1st Sunday of Lent Year C
Pan de Vida
1st Sunday of Lent (Year C)
February 25, 2007
DESERT, DESOLATION, DISCOVERY, DEVOTION
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
It is Lent once again. All over the world, thoughts related to the desert and what it may represent, loom ahead. Christmas fades as a distant memory (or yet a distant dream). Valentine’s Day, marketed by the culture of consumerism as the next best thing after Christmas, is also receding in the far horizon. Lent enters into our world of experience as some kind of a lull from all frenetic activities and joyful celebrations. When Lent enters, there is not much to look forward to till the glories of Easter breaks forth in full splendor. But Easter is more than 40 days away from Ash Wednesday.
Lent smacks of recession – like the receding hues of violet that represents the whole liturgical season. Lent reminds us of desolation – like the image of the desert that figures prominently in today’s liturgy. Lent constitutes a lull, a lowered activity level, a backtracking, a pausing awhile, and retreating. Call it a desert experience of desolation … call it what you may want, but the bottom line is exactly what our alternative prayer of today alludes to – a return journey to a God whom we may have left desolate and alone by our sinfulness: “Bring us back to you and to the life your Son won for us by his death on the cross …” (Alternative Opening Prayer).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from this desert of desperation and lack of belief, including our utter lack of a sense of history. Bring us back, Lord, from the desolation of such short memories. We forget. We ignore the marvels done to our forefathers, who, although once were slaves in Egypt, were brought out from that experience of utter desperation: “We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders” (1st Reading).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from this desert of disappointment, living as we do in a world marred by the specter of terrorism, nuclear holocaust, massive inequalities, and injustices of all kinds. We fail. We falter. We fall into the vicious trap of feeling a great sense of abandonment. Throughout Lent, we pray, as we do today: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble” (Responsorial Psalm).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from our gross inability to confess, profess, and proclaim with our lives what we acclaim with our lips: “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (2nd Reading). At times, all we can do is mumble and mutter feebly with our lips what our whole lives ought to be truly proclaiming out loud – that “the word is near [us], in [our] mouth and in [our] heart.”
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the push, pull, and lure of pleasure. Often, all we think of is what can please our palates, what can fill our insatiable desire for the more and the better. Remind us always, as indeed, you do today: “Man does not live on bread alone” (Gospel).
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the blinding but ersatz glory of power and prestige. Make us understand that the pain of being considered lowly in this world, insignificant and unimportant, can teach us the genuine value of an intimate relationship with you: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Gospel). Teach us, above all, the beatitude behind suffering, poverty, tears, lowliness, and in the hatred of the world on account of our attachment to you.
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from the myth of self-sufficiency and misguided autonomy. Remind us, more than ever, that even if people may put us atop pedestals, and consider us supermen at times, all we are really is “only a man in a silly red sheet; only a man in a funny red sheet” as the band “Five for Fighting” puts it.
Bring us back to you, O Lord, away from all this desperation and desolation of the desert experience of being ignored, trampled upon, and considered a pariah for reasons that we may not understand fully. Bring us back to you, for at moments like these, all we can think of and desire may be exactly what Satan the tempter, was trying to give you in the desert: power, pleasure, and avoidance of self-responsibility. Lead us to genuine devotion that does not feel the need to put you, our Lord, to temptation: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Gospel).
Lead us, we pray you, to a journey of discovery. Forty years did our forefathers spend in the desert, on journey, on pilgrimage towards the promised land. Help us discover, as the Israelites did, that walking together with you, is not necessarily a walk in the park, but a traverse through thickets and thistles that poke, prick, and prod our sensitive egos that are easily given in to desolation and discouragement.
This season of Lent and beyond, we acknowledge, Father and Lord, that beyond mere discovery, despite, and even on account of, our desert experiences of desolation and discouragement, you call us to a deep devotion and attachment to yourself, the only true God. For we know full well, that we “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Your word … your promise … your assurance … is all that many of us have left to hang on. You and you alone are everyone’s “refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust” (Responsorial Psalm). We hold on with hope to your word: “I will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and glorify him” (Responsorial Psalm). We hang on to you, amidst the distress and desolation, with deep unalloyed devotion, “for no one who believes [you] will be put to shame” (2nd Reading).
Yes, Father and Lord, our Lenten retreat and “recession” beckon us to a deep devotion in faith, hope, and love. You call us to faith … “for if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You call us to hope … For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” You call us to a deeper love … “You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve.”
To be in Lent is to be in lull … in lull from ordinary, day-to-day faithlessness, hopelessness, and lovelessness. To be in Lent is to be in retreat … in retreat from all that smacks of desert desolation and despondency. To go through Lent is to be in a journey of discovery. It means to be attentive and quiet and reflective enough to discover the fullness of the “word” that is “near us, in [our] mouth and in [our] heart.” And to live Lent means to intensify one’s devotion and attachment to the “same Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him” (2nd Reading).
We end by anticipating the prayer at the very end of this Mass … “Father, you increase our faith and hope, you deepen our love in this communion. Help us to live by your words and to seek Christ, our bread of life, who is Lord forever and ever. Amen.”
Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Paranaque City, February 21, 2007
N.B. I would like to share with you the lyrics of a beautiful song entitled COME PRIMAVERA. If it’s worth anything at all to my readers, as it is for me, I think it’s a timely reminder, among other things, to allow the seeming barrenness of Lent with its thoughts of desert desolation, awaken in all of us, redemptive thoughts, too, of new life and new hope like the spring does to us all – COME PRIMAVERA!
L'inverno sai finirà (WINTER AS YOU KNOW WILL END)
e come è arrivato se ne andrà (IT WILL GO AWAY THE SAME WAY IT CAME
e scioglierà il dolore (TO TAKE AWAY ALL PAIN)
come la neve al sole (AS THE SUN DOES TO THE SNOW)
e le ferite che hai (THE WOUNDS YOU NURSED)
lo sai guariranno prima o poi (WILL BE HEALED SOONER OR LATER)
dopo la notte l'aurora (AFTER THE NIGHT COMES THE DAWN)
ancora verrà si perchè (YET AGAIN AND FOR THIS I SAY)
torna alla vita più serena (GO BACK TO A MORE SERENE LIFE)
che rifiorisce come primavera (THAT BLOOMS LIKE THE SPRING)
la vita grida a voce piena (THAT LIFE SHOUTS IT OUT IN FULL)
dentro te (DEEP WITHIN YOU)
ritroverai anche tu (YOU, TOO, WILL YET FIND)
la forza che ora non hai più (THE FORCE THAT IS NOW HARDLY THERE)
e quella voglia di vivere (AND THAT WISH TO GO ON LIVING)
che ancor non c'è tornerà (THAT SEEMS ABSENT WILL COME BACK)
torna alla vita più serena (GO BACK TO A MORE SERENE LIFE)
che rifiorisce come primavera (THAT BLOOMS LIKE THE SPRING)
la vita grida a voce piena (THAT LIFE SHOUTS OUT IN FULL)
dentro te (x 2) (DEEP WITHIN YOU)
la vita grida a voce piena dentro te come primavera (THAT LIFE SHOUTS OUT IN FULL DEEP WITHIN YOU, LIKE THE SPRING)
FIDELITY ON THREE COUNTS
[Dundalk, MD – February 29, 2004]
We are back in the season of Lent, that time in the liturgical year when traditionally, we are expected to cut back on a whole lot of things, to make a “retreat,” as it were, so as to foster the threefold attitude and practice of “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” All three are not supposed to be engaged in for their own sakes, but for God’s. They are not, on that score, “negative” acts, but on the contrary “affirmative” ones that ought to lead us closer to God. In the long tradition of the Church, such “ascetic practices,” at bottom, really answer our deep need for God (prayer), for a healthy and balanced love of self (fasting), and our duty as Christians to love others (almsgiving).
Nowadays, the idea of giving up certain things is not a very hard concept to understand. Owing to the ongoing diet craze that go by various appellations (Atkins, South Beach, Diamonds, etc.), the idea of having to give up one’s cravings either for carbs or carved meat oozing with fat is not such a strange prospect at all. In an entertainment and information glutted world of 24/7 news and fashion channels, thrash and reality TV, and violent cartoon and animé characters, the idea of giving up one channel in favor of another is a daily dilemma for the boob tube addict.
Giving up certain things is a lot more a reality in our lives than we ever thought! For a great many of us, it is not the giving up of little things that counts as difficult. That which really poses as a big obstacle for many of us is the bigger issue of having to give up a lifestyle that precisely fuels that never-ending process of having to give up an infinite variety of little things in our cluttered daily lives. People give up stuff everyday. What they have no more place for in their bulging closets, they give away to charity. What they have grown tired of, they toss to the clothes collection bins all over the place. What they feel is no longer fashionable, they give up. In the same vein, people give up pasta and bread (the sale of bread in America has drastically dropped by 40% since the revival of the Atkins revolution!) as easily as they gave up red meat a decade ago. The bigger question, though, remains unanswered, or simply glossed over … For what? For whom? Why so?
Let us take a close look at today’s Scriptural data in the hope of finding some meaning to help us understand the whys and the wherefores of having to do “prayer, penance and almsgiving.” If you look at the three closely, they all have to do with giving up. Prayer asks us to give up some time from our daily rounds and routines. Penance asks us either to “do with less,” or to “do more” – give up stuff, or do more positive good to others. And almsgiving definitely has to do with having to part with something usable, something valuable, something that causes some pain or hurt to say good-bye to.
What for? This is what all three readings today speak about. All three readings really speak about fidelity. In the first reading, being reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people, Deuteronomy describes the people’s acknowledgement of that faithfulness by the offering of the first fruits of the harvest. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans confirms the same idea of a faithful God who deserves a confession of faith on our part, convinced as we are that “no one who believes in him will be put to shame,” and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The Gospel glowingly presents the fidelity of Jesus who was tempted thrice over in the wilderness.
Fidelity on three counts… This, along with the other two readings, is what leads us to the bigger picture that makes giving up anything worth all the effort; that gives meaning to the call for “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.” This fidelity, both on the part of God, and on the part of God’s people, stands behind meaningful renunciation. Without this, all forms of giving up are nothing but vanity. “Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.” Without this context of fidelity, giving up carbs or carved game just does not measure up. Without this framework of faithfulness, giving from one’s superfluities just does not make for heroism and philanthropy. Without basing itself on Christian asceticism, fasting is just dieting plain and simple.
Fidelity is the language of relationships. Faithfulness is the life-giving atmosphere of love and mutual commitment – the very same love and commitment that Jesus showed in his threefold temptation to turn stone into gold (bread or material goods); to turn simplicity and ordinariness to power and prestige (by worshiping the devil); and to force God’s hand to do what He basically had the power to do by himself – that is to throw self-responsibility to the winds (by throwing self from the parapet of the temple)!
Fidelity on three counts! This is what Jesus showed us. This is what renunciation is all about … fidelity to His Father; fidelity to His people; fidelity to a relationship; fidelity for a purpose, and therefore, fidelity with a meaning.
Fidelity on three counts is what we all are called to ourselves. And our fidelity is sorely tested, too, in lesser, though not any less real, ways. The whole world is driven by the obsessive search for more … more money, bigger and bigger homes “far from the madding crowd” … We are tempted everyday to turn everything, including stones, into bread. The whole problem of corruption in and out of government is based on this … turn every single transaction into a means for making easy money. Everybody does it anyway, so there’s no harm joining in. The whole corporate world beckons us to do everything we can to rise to the top of the ladder, to wield authority and power, to be known and admired, to be in control. No one wants to remain forever an “average Joe,” and everyone aims at becoming the next “American idol” (or “star in a million” as the case may be). In the Philippines, presidential wannabes, who have been drooling for the much coveted office for decades, who now realize they can never be president in the context of an entertainment crazed, MTV (and MTB and Eat-Bulaga) culture, resort to producing puppets of a president whom they can manipulate from behind the scenes, with assurances of lucrative rewards and an infinite number of concessions. Similarly, we give up and surrender to the rampaging culture of death, the culture of violence, the culture of indifference as we get co-opted by the prevailing trends to do as the rest of the world does, not to rock the boat, and “see and hear no evil.” Evangelization gets reduced to an invitation to a mushy “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type of “feel-good” spirituality that accommodates to what is chic, current, and popular.
Fidelity on three counts… This is what we are called to reflect on today. Perhaps we are not to expect ourselves to be at par with the faithfulness of Christ whose commitment to His Father was more powerful than anything the devil and the world had to offer Him. Our version of this threefold fidelity may be a lot more modest, but no less genuine. In a world and cultural climate that increasingly beckon us to conform, to “live like the Joneses,” to outdo one another in some way, to be as the rest of the world is trying so hard to become, today’s liturgy is a gentle prodding for us to “go deeper,” (“Man does not live on bread alone”); to “do better” (“You shall worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve”); and to “draw closer” to the God of Jesus Christ (“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”)