For years I taught a World Religions course at a Jesuit Catholic university. Most of my undergraduate students came from homes in which a faith tradition, usually Christian, had shaped them. Inevitably, when we ventured out to the local synagogue or had a Pakistani or Indonesian medical student speak in class, my students would remark admiringly on the amount of serious practice they observed in a young Jew learning the cantillations of biblical Hebrew for his Bar Mitzvah or in a Muslim observing five times daily prayer even while swamped with clinical rounds. Often, they would realize that they had considered religious observance an obligation or familiar family ritual. The concept that faith might be intensely personal, about growth or transformation, or a wild, radical, engaging adventure was not on most of their horizons.
Lent is often about variants of traditional disciplines: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Wednesday soup suppers. Friday fish fries. Giving up some indulgence or an addictive habit. Making donations to the poor. Setting aside time for reading scripture. These are fine practices designed to encourage our ongoing reorientation toward the source and meaning of our lives. But in their familiarity, we can easily miss the personal urgency of the biblical invitation.
As we enter the Lenten season, the ancient biblical cry rises and echoes down through the generations: “ ‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’ Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (niv). This passage brings to our attention once again the return and the deep seriousness of the turning. May we attend to it.
Reflect on what it means to be, as Paul enjoins, “a letter from Christ . . . written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God . . . on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3, niv).
In this first week of Lent, we prepare our hearts for a period of reflection. We think about areas of our lives in which we might be falling short of God’s desires. The problem of sin enters the human story at the very beginning, for Adam and Eve choose to follow their own wisdom rather than guidance from God. The psalmist highlights the importance of recognizing our sin and asking for forgiveness, which God is quick to give. In Romans, Paul argues that we all partake in the broken human condition because we all have sinned as Adam did. The story of Jesus in the desert admonishes us to be on guard against the deception of our fleshly desires and our pride.
Read Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7. How might this story help you turn from superbia to humilitas throughout your Lenten journey?
Read Psalm 32. What seeming dichotomies comprise the full picture of your life of faith?
Read Romans 5:12-19. How do you sense the differences Paul draws between Adam and Christ prompting you to turn toward God?
Read Matthew 4:1-11. What are your own temptations? How does Jesus’ response to his temptations guide you in responding to yours?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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