Lent Reflections 2018

February 18: Francis Berna - Feruary 25: David VonSchlichten - March 4: Philip Thompson - March 11: SimonMary Aihiokhai - March 18: Dan Finucane - March 25: Jill Raitt.

“Through the Waters” (First Sunday of Lent)

Philip Yancey’s chapter, “Temptation: Showdown in the Desert” (The Jesus I Never Knew) came to mind as a good starting point for this reflection.  He proposes that the real temptations challenged Jesus to act in ways in which God does not act – the power of miracle, mystery, and authority.  However, the reading from the First Letter of Peter took me in a different direction.

   Noah escaped in the ark through the water.  “You are now saved by a baptismal bath which corresponds to this exactly” (I Peter 3:21).  This verse reminded me in a powerful way that the season of Lent’s first purpose lies in preparation for Baptism.  The catechumens prepare to pass through the baptismal waters, and the whole church prepares to be renewed in the grace of baptismal commitment, “an irreproachable conscience.”

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary explains this conscience not as an individual manner of decision, but as “an objective disposition or attitude.”  This, I understand to be, a way of life.  As the catechumens are washed and sealed with the gift of the Spirit, the whole church stands in awe and wonder at the outpouring of God’s saving love.  The celebration of Baptism at the Easter Vigil, and the renewal of baptismal promises on Easter morning, reminds each Christian of their dignity and call to holiness of life.

While sometimes still too often forgotten, the Second Vatican Council reclaimed the perspective of the early Church that holiness of life has its foundation in Baptism, not religious consecration or ordination.  The waters of Baptism call the believer to an objective disposition, an attitude, of holiness each one in relationship to their particular way of life.

This past weekend I joined a team in offering the Retrouvaille program.  This program seeks to help married people who are struggling to maintain their commitment.  Once again I witnessed the power of God’s presence as couples worked hard to reclaim a love they once knew.  Once again I witnessed the grace of conversion.  One participant on Friday evening asserted his belief that the weekend would be a waste of time.  By Sunday afternoon, he really wanted to work on his marriage.  Besides teaching better communication skills, several talks on the weekend remind couples of the grace and holiness of Christian marriage, a holiness rooted in Baptism.  Other themes of the weekend center on forgiveness, compassion, and love.

Now we can return to Yancey.  Inspired by Dostoevsky, Yancey writes that “Satan has the power to coerce, to dazzle, to force obedience, to destroy” (p. 76).  He further claims, “God’s power, in contrast, is internal and noncoercive” (p. 76).  The Jesus I Never Knew calls into question our penchant for quick-fix and short term solutions.  The Retrouvaille couples know that their love will demand hard work.  Philip Yancey, echoing the Gospel, calls into question the nature of true power, how God ultimately acts.

Gospel stories of the ministry of Jesus make clear that the ultimate power of the Holy One is love.  God acts by way of compassion, mercy, healing, forgiveness, and generosity of spirit.  In the coming Sundays we will hear of the glory which is ours, the call to authentic religion, the healing power of faith, the promise of new life, and a love for us that death cannot destroy.  Entering this new spring time of grace, let us stand in awe of the dignity that is ours, and let us be renewed in our way of life.
Francis Berna, berna@lasalle.edu
La Salle University