1st Sunday of Lent (B); February 18, 2018
Gen 9:8-15 Ps 25 1 Pet 3:18-22 Mk 1:12-15
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
Lent is about belonging: staying connected with God, each other, and ourselves. The first readings for all the Lenten Sundays in Lectionary Cycle B celebrate our covenant relationship with God that that is meant to be an inclusive, everlasting relationship that has been “established between God and all living beings—all mortal creatures that are on Earth” (Gen 9:16). Indeed, we might say that Lent is a season of covenant-making in which we take our true place before God. To do that, we need to remember who we are—to live out of our truest self.
At baptism Jesus in his humanity came to full consciousness of who he is: the beloved Son of God. Once Jesus has that awareness, the Spirit drives him into the desert—a place of recognition, a place where he faces his Self and the false interpretations of what it means to be the Son of God. In the desert Jesus is among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. What happens to Jesus must happen to us. These three verses are the spiritual journey in a nutshell; all the necessary parts of the journey are present: Coming to know oneself, facing the wild beasts and being ministered by angels.
The starting point of the spiritual journey is to recognize our True Self and to begin the process of living of that reality We recognize that we are the beloved children of God that we have nothing to prove, nothing to protect. We are who we are in relationship to God. God loves and delights in us. Brothers and sisters, if we feel that we’ve got to prove our self to others, that we’ve got to protect our turf, our tribal loyalties that are in opposition to our Catholic solidarity, then we’re living out of False Self—we’re enslaved by our “wild beasts.”
But, once we know who we truly are, then we’re ready to deal with our Darkness, to wrestle with our “wild beasts.” Their voices will assault us, accuse us. They will tell us what we’re not.
The ancient Desert tradition identified these “wild beasts” as
- food (comfort)
- possessions (having stuff)
- anger (because we’re not in control)
- sadness (things are not going my way)
- apathy (“to Hell with it all”)
- vainglory (being full of oneself)
- pride (I and my group is better than you)
People of God, we need to contend with the noise generated by the “wild beasts.” But, understandably, we’ll feel lonely as we deal with their seductive voices and lies. Our first response is to take flight, to return to the world of distraction and busyness, to re-absorb ourselves in the drama of our individualistic, self-absorbed, acquisitive culture. Let’s resist that temptation and trust that the ancient Desert tradition was on to something; indeed, they were psychologically astute because we have to go into that place where we find stuff we need to grapple with before we can find. God.
If we hang in there, if we contend with the wild beasts, we will then be able to collapse into that place where we will hear the voice of God. We’ll hear voices that go beyond the False Kingdom of this world. I promise that if we wait long enough, we’ll hear voices of angels. If we listen close enough, if we face our loneliness, we’ll experience a breakthrough. If we face ourselves for who we are before God, we’ll experience this radical aloneness—that we are radically dependent upon God for life.
At this point of surrender, we’ll meet the ministry of angels. We will experience consolations, voices that post-modern secular culture cannot name because it is about having, acquiring, domination, and control. The voices that we will hear will call us “beloved, good, a daughter or son of God.” They will be voices that are sweet, that console. These voices do not take away the “wild beasts,” but they do speak deeper and more strongly than “wild beasts” ever can. Brothers and sisters, we need to come into that kind of desert, where we can hear such voices—the ministry of angels.