When You Wander the Wilderness, Remember the Water and the Blood

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan.

Why did Jesus, Who was God made human, need to go into the wilderness? For that matter why did He need to be baptized?

Lent is the time when we remember Jesus’ Wilderness Days. The period of Lent mirrors the time He spent in the wilderness, which was forty days. We are heading into Easter, which coincides with the Passover.

It’s all symbol, piled on top of metaphor. But it is not symbolic. And it is not metaphorical. It is as real as hunger and thirst. As hard as torture, blood and death. Our salvation was obtained at a great price.

Jesus made the first step toward the cross when He went to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan river. This was the same John who first met Jesus when they were both unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs. It was the same John who leapt for joy at the presence of his Savior, even at that young age.

John’s birth was announced by the archangel Gabriel. He was a forerunner, the fulfillment of the prophecy that before the Messiah came, there would be a voice calling in the wilderness, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

Jesus approached the Jordan river where John was baptizing. His purpose was to be baptized Himself.

At first, John, demurred.

I need to be baptized by you, he said.

But Jesus insisted with enigmatic words about fulfilling all righteousness. 

When Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove and the voice of God said this my beloved son. Again, it was symbolism, piled on symbolism but the reality was real. The water was wet. And the graces of baptism which are given to each of us are real.

Baptism, this fulfilling of all righteousness the Jesus referred to, opens the door we shut in the garden. It places us back in relationship with God.

Jesus followed His baptism by going into the wilderness. Why? Why did He, being wholly God, need to go into the wilderness at all?

Because He is our brother in every way. He was, as St Paul told us, tempted in every way. Just like us. Jesus is wholly God. But He is also wholly human.

He bleeds. He feels pain. He understands loneliness and anguish. He has a mother He loves with all his heart. He, at some point in His past, had faced the death of Joseph, His earthly father.

He is our brother, and as our brother, He had to experience what it was to be human, including the pain of temptation.

Temptation is not an easy thing. It is not a mosquito that we brush off, or buy the right spray and shield ourselves from. Temptation is the devil’s needle that he stabs us with over and over until it becomes a running sore.

Temptation is the chocolate cake left over from supper. Temptation is the beautiful man or woman at the office whose presence rivets us. Temptation is the money we could make, the success we could have, by, if we are a legislator, voting that one wrong way, or, if we are a cop, by looking the other way, or if we are a car salesman by telling the small lie, or if we are a doctor, prescribing that unnecessary procedure.

The list of temptations are endless. Most of them are minor things we can brush aside as if they really were that mosquito. But others get inside our souls and nag at us without mercy. These are the temptations whose temporary fulfillment fills some hole inside us.

The beautiful co-worker, the last piece of cake, the drive to have enough money to buy things and show off, all have one thing in common: They feed a hunger that goes deeper than the normal hungers which can be sated by a full meal, time with our spouse, and having enough to live a good life.

These temptations come from hungers that won’t be fed. They come from our unmeetable needs for solace, diversion, attention, and validation that go beyond legitimate needs and reach into the un-fillable holes in our souls.

Jesus was wholly human and wholly God. What that means is that He experienced our gnawing hungers for things we can not have. He understood our attempt to fill the un-fillable holes inside us with things, people, experiences.

He went into the wilderness to face the temptations we all face. It was, like the baptism that preceded it, a fulfillment of all righteousness. It was God made human, being fully and wholly human. He placed Himself before satan and let satan tempt and entice Him.

He did this when He was like we are when temptations work their worst on us: When he was alone, tired, hungry, thirsty and sore. He let satan lay out temptations when He was exactly where we are when we’re weakest: In the wilderness.

Lent is about the journey Jesus made from the Wilderness to the Cross. We spend forty days in Lent, just as He spent forty days in the Wilderness. It begins for us on Ash Wednesday when we have a cross put on our forehead made of ashes and are reminded that the ultimate end of our time in this life is the grave.

Lent is a time a reflection and prayer. But it is a faint copy of the real wilderness times of our lives. The wilderness is when your spouse leaves you and you are alone and bereft because half your life has been shorn from you. The wilderness is when you lose your job and cannot replace it and are sleeping in a house you can no longer afford. The wilderness is when the doctor says that there is nothing more he or she can do. The wilderness is when you are isolated by lies and gossip or when you must face the violence of our society alone and in the dark.

The wilderness is defeat; deep, grinding defeat that leaves you vulnerable to any form of solace you can imagine, including the ones that harm other people or that do harm to yourself. Temptation is the bottle of booze you gave up when you started going to AA. Temptation is the desire for revenge against those who have hurt you. Temptation is the pleasure we take in our enemies’ pain, the desire to one-up and out-do, no matter what the cost.

Jesus faced a bit of what I call The Alone in the wilderness. He would drink the full draught of that Alone later, in His passion.

But He did not go into the wilderness until after He had been baptized. That all righteousness may be fulfilled, He said to John the Baptist.

Lent is a forty day period that begins in water and ends in blood.

Baptism is the mark of God on our souls. It is our first entry into the family of those who are marked by the Blood of Lamb. We enter the doorway to salvation through baptism; first by water, then by blood.

Behold, the Lamb of God, John the Baptist said when Jesus approached the river. We are twice baptized. Our sins are washed away by the waters of baptism, and we are marked with the blood of the lamb of God on the doorway of souls. The message is there, for death to see: You may not enter here. It is the Lord’s passover. 

This great spiritual truth goes with us every day, and everywhere. It goes with us into the wilderness time of our lives. It is there when we suffer unjust treatment, when we are abandoned, when we are helpless before unimaginable violence, when we become the object of vicious gossip, lose our jobs, fail that test, endure that illness, lose that limb, face that diagnosis. It is there with us in the wilderness time of our Alone.

When you are in your wilderness, remember your baptism. Remember the mark of the Blood of the Lamb on the lintels of your heart. Remember, always, that your salvation was purchased with a great price, that you are indeed worth more than the grass of the field and the birds of the air.

Remember that God loves you with an everlasting love and that He has already saved you from the temptations of your wilderness time. You are not alone. You are never alone.

Not even in the arid wilderness of The Alone.

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Lent: Choose God and Be Happy

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by abcdz2000 https://www.flickr.com/photos/abcdz2000/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by abcdz2000 https://www.flickr.com/photos/abcdz2000/

Ash Wednesday is a somber reminder that we are going to die one day.

This video reminds us that our deaths are also our birth into eternal life. Lent is a time when we should shake down our loves, fitting them for the journey through this life. Do not lose eternal life by rejecting Jesus in this life.

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This video give a good overview of the practices of Lent.

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What are You Doing for Shrove Tuesday?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Lane https://www.flickr.com/photos/shimelle/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Lane https://www.flickr.com/photos/shimelle/

Lent is just on the other side of tomorrow. Come Wednesday, we’re all going to church and get an ash cross on our foreheads with the admonition to “Remember, thou are but dust.”

But before Ash Wednesday comes Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday as it is sometimes called.

Shrove/Fat Tuesday is the last day before Lent, and certain Catholics use the day to party hardy before shutting all that down for 40 days of penance and fasting. Or, at least that’s how the story goes.

“Fat” Tuesday gets its name from the practice in pre-refrigeration days of using up all the fats and rich foods before Lent. The reason was both practical and celebratory. Food went bad in those days in ways that we can’t imagine now. It was eat it or toss it. People, being people, turned this necessity into a cause for rich eating and celebrating. That’s also where the idea of eating pancakes on the last Tuesday before Lent comes from. An easy — and tasty — way to use up flour and fat is by making pancakes.

Today is the last Monday before the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, we enter a season of reflection and penance in which we consider deeply what it means to be Christian. We follow a Risen Lord. But we also follow a crucified Lord Who died because of the humanity-shattering ugliness of sin.

All we have to do is read the headlines to know that humanity is still being shattered by its proclivity for sin, and that Christianity is still the revolutionary and living expression of the Word that shines in the darkness and is hated by that darkness. Christians and Christianity are under attack all over the globe.

Lent is a perfect time for us to consider whether or not we are fit for the battle.

But before Lent, before we get those ashes put on our foreheads and remember that a grave awaits us one day, we have given ourselves Shrove/Fat Tuesday. My parish is having a dinner dance Tuesday night. If the roads aren’t icy, I plan to go. If the weather is bad, I’ll probably stay home and indulge in steak with my hubby.

What are you going to do before you strap on for Lent? Is there a party in your near future?

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Pope Benedict’s Last Mass: “The Church Belongs to Christ”

He “appeared wan and spoke very softly.”

His homily was interrupted repeatedly by applause and he received a standing ovation.

A banner was strung at the back of the room reading “Grazie Santita” (Thank you Your Holiness.)

Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his last public mass as pope. 

“As you know, I have decided to renounce the ministry that the Lord gave to me on April 19, 2005,” he said. “I did this in full liberty for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and examined my conscience before God, well aware of the gravity of this act … I was also well aware that I was no longer able to fulfill the Petrine ministry with that strength that it demands …”

“… the path of power is not the road of God.” he added.

“ … I have felt, almost physically, your prayers in these days which are not easy for me, the strength which the love of the Church and your prayers brings to me …

“… What sustains and illuminates me is the certainty that the Church belongs to Christ, whose care and guidance will never be lacking …

“… Continue to pray for me and for the future Pope; the Lord will guide us!”

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-i-can-almost-physically-feel-prayers-and-love#ixzz2Ko3f8rL8


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Remember: Thou Art Dust

And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth … 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust …

I am going to die.

You are going to die.

Public Catholic has enough regular readers that it is a statistical certainty that at least one of us, perhaps more, will die this year.

Our souls, as the Scriptures say, will be required of us.

We have unbelievers who post on this board who tell us that nothing awaits us when we close our eyes on this world, that we will simply drift into the nothingness of non-existence, go back to the dust from which we came, and cease.

Our ending, according to them, will be our end.

But this, quite simply, is not true. I doubt very much that the nonbelievers who say it actually believe it. They use it as a ruse to hide behind when dealing with the existential miseries that their bankrupt philosophy imposes on them. It is an odd and sad outlook on life that finds its comfort in a studied hope for annihilation.

The truth is, there is no death for us. We are immortal beings who will live on past our bodies. Most of us sense this in a deep and incontrovertible way that can either comfort or torment us, depending on what we do with this innate knowledge of our own natures.

God is real. I have felt and known Him. I experienced His Presence in my life as an inpouring of love that I neither expected or sought.

But — and this is something that so frightens unbelievers that they invariably become angry when you say it — the devil and his evil are also real. It is not fashionable to say that. I’ve had members of the clergy chide me and tease me for believing it. But I do not doubt the reality of a malicious personality that hates the light and craves annihilation. I have felt his presence, too.

“If you eat of the fruit, you will not die” he told the woman, and like all really effective lies, this one was partial truth. You will not die … today. That was the truth of it. Turn your back on God. Defy Him. Do your own thing. And you will not die … today.

God lies, Satan told the woman, just as he tells us today. God lies to you when He says “Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery or covet.” He doesn’t mean it when He says “Put no other gods before Me.”

He lies. Because he doesn’t want you to have the pretty things of this world, to be able to enjoy the sexual pleasures He created for you, to live as you choose with your own free and preeminent will. He lies, and you are a fool for listening to Him.

Because you are not dust. You are the Lord of creation, the master of your fate, the god of your own life. There is nothing to fear because there is nothing that matters. At the end of our days, there is nothing but nothing. We stop. And we rot. We are carrion meat that walks for a time. So we should, again as the Scriptures say, eat, drink and be merry.

Like all effective lies, this one contains a bit of truth mixed in with the untruth. “Eat and you will not die … today.”

“Ignore God now and there will be no reckoning … today.”

Because you are dust, and you will die, regardless of how you live. You can run ten miles a day and your heart will still stop at some unknown time in your future. You can eat spinach and beans and forego fast food and steak, but your arteries will still cease to pump blood on some day you don’t know yet.

You can break every moral precept in the Scriptures, and you will not die … today. You will live for a time and you may even appear to triumph over those who do not indulge their darker natures as you do. There will be no reckoning … today.

But God is real. He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him and live life His way. He lets us choose. He sets before us every day life and death, and He lets us freely choose which of these we want.

That is what Lent is about. It isn’t a matter of giving up candy or foregoing wine for forty days. It is not about wearing ashes on our foreheads like religious jewelry or meatless Fridays.

Lent is about conversion. It is about renewal by means of awareness that we need to be renewed. The penances of Lent are signposts to guide us to a knowledge that we are but dust and we have sinned, but that we are also immortal beings who will one day stand before the God Who made us.

Lent is a time of turning again to the roots of our being. It is going back to the garden and acknowledging that we too “are naked and ashamed” before God. We, too are, to paraphrase St Peter, “sinful men and women.” But instead of crying out as Peter did, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We can say, “come close to me Lord, for I am your broken child.”

The difference is the cross. The difference between despair and trust is the certain knowledge that we are bought at a terrible price and we do not have to be masters of our own fate. We do not have to feel our way blindly through life with no idea of what is right and wrong. We do not have to die an eternal death. We can have life, and have it abundantly. Because of the cross.

Lent is a time of penance and reflection in which we take an honest look at ourselves and our tawdry righteousness. Lent is for turning back to the One who can save us from ourselves. We are preparing to go to the cross where we will stand in solidarity with the rest of humanity, united in our sinfulness and our great need of Him and His redemption.

Lent is not about giving up candy and meatless Fridays. It is rather our gentle foretaste of Gethsemane.

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