Friday, 12 February 2016

First Sunday of Lent 2016

Each year the gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is the account of Jesus' 40 days and 40 nights of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. It is Matthew, Mark and Luke who record this event, each with a slightly different telling. Mark simple recounts the event without any details of the temptations.
At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. Mk 1:12
Here we note that it is the Spirit who is orchestrating this event. It is a contest of influence between Satan and the Spirit. Who's council will Jesus follow. We think back to the book of Job, where a similar contest between Satan and God is allowed to happen to Job, to test his fidelity to God. Satan is allowed to test Job with a series of crisis inflicted on him. Job remains faithful to God.

St. Ignatius, in his "Rules for the Discernment" offers further insight into this dynamic of the testing of one's fidelity to God.

First, Satan tries to prevent this faith from ever coming alive in a person. Failing this, Satan creates confusion sounding like the voice of the Good Spirit. 
The fourth rule: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.
How then does one know how to make the correct decisions in order to remain faithful to God? A starting point is following the rules, the directives handed down by sound and tested teaching. This was what guide Israel - the law of Moses - the 613 commandments recorded in Talmud - the negative commandments numbering 365, (thou shalt not) and the positive commandments numbering 248, (thou shalt).
But in the gospels, Jesus demonstrates that fidelity to the law is only the beginning. In Luke 10:25 we have the account of an expert in the law, trying to test Jesus. 
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, how a the Samaritan man helped the man who was injured by thieves, while a temple priest and a Levite, going up to the Temple for service, passed him by, because the rules of the law prevented them from coming in contact with blood and then serving in the temple.

When the rich man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded by directing him to the commandments. But when the man said the commandments he already follows, Jesus responded;
“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:18
We do not save ourselves, God's Mercy saves us. What we must do is "... come and follow me." We must have a firm, committed and personal relationship with Jesus - a real and dynamic spiritual life.

This spiritual relationship implies listening, learning to hear, to recognize the Voice of the Spirit guiding us through each day - helping us to discern, out of the many voices coming at us, which is the voice of the Spirit. These days of Lent are meant to be an "intensive care", for our mind and heart.  "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."


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