Lent: Re-configuring our relationship with the Father
by Denis Lemieux
On the first Sunday of Lent in 2010, the gospel reading was from Luke's gospel, (ch 4, vs 1-13). It is the account of Jesus in the desert, fasting ("he ate nothing") for 40 days, and then being tempted three times by Satan. This gospel is cosmic in its scope. This gospel speaks directly to the heart of reality, the heart of who we are—you, me, humanity. But even more, of what creation is.
What is creation for? What is the nature of "nature"? The best way of understanding creation is that creation is configured to be, to always be the Mass, to be the Eucharist. This is the nature of created reality. The whole universe, the cosmos is a cathedral. The whole world is an altar. Every rational creature, all of us are priests. The very nature of created reality is that all of creation is configured in relationship to God. It's a Eucharist, it's a Mass, meant to constantly be offering up praise, worship, adoration, love, glory; glory to God—like incense going up constantly from every atom of creation.
But that's not the most important thing, because every atom of creation, and all of creation together is very small, puny. We make our puny little gift of praise and adoration and worship; and coming down to us at every moment of creation is God. Everything God is, everything God has, all his love, all his very being come down upon us, like at the consecration in the Mass, when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit, through the extension of his hands over the bread and wine, and the words that change them into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the very structure of created reality.
And in a profound, and even more, in a personal way, this is the structure of human reality: total relationship, total gift and praise and love and trust; total reception of everything God is, of everything God has.
So that's the cosmic framework.
And this got broken. How did it get broken? Because Adam and Eve grabbed that fruit. Instead of gift and reception, it was grasping, grabbing it for themselves, taking it for themselves. Introducing something into creation that was not relationship; that was not gift and reception, gift and reception. Grab, instead: 'I'll do it myself. I'll become wise myself. I'll decide what is good and what is evil. I'll do it.' So this non-relationship gets introduced, this break.
Then in the whole of salvation history, absolutely everything God does is directed towards the healing of this, towards reestablishing this relationship.
What does this tragic breaking of relationship, this breaking of the whole structure of creation in this act of original sin, what does it do? It creates a desert, creates a place of burning hot sand and burning sun and no water and wild beasts—this dangerous place where we are oppressed, where there's violence, exploitation; the world as we know it. The world as we know it; Lord, have mercy!
So we come to this gospel where Christ enters the desert. God becomes man; Christ is God and has become one of us while remaining God. And this man—who is God—goes out into the desert to experience what sin has done to the world. The whole paschal mystery is present in this gospel.
What is happening here, then? Well, Jesus is walking through the desert. And the devil is walking through it—the devil, who is the source of this non-relationship. (There is a primal evil present in this reality of the devil, the beginning of this 'No!' to God.)
The Lord is going through all of the means and modes and manifestations of this non-relationship. So, at the end of the 40 days without eating, Jesus is hungry. And the devil says, 'You can turn a stone into bread; feed yourself. You have the power; take care of yourself.'
Take care of yourself—isn't that the terrible wound of sinful humanity? 'Take care of yourself; there ain't nobody taking care of you. You gotta take care of yourself. Look out for Number One. Do whatever it takes, because there's nobody else that's going to look after you.' This is the terrible breaking of relationship with the Father.
Jesus says, 'I do not need to do that.' "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." 'The Father is giving me what I need.'
This connects very directly with our Lenten call to fast, in whatever appropriate form we have come to, regarding what we're supposed to do for Lent. But this experience of fasting primarily, first, foremost, and always is a matter of proclaiming to ourselves, proclaiming to our very flesh: God is going to feed me. God is taking care of me. I don't have to eat until I'm satisfied. I don't have to sweeten my food, or salt my food, or caffeinate myself. Whatever our Lenten fast is, we do not have to act as if we are the only ones who can provide for our needs.
Fasting is our proclamation: 'The Father is taking care of me. I have the word of God; I have the love of God; I don't need anything else. I don't need food.' Very profound.
Of course, what happens in Lent is that we quickly discover that as soon as we start fasting we're confronted with our lack of faith. We're confronted with the fact that we don't really believe this. We get anxious. We get depressed! 'Oh my gosh, it's Day Two; I'm going to die; I'm not going to make it. I'm not going to make it to Holy Week. I'm not even going to make it to the first Saturday of Lent.' As soon as that little pang of hunger comes, we get very nervous. And we realize: I don't believe that God's taking care of me. I don't believe that I'm cared for by my Father, that I have everything I need because I have God.
So, Lent is a time where we're called to claim that truth, and also to confront our disbelief.
Meanwhile Jesus, in the desert, is saying, 'I don't need food. I have the Father.' So the devil leads him up and shows him all the kingdoms and says, 'I'll give them all to you if you worship me.'
Here we recall the reality of the whole universe being a Eucharist, of the whole universe being total gift and total reception; total gift and total reception. See, the lie is: 'This is a subservient, cringing, crawling way of living—to totally depend on God is something undignified.'
But, my brothers and sisters, the truth is: We are priests of creation. In this relationship to the Father, we stand at the heart of the world, offering to God the whole universe. And through the love and grace and gift he gives us, we are standing in this kingly dignity, royal dignity. We are given all the kingdoms of the world. But we are given it in this mode of total trust in the Father. Total reception. All power, all glory, all authority comes from a stance of utter humility, utter bowing before God. Absolute prostration of oneself before the Lord. That is our dignity.
As soon as we are grabbing power, as soon as we are trying to manipulate, as soon as we are trying to hoard some little corner of creation as our own personal kingdom, we are worshiping another God. St. Paul says, "Greed is a form of idolatry." As we start saying, 'Mine, mine, mine, grabbing this little corner of creation as my kingdom, that is worshiping another God. That is what is indicated here.
So Jesus enters in, as man, enters into this reality of our exalted and royal call, and says, 'It is from God and God alone that all things come. Worship the Lord your God. Serve only him.'
Our call to enter the desert with Christ and enter his victory over temptation calls us, not primarily to an ethical program, keeping the Commandments and living a certain way in terms of external practices. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans (ch 10, vs 9) says to "believe in your heart that Jesus is raised from the dead"; this means that at every moment of your life your face is turned towards him! Jesus is the one who has the way out of the desert. He is the one who has the way out of death. He is the one who is our path to heaven. If you believe this in your heart, you're never going to take your eyes off him, because he's the only one that's going to get you there. Nobody else.
Out of that comes, then, whatever goodness, whatever mercy, whatever love you can give—service to the poor, care for one another, obedience to the Commandments. But it is entirely a matter of being obsessed with Jesus, looking at him at every moment of your life, every moment of your day. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus, have mercy on me. Jesus, save me. Jesus, I love you. Jesus, thank you. That is "to believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead".
He is here. He is with us. This is why we, as Christians, don't have to be afraid of the desert; we don't have to be afraid of Lent. We don't have to be afraid to come out with Jesus and spend these next days, these next weeks, confronting our sin, and what sin has done in our lives. We do not have to be afraid. If God decides to put us in the desert for the rest of our lives—which does happen to people—if God chooses to make the rest of our life a Lent, in a sense, we don't have to be afraid. Christ has come. Christ is in the desert.
— from a homily to the Madonna House community, Feb. 21, 2010.