Sunday, February 14, 2016


   First Sunday of Lent   C 
This Sunday, we overhear
one of the most intriguing dialogues in history:
that between Jesus and the devil;
between one entirely consumed with raising up the human race
and one—shall we say—pretty hell-bent
on dragging it down.

When in Texas a couple of weeks ago,
I overheard another rather intriguing conversation.

As many of you know, I was in Texas for an ordination:
a seminary schoolmate of mine was being consecrated a Bishop. 
But Pope Francis hadn’t named him Bishop
of any run-of-the-mill diocese;
he’d named him the first ever Bishop
The Ordinariate’s story reaches back a few decades,
when scattered groups of Anglicans and Episcopalians—
both clergy and laity, whole parishes in some cases—
began to inquire about entering the Catholic Church. 
They had a centuries-old tradition
to which they were rightly much attached…
…but recent shifts in doctrine and discipline
left them feeling like strangers in their own home. 
Various provisional arrangements eventually led
to the establishment of three Ordinariates
by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012—
including one for the U.S. and Canada, based in Houston. 
Each would serve essentially as a diocese,
allowing these faithful Christians
to preserve some of their rich Anglican heritage,
yet within the full communion of the Catholic Church. 
The whole thing is quite an historic ecumenical development.

These new Catholics have suffered greatly
to get to where they are today. 
They endured much scorn from the communities they left,
and faced deep suspicion within the Church they sought to join. 
And they’ve made some courageous sacrifices
to be true to their consciences:
longstanding relationships were strained or shattered;
clergymen and their families 
put even their financial future on the line. 
As I listened to their stories in Houston,
I was inspired and deeply moved. 
Both in the sacristy at church and on the elevator of the hotel,
I found myself repeatedly saying,
“It’s so nice to meet you. 
And thank you for your witness!”

Which takes me to that conversation I overheard. 
I was on the shuttle bus—
whether to or from one of the ordination events, I don’t recall.  
A small group—all members of the Ordinariate—
were having a very animated conversation two or three rows back. 
They were clearly well educated in the Catholic faith. 
And they were also clearly rather passionate about it. 
Yet in the midst of these very joy-filled days,
what I heard was ultimately a lament. 
They were lamenting you and me:
their older brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church.  
As they spoke about the patterns
of learning and worship and commitment
they’d observed among their fellow Catholics—
both priests at the altar and people in the pews—
they were troubled by the way so many of us
just take the faith for granted:
rolling along, without much enthusiasm,
and all too willing to settle for the path of least resistance.

I’d have been offended by their remarks…if they weren’t so accurate. 
Sadly, I had to nod in agreement. 
Guilty as charged!

Needless to say,
that conversation has stuck with me—
and it comes back to me especially on this First Sunday of Lent
when the Church reflects upon the temptation of Jesus in the desert. 
Consider the traps the devil sets out before the Lord
to lure him away from his driving sense of mission: 
If you’re the Son of God,
why not satisfy your hunger by turning these stones to bread? 
If you’re the Son of God,
why not kick back, basking in power and glory? 
If you’re the Son of God,
why not let the angels tend to your every whim and fancy? 
Given that that’s how the devil tempts Jesus,
it should be little surprise that he’d likewise
tempt all of God’s sons and daughters: 
Since you’re already Catholic, why put yourself out? 
Relax.  You’re in!  So make yourself comfortable. 
Only do what you have to do. Take the easy route. 
Stick with what’s pleasant and familiar.  Why rock the boat?

We contemporary cradle Catholics
haven’t suffered much for our faith. 
Once outsiders, over the last few decades
we’ve become part of the establishment. 
There’s precious little now that distinguishes us
from our non-Catholic (or even non-Christian) neighbors. 
Sure, we might still put a statue of Mary out in the yard
and eat fish on Fridays,
but when it comes to the average Catholic’s attitudes and actions
surrounding abortion and euthanasia,
contraception and same-sex marriage,
papal authority and the priesthood,
even the obligation to get to church every Sunday,
we look a whole lot like everybody else—
regardless of what the Church actually teaches on any of these matters. 
Would we even dare to chat candidly and publicly
about our Catholicism in the back of a bus?
There’s little risk. There’s no price to pay. 
We’ve gotten awfully comfortable.

And that, my friends, is incredibly dangerous!
Why?  Because it plays right into the devil’s hand.
Although the evil one does like to kick us when we’re down,
we’re even easier prey when things are easy.

Lent is about being uncomfortable. 
The desert is not a hospitable place. 
Fasting isn’t intended to put us at ease. 
This is a season when—
stripping things down to the essentials—
we’re called to take stock of those aspects of our lives
that we’d much rather leave unexamined. 
If spiritually we’ve been coasting along on fumes,
now is the time to seek ways to be reinvigorated and refuel.

In our first reading this Sunday,
Moses prescribes the manner in which the Israelites
were to show their thanksgiving after the harvest.
As they acknowledged the ways
in which God had guided and guarded their people through the ages,
they were to come before the Lord with their firstfruits:
not their leftovers, not whatever they had to spare,
but the very, very best they had to offer.
They gave the choicest portion to God.
We must do the same.

When I overheard that conversation on the bus in Houston,
the Lord immediately put it on my heart
that I wasn’t meant to be the only one to overhear it.
Now, we could let such a stinging indictment
discourage us and weigh us down,
ironically causing us to continue resting on our laurels.
Or we can take it as an inspiring challenge to grow:
daring us to be different, to suffer, to sacrifice—
in other words, to become more and more like Christ.

The devil tempts us to an easy, comfortable faith.
But we weren’t made for comfort; we were made for greatness.
Let's give the Lord only our very best!

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