power that could bring catastrophe. How to introduce evil into the goodness of creation? The Hebrew people came to Canaan as the land promised by God to Abraham. Those Canaanites who lived there practiced a religious culture that worshipped the serpent. What better way to expose the falseness of Canaanite worship than to use the serpent as the instigator of evil.

In the garden of creation, there are many plants and trees and living beings. There are two trees that are special. In the middle of the garden is the Tree of Life, its fruit producing immortality. Somewhere else in the garden is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Creator instructed his humans not to eat of that tree or they will die. As Eve encounters the serpent, she is told a lie by the serpent. "You’re not going to die if you eat of this fruit. God doesn’t want you to eat it because then you’ll be like gods." Of course, that’s a lie. The fruit looked good: the fruit appeared to impart wisdom. But eating the fruit is an opening for evil. Humanity has already experienced goodness. Evil was not part of God’s garden. So, the experience would not be about goodness but about the power and seduction of evil. With the experience of evil there came guilt. In contrast to the goodness of creation, there came the shame of attempting to be gods.

In the gospel this Sunday we learn that Jesus was truly human and truly divine in one person. After his baptism by John, the Spirit moves Jesus to go out to the desert to pray, to fast, and to come to terms with his mission. When he was at his weakest because of fasting Satan comes to him. He goes immediately to Jesus’ mission. "Hey, listen, you can get the job done without much sweat if you just provide for the basic needs of people. They’ll come running to you and your job is done." It is noteworthy that in each of the three temptations, Jesus responds by quoting the Hebrew Scriptures. Those Scriptures we call the Word of God. In the second temptation, Satan shows him all the kingdoms of the world and promises Jesus a great throne ruling all nations. "What an easy way to accomplish your mission! With such power you can force all to your way." Finally, Satan takes him to the top of the Temple, the place where God dwelt among the Jews. "Here is how you can get your mission done easily. Just cast yourself down for it is written that the angels will bear you up so not even a pebble will hurt your foot. The people will rush to you and you’ll have completed your mission." Again, Jesus used the Word of God to deny the lies of Satan. We should think of these temptations of Jesus not as a once and done event but as recurring each time the crowd wished to make him king, or provider of bread and fish, or as a great healer. As we read those stories, we should note that Jesus would quietly go away to a remote place to pray. This is what he did in the forty days retreat in the desert of temptation.

Temptations are always based on lies. Like Eve’s apple, they are good to look at and seem to hold the potential of extended happiness. But at their core, temptations seek to rob our spirits of vitality, twisting our hearts and minds into thinking bad is good or just blurring the evil of sinful choices. Lies are like that. Each lie carries with it a bit of truth. That bit of truth is used to attract us and overlook what is wrong and a lie. We are drawn in. Much to our shame and guilt, we are led down a pathway toward accepting evil as okay. Much like the story of the Fall, the pathway to immortality, the path toward the Tree of Life in the center of the garden is blocked by the lies we’ve allowed to invade our consciousness and values. The way of the world is quite often a lie. Neither power, nor wealth, nor fame provides us growth toward the tree of life.

In this Lenten season we ought to use our forty days to review our commitment to truth. The chaos in our nation, in the world, and in many, many hearts is the fruit of many lies. As Catholic-Christians we have faith, hope, and love for the Creator of Life – all life. Let us not be drawn in by persons who claim to be Pro-Life when their intention is more about votes than the life of all persons. There is always a bit of truth in each lie to make the lie beautiful to the eye and good for knowledge. Lent is a time for us to look beyond the bit of attraction to the fullness of lies painted over to cover its rot.

Let’s pray, fast, and engage in almsgiving during this time of discernment. It is a time to recommit to the Way of the Lord, the Way and Culture of Life.

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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FACING AND FIGHTING TEMPTATION: 1ST SUNDAY LENT A

A fruiterer was watching a boy standing in front of his fruit stall and gazing at all the beautiful fruit on display. After a while he could restrain himself no longer. 'What are you trying to do, young man,' he asked, 'steal my apples?' 'No sir,' said the boy, 'I'm trying not to.' That little story says that the child had come to understand that he was not a puppet on a string, but faced a choice: Will I do the right thing or the wrong thing? It also says just how real temptations of all kinds can be, and just what a tension and struggle it can be, not to give in to temptation.

Thank God we still have the living memory of Jesus - his teaching, example and presence - to remind us that by turning to him for strength and support, we can overcome our temptations. Even if our past record in resisting temptation has been spotty, to say the least, we can eventually triumph, not by our own sheer will-power and determination, but through our faith and trust in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. As a priest once put it to a man that he met outside the monastery gate. 'We fall down, we get up. We fall down, we get up. We fall down, we get up. The saints are just the sinners who fall down and get up!’

Today we remember Jesus' own secret in resisting temptation. But doing so was no easier for him than it is for us. In fact, he went through a terrible struggle to choose between God and self. The tension and agony of it all is spelled out for us today in Matthew's dramatic story of the temptations in the desert. What they have in common is that they are temptations to selfishness.

First the tempter suggests to Jesus, who is extremely hungry after his forty-day fast in the desert: 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to turn into [loaves of] bread.' In other words, make use of things, not for the benefit of others but for your own satisfaction, comfort and convenience. But even though Jesus’ stomach is rumbling, and he is near to desperation for a bite to eat, he will not dally with this desire, not even for a moment. Instead he seeks nourishment of a different kind in God’s clear message in Scripture - 'One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'

The second temptation which taunts Jesus is to go to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem, and defy the law of gravity by taking a flying leap from there. Surely a stunt like this, a bit of razzle-dazzle, will attract a horde of followers, and prove to Jesus personally whether God cares about him or not. The very thought of it is fascinating. Jesus, however, completely banishes the idea from his mind as he remembers and relishes God's clear command in Scripture: 'You must not put the Lord your God to the test.'

Jesus has survived two kinds of temptation. But the idea that comes to him next is more subtle and more appealing. This is to use his intelligence, his ability to organise, and his personal charm, to gather round him the rich and powerful from every nation, and become a great political leader, even king of the world. This is a temptation to seek world attention and become a celebrity, and a temptation to be a political messiah pursuing fame, fortune, and empire-building. The attraction of this temptation is the very opposite of what God has said in Scripture about his chosen messiah, the saviour of the world. God clearly means his messiah to be a humble, suffering servant, someone willing to sacrifice his young life in love. Jesus remembers this and takes it to heart. So he simply blitzes the suggestion with yet another clear command of God in Scripture: 'You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.'

Remember! Jesus is feeling very weak, very fragile, and very vulnerable. He has had nothing to eat for forty days. But his fidelity and love towards God don’t waver for a moment. What is his secret, then? It’s his reliance on hearing and heeding the Word of God in the Scriptures. He just keeps nourishing his mind, his heart, his attitudes, and his life, by remembering the Word of God.

You and I have often been exposed to temptations of one kind or another - to pride, anger, lust, gluttony, greed, jealousy, sloth, etc. Like Jesus we have surely turned to God for guidance and strength when tempted. Perhaps we have relied especially on the power of those healing sacraments - Reconciliation and Eucharist.

But for better results when we tempted, we would do well to also do what Jesus did - read the Scriptures, reflect on the Scriptures, and pray the Scriptures. The texts of the Masses for Lent provide us with a guided reading program, a program for changing our minds, hearts and lives. It’s not too late to make Lent what it is meant to be, a time for correcting our faults and raising our minds and hearts to God. A time for personal and community conversion! A time for personal and community renewal! A time for coming face-to-face with God - our origin, purpose and destiny - and being changed for the better and forever, by that healing encounter!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net. Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John


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