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Mary related from my stuff:

The free e-book of Mary and the Christian Life.  Go. Read.  Download! 

"amy welborn"

The Rosary

From the introduction:

In his apostolic letter, John Paul II wrote that the most important reason to encourage the practice of the Rosary is that it fosters a “commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery” in all of its richness. Our model of contemplation, the Pope says, is Mary. In the way that any mother would look upon the face of her child, Mary as the mother of Jesus is the perfect model for our approach to contemplation of the face of Christ.

The Gospels show that the gaze of Mary varied depending upon the circumstances of life. So it will be with us. Each time we pick up the holy beads to recite the Rosary, our gaze at the mystery of Christ will differ depending "amy welborn"on where we find ourselves at that moment.

Thereafter Mary’s gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him. At times it would be a questioning look, as in the episode of the finding in the Temple: “Son, why have you treated us so?” (Lk 2:48); it would always be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5). At other times it would be a look of sorrow, especially beneath the Cross, where her vision would still be that of mother giving birth, for Mary not only shared the passion and death of her Son, she also received the new son given to her in the beloved disciple (cf. Jn 19:26-27). On the morning of Easter hers would be a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection, and finally, on the day of Pentecost, a gaze afire with the outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) [Rosarium Virginis Mariae, no. 10].

As we pray the Rosary, then, we join with Mary in contemplating Christ. With her, we remember Christ, we proclaim Him, we learn from Him, and, most importantly, as we raise our voices in prayer and our hearts in contemplation of the holy mysteries, this “compendium of the Gospel” itself, we are conformed to Him.

Also, for more on some Marian prayers, check out The Words We Pray:

And then, as Compline drew to a close and night settled, the monks started singing.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy

It was what all monks sing at the end of Compline, everywhere. The Salve Regina. I had never heard it before in my life.

Our life, our sweetness and our hope.

"amy welborn"The chant drifted through the chapel, settling around us like stars emerging from the night sky.

To thee do we cry, Poor banished children of Eve

Yes. I cry, banished, my own actions bringing tears to the lives of others. What could I do?

To thee do we send up our sighs, Mourning and weeping In this valley of tears.

All of us.

Turn then, most gracious Advocate, Thine eyes of mercy towards us,

Please.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

The monks raised their voices in hope at the end of each phrase, and then paused a great pause in between, letting the hope rise and then settle back into their hearts. My own heart rushed, unbidden by me, uncontrolled, right into those pauses and joined the prayer. A prayer written by a eleventh-century bedridden brother, chanted by monks in the middle of Georgia, and joined by me and the silent folk scattered in the pews around me, each with his or her own reasons to beg the Virgin for her prayers.

And we weren’t the only ones joined in that prayer. With us was a great throng of other Christians who had prayed it over the centuries, and who are praying it at this very moment.

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Something simple:

"amy welborn"

It’s from this book, which I found at an estate sale last year, and recounted here, with lots more examples of the pages.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

And…if you want a free book to help you reflect on the Cross, go here, to access The Power of the Cross. 

The app for John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross is available here. 

"amy welborn"

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This is my contribution for today to Living Faith Lent.  I figured that since the season is about over, I won’t be depriving them of any sales by reprinting this.

March 29

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting. 
Is. 50:6

Left to my own devices, and within the context of my responsibilities, I can essentially design – or, as the fashionable say these days, “curate”  my own life.  I can listen to what I want, turn off what disturbs me and tune out what don’t want to see or hear.  I can, if I choose, live in a bubble, as clear or opaque as I want it to be.

But not this week.

This week, this Holy Week, I am thrust into the crowds.  Crowds that welcome, then condemn.  I must encounter the questioning, the faithful, the confused and the fearful.  I lurk with the sinners and the saints.  I hear the questions, the answers and the silence.

I can’t shut out the false accusations, the betrayals, and the blood.  I can’t be selective, I can’t choose my own adventure, I can’t pick and choose what I think is right for me according to my own style, personality type, preferences or priorities.

This week, I am with Jesus.

"amy welborn"

(Regular Living Faith devotional page here.)

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A few nuggets from past Palm Sunday homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  For more, go here. 

2012:

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations.  The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. …

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel?  Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act.  Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse.  The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel.  This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too.  Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us?  What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God?  It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne.  We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the "amy welborn"happiness of heaven, divine beatitude.  So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations?  What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

….Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love.  But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.  The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord.  Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

2006:

Inner freedom is the prerequisite for overcoming the corruption and greed that devastate the world today. This freedom can only be found if God becomes our richness; it can only be found in the patience of daily sacrifices, in which, as it were, true freedom develops. It is the King who points out to us the way to this goal:  Jesus, whom we acclaim on Palm Sunday, whom we ask to take us with him on his way.

The second thing the prophet shows us is that this king will be a king of peace:  he will cause chariots of war and war horses to vanish, he will break bows and proclaim peace.

This is brought about in Jesus through the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the broken bow, in a certain way, God’s new, true rainbow which connects the heavens and the earth and bridges the abysses between the continents. The new weapon that Jesus places in our hands is the Cross – a sign of reconciliation, of forgiveness, a sign of love that is stronger than death.

Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we should remember not to confront injustice with other injustice or violence with other violence:  let us remember that we can only overcome evil with good and never by paying evil back with evil.

2008

And then there are children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim him the Hosanna. Jesus had said to his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of God it was essential to become once again like children. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little in order to come to our aid, to draw us to God. In order to recognize God, we must give up the pride that dazzles us, that wants to drive us away from God as though God were our rival. To encounter God it is necessary to be able to see with the heart. We must learn to see with a child’s heart, with a youthful heart not hampered by prejudices or blinded by interests. Thus, it is in the lowly who have such free and open hearts and recognize Jesus, that the Church sees her own image, the image of believers of all ages.

Dear friends, let us join at this moment the procession of the young people of that time – a procession that winds through the whole of history. Together with young people across the world let us go forth to meet Jesus. Let us allow ourselves to be guided toward God by him, to learn from God himself the right way to be human beings. Let us thank God with him because with Jesus, Son of David, he has given us a space of peace and reconciliation that embraces the world with the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray to him that we too may become, with him and starting from him, messengers of his peace, adorers in spirit and truth, so that his Kingdom may increase in us and around us. Amen.

2007

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

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"amy welborn"

If you’re in Madrid, you know there are going to be Masses happening Sunday morning, probably every few meters.

It was a little challenging though, trying to get the timing right.

In the first church we found, they were intoning the Agnus Dei (in Spanish).  The next couple were just wrapping up one Mass, the next to come an hour later, the fourth we found would be thirty minutes later, and that would get us up to the neighborhood of our apartment later than I’d told the owner.

So we just retrieved our luggage from the Atocha left luggage room, got on the Metro, and  headed to that neighborhood, and almost as soon as we ascended from the station, we heard bells – it was noon – so we followed the sound, and Mass was just beginning at the church/chapel that turned out to be about a block from our apartment.

It is some kind of convent – I’ll figure it out tomorrow – with some sisters (white habit with black veils, modified) out in the congregation, a few more behind the grill off the sanctuary.  Is it one of the convents that sells convent sweets?  To be figures out later…

In 2007, Pope Emeritus Benedict visited a prison for minors on Laetare Sunday. Part of his homily:

I have willingly come to pay you a Visit, and the most important moment of our meeting is Holy Mass, where the gift of God’s love is renewed: a love that comforts us and gives us peace, especially in life’s difficult moments.

In the Eucharistic celebration it is Christ himself who becomes present among us; indeed, even more: he comes to enlighten us with his teaching – in the Liturgy of the Word – and to nourish us with his Body and his Blood – in the Eucharistic Liturgy and in Communion.

Thus, he comes to teach us to love, to make us capable of loving and thereby capable of living.
But perhaps you will say, how difficult it is to love seriously and to live well! What is the secret of love, the secret of life? Let us return to the Gospel [of the Prodigal Son].

In this Gospel three persons appear: the father and two sons. But these people represent two rather different life projects. Both sons lived peacefully, they were fairly well-off farmers so they had enough to live on, selling their produce profitably, and life seemed good.

Yet little by little the younger son came to find this life boring and unsatisfying: “All of life can’t be like this”, he thought: rising every day, say at six o’clock, then according to Israel’s traditions, there must have been a prayer, a reading from the Holy Bible, then they went to work and at the end of the day another prayer.

Thus, day after day he thought: “But no, life is something more. I must find another life where I am truly free, where I can do what I like; a life free from this discipline, from these norms of God’s commandments, from my father’s orders; I would like to be on my own and have life with all its beauties totally for myself. Now, instead, it is nothing but work…”.

And so he decided to claim the whole of his share of his inheritance and leave. His father was very respectful and generous and respected the son’s freedom: it was he who had to find his own life project. And he departed, as the Gospel says, to a far-away country. It was probably geographically distant because he wanted a change, but also inwardly distant because he wanted a completely different life.

So his idea was: freedom, doing what I want to do, not recognizing these laws of a God who is remote, not being in the prison of this domestic discipline, but rather doing what is beautiful, what I like, possessing life with all its beauty and fullness.

And at first – we might imagine, perhaps for a few months – everything went smoothly: he found it beautiful to have attained life at last, he felt happy.

Then, however, little by little, he felt bored here, too; here too everything was always the same. And in the end, he was left with an emptiness that was even more disturbing: the feeling that this was still not life became ever more acute; indeed, going ahead with all these things, life drifted further and further away. Everything became empty: the slavery of doing the same things then also re-emerged. And in the end, his money ran out and the young man found that his standard of living was lower than that of swine.

It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others, to contribute to building the world, to the growth of the human community….

So it was that he set out on a new journey, an inner journey.

MORE

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First, on the Gospel, from Jesus of Nazareth, Part II:

The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus means the end of this Temple. The era of the Temple is over. A new worship is being introduced, in a Temple not built by human hands. This Temple is his body, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples and unites them in the sacrament of his body and blood. He himself is the new Temple of humanity. The crucifixion of Jesus is at the same time the destruction of the old Temple. With his Resurrection, a new way of worshiping God beings, no long on this or that mountain, but ‘in spirit and truth.’

"amy welborn"

In 2006, the Third Sunday of Lent coincided with the feast of St. Joseph, March 19:

Work is of fundamental importance to the fulfillment of the human being and to the development of society. Thus, it must always be organized and carried out with full respect for human dignity and must always serve the common good.

At the same time, it is indispensable that people not allow themselves to be enslaved by work or idolize it, claiming to find in it the ultimate and definitive meaning of life.

The invitation contained in the First Reading is appropriate in this regard:  “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God” (Ex 20:  8-9). The Sabbath is a holy day, that is, a day consecrated to God on which man understands better the meaning of his life and his work. It can therefore be said that the biblical teaching on work is crowned by the commandment of rest.

…..

I would like to entrust to St Joseph those young people who are finding integration into the working world difficult, the unemployed and everyone who is suffering hardship due to the widespread employment crisis.

Together with Mary, his Spouse, may St Joseph watch over all workers and obtain serenity and peace for families and for the whole of humanity.

May Christians, looking at this great Saint, learn to witness in every working environment to the love of Christ, the source of true solidarity and lasting peace. Amen!

2008, on a visit to a Roman parish:

Dear brothers and sisters, let me now ask myself, together with you, what is the Lord telling us on this most important anniversary for your parish? In today’s biblical texts for the Third Sunday of Lent, useful ideas for meditation can be found that are particularly appropriate for this important occasion. Through the symbol of water, which we find in the First Reading and in the Gospel passage on the Samaritan woman, the Word of God transmits to us an ever lively and timely message: God thirsts for our faith and wants us to find the source of our authentic happiness in him. Every believer is in danger of practising a false religiosity, of not seeking in God the answer to the most intimate expectations of the heart but on the contrary, treating God as though he were at the service of our desires and projects.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of Santa Maria Liberatrice! This morning, Christ’s invitation to let ourselves be involved in his demanding Gospel proposal rings out loud and clear for every member of your parish community. St Augustine said that God thirsts after our thirst for him, that is, he desires to be desired. The further the human being distances himself from God, the more closely God pursues him with his merciful love. The liturgy encourages us today, also taking into account the Lenten Season in which we are living, to review our relationship with Jesus, to tirelessly seek his Face. And this is indispensable so that you, dear friends, can continue in the new cultural and social context the work of evangelization and human and Christian education carried out for more than a century by this parish, which also includes in the ranks of her parish priests Venerable Luigi Maria Olivares. Always open your hearts wider to the pastoral work in the missionary context, which impels every Christian to meet people – particularly youth and families – where they live, work and spend their leisure time, in order to proclaim to them God’s merciful love.

2010, a pastoral visit to another parish:

At this point Moses asks God what his Name is, the Name with which God manifests his special authority, in order to present God to the people and then to the Pharaoh. God’s answer may seem strange; it seems both an answer and not an answer. He says of himself simply: “I am who I am”. “He is”, and this must suffice. God, therefore, does not reject Moses’ request. He pronounces his Name, thus creating the possibility of invoking him, of calling on him, of a relationship with him. By revealing his Name, God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He enables us to invoke him, he enters into relations with us and gives us the possibility of being in a relationship with him. This means that he gives himself, in a certain way, to our human world, becoming accessible, as if he were one of us. He faces the risk of the relationship, of being with us. What began in the burning bush in the desert is accomplished in the burning bush of the Cross where God, having become accessible in his Son made man, really became one of us, is put into our hands and, in this way, realizes the liberation of humanity. On Golgotha God, who during the night of the flight from Egypt revealed himself as the One who frees us from slavery, revealed himself as the One who embraces every human being with the saving power of the Cross and the Resurrection and liberates him from sin and death, accepts him in the embrace of his love.

Let us remain in contemplation of this mystery of God’s Name, the better to understand the mystery of Lent and to live as individuals and as communities in permanent conversion, so as to be a constant epiphany in the world, a witness of the living God who sets us free us and saves us out of love. Amen.

And now for some Angelus addresses from the Third Sunday of Lent:

2009, as he was preparing to leave on a visit to Africa:

As I prepare myself for this missionary Journey the words of the Apostle Paul, which today, on the Third Sunday of Lent, the liturgy proposes for our meditation, resound in my mind: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God”, the Apostle writes to the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 1: 23-24). Yes, dear brothers and sisters! I am leaving for Africa aware that I have nothing to propose or give to those whom I shall meet except Christ and the Good News of his Cross, a mystery of supreme love, of divine love that overcomes all human resistence and even makes forgiveness and love for one’s enemies possible. This is the grace of the Gospel that is capable of transforming the world; this is the grace that can also renew Africa, because it generates an irresistible force of peace and a profound and radical reconciliation. The Church, therefore, does not pursue economic, social or political objectives; the Church proclaims Christ, certain that the Gospel can move the hearts of all and transform them, thereby renewing people and societies from within.

2011

Each one of us can identify himself with the Samaritan woman: Jesus is waiting for us, especially in this Season of Lent, to speak to our hearts, to my heart. Let us pause a moment in silence, in our room or in a church or in a separate place. Let us listen to his voice which tells us “If you knew the gift of God…”. May the Virgin Mary help us not to miss this appointment, on which our true happiness depends.

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No matter what the year in the liturgical cycle, the Gospel for this Sunday is always the narrative of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.  Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. (There were no public Masses, therefore homilies, from these days each year, but there are Angelus reflections. On the second, third or fourth Sunday of Lent, the Pope would normally go out to a Roman parish or a youth detention center, so there will be homilies from those Sundays.)

2006:

The image of the desert is a very eloquent metaphor of the human condition. The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the People of Israel who, after leaving Egypt, wandered through the desert of Sinai for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land.

During that long journey, the Jews experienced the full force and persistence of the tempter, who urged them to lose trust in the Lord and to turn back; but at the same time, thanks to Moses’ mediation, they learned to listen to God’s voice calling them to become his holy People.

In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.

2007:

During these days of Lent, let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality. Looking at Christ, we feel at the same time looked at by him. He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.

2008:

It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness. In this regard Jesus’ invitation to each one of us Christians to take up our “cross” and follow him with humility and trust (cf. Mt 16: 24) is particularly pressing. Although the “cross” may be heavy it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. Thus, entering Lent means renewing the personal and community decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Seen in this light, Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong ascetic and spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace.

2009:  (Same Gospel as this year)

Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Gospel, in the sober and concise style of St Mark, introduces us into the atmosphere of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1: 12). In the Holy Land the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres at Jerusalem. After receiving Baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the People of Israel shows, the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ who had stripped himself of the form of God (cf. Phil 2: 6-7), appears most vividly. He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize with our weaknesses (cf. Heb 4: 15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy, who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset.

In the succinct account, angels, luminous and mysterious figures, appear almost fleetingly before this dark, tenebrous figure who dares to tempt the Lord. Angels, the Gospel says, “ministered” to Jesus (Mk 1: 13); they are the antithesis of Satan. “Angel” means “messenger”. Throughout the Old Testament we find these figures who help and guide human beings on God’s behalf. It suffices to remember the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the Angel Raphael appears and assists the protagonist in every vicissitude. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the People of Israel in all of their experiences, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is dispatched to announce to Zechariah and to Mary the joyful events at the beginning of our salvation; and an angel we are not told his name warns Joseph, guiding him in that moment of uncertainty. A choir of angels brings the shepherds the good news of the Saviour’s birth; and it was also to be angels who announced the joyful news of his Resurrection to the women. At the end of time, angels will accompany Jesus when he comes in his glory (cf. Mt 25: 31). Angels minister to Jesus, who is certainly superior to them. This dignity of his is clearly, if discreetly, proclaimed here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.

2010

Christ came into the world to set us free from sin and from the ambiguous fascination of planning our life leaving God out. He did not do so with loud proclamations but rather by fighting the Tempter himself, until the Cross.

2011

The Devil opposed this definitive and universal plan of salvation with all his might, as is shown in particular in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering this liturgical season means continuously taking Christ’s side against sin, facing — both as individuals and as Church — the spiritual fight against the spirit of evil each time

2012  (Again, like this year, Mark was the Gospel)

St Mark’s concise narrative lacks the details we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The wilderness referred to has various meanings. It can indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the “place” of human weakness, devoid of support and safety, where temptation grows stronger.

However, it can also indicate a place of refuge and shelter — as it was for the People of Israel who had escaped from slavery in Egypt — where it is possible to experience God’s presence in a special way. Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:13). St Leo the Great comments that “The Lord wanted to suffer the attack of the tempter in order to defend us with his help and to instruct us with his example (Tractatus XXXIX,3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138/A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215).

What can this episode teach us? As we read in the book The Imitation of Christ, “There is no man wholly free from temptations so long as he lives… but by endurance and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies” (Liber I, C. XIII, Vatican City 1982, 37), endurance and the humility of following the Lord every day, learning not to build our lives outside him or as though he did not exist, but in him and with him, for he is the source of true life.

The temptation to remove God, to arrange things within us and in the world by ourselves, relying on our own abilities, has always been present in human history.

Jesus proclaims that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15), he announces that in him something new happens: God turns to the human being in an unexpected way, with a unique, tangible closeness, full of love; God is incarnate and enters the human world to take sin upon himself, to conquer evil and usher men and women into the world of God.

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