Sunday, February 14, 2016 -- First Sunday of Lent, Modern
"Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God, 'My father was a wandering Aramean . . . '" (Deut 26:5). These words which recite God's goodness to the people of Israel throughout their many times of need are often referred to as the oldest "creed" of the Judeo-Christian tradition. When we read them carefully we see that Moses is exhorting the people of Israel to remember what the Lord has done for them, and to offer him praise and worship in thanksgiving. This movement of gracious initiative on God's part and humble response on the part of the people is important.
In the gospel the devil takes the opposite approach -- a twisted one -- in tempting Jesus, saying: "I shall give to you all this power and glory . . . .all this will be yours, if you worship me" (Luke 4:6). The evil one places his own gratification before the bestowal of any gift to Jesus or to anyone else: instead of giving joyfully and being thanked for his generosity, he pines for the satisfaction of being acknowledged as bestowing something on Jesus. Such an attitude is the embodiment of narcissism and stands poles apart from the Lord's free and loving self-giving.
Our Lord of course is not taken in by the devil's pitiable ruse; he responds: "You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve" (Deut 6:13). Jesus shows with these words that he holds dear his own relationship with the Father who has given everything to him without reserve out of love, and who in turn is loved unreservedly by Jesus.
Jesus then departs to begin his ministry in Galilee, healing, preaching, reconciling, in sum working once more the acts of kindness and liberation that were recalled by the Israelites in their "creed" in Deuteronomy. This time many people would fail to recognize what was happening in their midst and they would not join in offering praise to God for what Jesus did. Others however realized the extraordinary nature of Jesus' words and works and they were taken up in the movement of God's initiative, allowing their own grateful response to come forth in the form of their faith in Jesus and their efforts to be his disciples.
The Lenten season is a time to consciously remember what the Lord has done for us, to give thanks for his abundant generosity, and to resolve to enter ever more faithfully into the mystery of the God who finds joy in giving of himself for the sake of our wholeness and salvation. When we do this we can celebrate with sincerity of heart our age-old relationship with the One whose giving always exceeds our ability to be grateful, and who has saved a place in the story of salvation for us as much as for the first believers who testified "My father was a wandering Aramean . . . ".
Of special interest to the readers of this column of Slavic ancestry: this Sunday marks the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the "Apostles of the Slavs" as Pope Saint John Paul II called them. I remember first learning of these two great figures through the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius who taught me in my hometown of Danville, where their motherhouse is located. Through the intercession of holy Cyril and Methodius may this Lent be a season of growth in charity and holiness and a time of peaceful renewal for all—Zdar Boh!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.