February 17, 2013 - First Sunday of Lent
Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
Ash Wednesday of this past week marked the beginning of a forty-day "retreat" - out of ordinary time - for us to prepare for Holy Week and Easter. One can also consider Lent a kind of "rite of passage" - an opportunity for change as we move from one "place" in our life to another. All rites of passage consist of three phases - separation, liminality, and incorporation. Ash Wednesday, with its out-of-the-ordinary sign of ashes on our foreheads, initiated a moment of separation from "ordinary time." The forty days of Lent is the period of liminality - stepping back "out of time" to look at our life. The Easter Vigil will be the point of incorporation - reaffirming our sense of belonging and commitment to the community of faith - at the same time that those receiving the sacraments of initiation are becoming full members of the Church. Both the catechumens and all Christians have this opportunity to be transformed into a new creation, in little or big ways, in the image of God's life and love.
The gospel reading today from Luke presents Jesus at the end of his forty days in the desert. It was a rite of passage for Jesus as he prepared to live out his "vocation" through his public ministry. Jesus left ordinary life and "was led by the Spirit into the desert" (Lk 4:1). The desert is also the place where the Israelites were purified for forty years. In today's first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people that God brought them out of bondage in Egypt and to a new land (see Dt. 26:8-9). But in between those two moments/events, they faced physical, social, and spiritual trials, and they were transformed during that journey of liminality.
Jesus faced the physical trial of fasting, but more significantly, in today's gospel, we hear about his spiritual and human temptations. He was tempted to satisfy his physical hunger, strive for his own honor and glory, and test God's faithfulness instead of being totally trusting in God's providence. It is not a coincidence that the three responses of Jesus to the temptations are quotes from Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, 6:16) - the same Word of God spoken through Moses to guide the people during their passage through the desert.
We are invited to step out of ordinary time and enter Lent as a rite of passage. This is an opportunity to "step back" and name and deal with our temptations and problems. The good news is that we are not alone in the desert and that things can change for the better. God's Spirit and God's people are with us. Furthermore, Lent is not just saying "no" to (giving up) some things, but it is primarily saying "yes" to the invitation to live God's life and love more fully and openly, as Jesus and the Israelites did when they came out of the desert. We are invited to trust that the same Spirit, who led Jesus into the desert for forty days, will lead us through the journey of Lent to be transformed into something new. That will be something for us and the Christian community to celebrate at the end of Lent!
Professor of Intercultural Studies and Ministry and holder of the Bishop Francis X. Ford, M.M., Chair of Catholic Missiology
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