Lenten Musings – February 2017
Now that Divine Worship:The Missal has reintroduced the naming of the three weeks before Ash Wednesday as Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, we have an opportunity to reflect more about how we will observe the season of Lent.
On the first day of Lent, the Church asks us to reflect on the words of the prophet Joel who urges us to ‘rend our hearts and not our garments.’ What triggered Joel’s call for his people to fast and repent was a devastating locust plague that had stripped the countryside bare. He said that as devastating as this was, it was not the end, but a sign of the end. He urged the people to reflect on their relationship with God and how slack they had been in their efforts to deepen it. Repentance is not simply saying we are sorry; it is being sorry which includes making changes in how we live. Joel promised that those who commit themselves to the Way of the Lord would be intimate with him and receive salvation.
Jesus also reflected in the wilderness on how he could persuade God’s people to repent and recognise that God’s promised Kingdom was not only close to them but also within them. His generation observed the outward rituals of their Jewish faith, but they still lived more in keeping with the secular world than with the laws of God.
Jesus faced three significant temptations during his time in the desert, and the first one was that he should turn stones into bread. This was a temptation to draw people by making practical provision for their social and welfare needs.
There are those who are hostile to the Church in our generation who are content for the Church to exist as a series of welfare agencies so long as there is no attempt to evangelise the welfare recipients. There are those within the Church who collude with this secular view and do not consider the gospel message to be about salvation, but rather to be that of the United Nations Millennium Goals.
Jesus realised that people would come to him so long as he continued to provide for them, but making people dependent upon welfare is a denial of their right to justice. Welfare dependency will not lead people to eternal life. Only drawing closer to God and his Church will do that.
The second temptation that Jesus faced, was to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple and trust that the angels of God would bring him down unharmed. He would appear to the people to be a wonder worker, of whom they were either afraid or in total awe. They would follow him in the hope that he would work wonders for them or because they were afraid of what harm he might do to them.
The Church’s enemies dismiss religious faith as superstitious nonsense or as a ‘prop’ for the weak and inadequate, with promises of happiness in the non-existent next world. Within the Church there are those who have dismissed the existence of purgatory and hell, if not heaven. They pour scorn on the doctrine of the Last Judgment because if God desires everyone to be saved, then they will be. This view presumes that sin does not exist and that individual conscience, informed or not, is the sole arbiter of human action so long as harm to others is minimised. ‘Do your own thing, and Love is Love,’ is the mantra of this viewpoint’s devotees.
The third temptation for Jesus was for him to abandon himself to the wiles of Satan in exchange for worldly power. He would have to turn his back on God’s creative plan of bringing order out of chaos and embrace a totally secular society ‘guided’ by the evil one whose sole purpose is to create chaos out of order.
The enemies of the Church in the West are doing its utmost to secularise Christ’s Body through every means possible, be that legal, fiscal or ideological. The agenda of the atheistic secularist, is to destroy any belief and trust in the transcendent ‘Holy Other’ and force Christians to burn incense before the gods of the ‘enlightened’ elites. Within the Church itself there are those who yield to this temptation. They claim to accept the tenets of the Faith, but create a gap between the tenets and how they are applied in pastoral practice.
The current issue of communion for those civilly remarried without an annulment is a case in point. The traditional teaching of the Church is that this is not possible, but now there are those who say that in certain circumstances it is possible. Others are saying that it is up to the individual’s conscience. It will not take long before it is everyone’s ‘right.’ This hiatus between belief and practice has led to the virtual collapse of Protestant Churches and Catholics need to be aware
In essence, the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness are about the tension between his obedience to God’s will and the desire to be relevant and popular with the secular world. Jesus rejected them all and chose the difficult road of proclaiming God’s love and mercy for all and inviting those who acknowledge the truth of his message to open their hearts to the demands of that love and persevere to the end. Salvation is the reward for those who do.
Today’s Church is facing a crisis as devastating as the locust plague in the time of Joel. Ours is also a spiritual crisis brought about in part by the apathy of Christians and our failure to be faithful to God and the teaching of the Church. This spiritual laziness causes us to be vulnerable to the work of the evil one who brings chaos to the order of God’s Kingdom.
This Lent should be a time when, more than ever before, we reflect on our relationship with God and keep the Faith. Be rigorous in our prayer, worship, abstinence and fasting, and change direction in our lives beginning with a first or return visit to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The path of ‘tough love’ that Jesus chose will always bring suffering to those who practice it. Jesus invited all to be his disciples. He accepted people as they were, but demanded that they accept the changes to their lives that entering the Kingdom requires. This is how we will build his Church in our age but only those who endure to the end who will be saved.
‘Welcome dear feast of Lent:
Who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance or Authority,
But is composed of passion.’
George Herbert – ‘Lent’