Lent 02, Year B-2009

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Say to the Lord, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust” (Ps. 91:2)

The non-biblical reading in the Office Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for the First Sunday of Lent comes from a commentary on the psalms by St. Augustine. The commentary reads in part:

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial.
We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself
except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory,
or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

St. Augustine points out also, however, that we are not left on our own in our trials or struggles against the enemy or temptations. We are members of the body of Christ, made one with him too when he chose to be tempted by Satan. And adds St. Augustine, “If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil.” Subjected to temptation, Christ teaches us how to triumph over temptation.

One fundamental lesson that surely I am taught by the tempted Jesus is that I must not let any status or connection I may have, not even my being a Christian, a son of God by adoption or a member of the Church, to get in the way of my genuinely putting my trust in the Lord. And not infrequently, I should admit, the temptation to rely on one’s own status or connection comes subtly disguised as an invitation to trust God.

Much less must I trust in the munificence and magnificence of worldly kingdoms and turn my back on God. I must not take myself too seriously and count complacently and without question on human strength and wisdom, thinking that, with the proliferation and popularity especially of “how-to” and “do-it-yourself” approaches, I can certainly be self-taught and self-made (cf. Lk. 12:14-21). For one thing, after all, like every human being, I am at once strong and weak, capable of achieving the best or the worst, of choosing freedom or slavery (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 9-10). Hence, as Ps. 118:8-9 proclaims: “Better to take refuge in the Lord than to put one’s trust in mortals. Better to take refuge in the Lord than to put one’s trust in princes.” And the prophetic utterance in Jer. 17:5 puts it in these even stronger and more unambiguous terms: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

The lesson, then, of distrust of oneself is at once the lesson also of trust in the Lord or, as St. Vincent de Paul indicated in a 1655 letter to a missionary, mistrust of one’s own strength should be the foundation of the trust one ought to have in God. In God, first and foremost, must I put my trust. And he is absolutely trustworthy. He even makes possible what is humanly impossible, creating out of nothing, raising the dead to life, making the barren or the virgin give birth, turning foolishness into wisdom and weakness into strength, converting destructive flood waters into saving baptismal waters. In his providence, the Lord sees to it as well that we, in our poverty and nothingness, have someone precious and beloved to offer as a holocaust—notwithstanding that the sacrifice demanded seems to spell the end of the family line and total annihilation—so that all the promised blessings may be perfectly fulfilled. Yes, God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all,” and in so doing he gave us a guarantee of every blessing along with his Son.

So, then, clear too is the lesson that the cup of blessing is none other than the cup of Christ’s blood (cf. also 1 Cor. 10:16). We have been ransomed from curse and been blessed because Christ became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13-14). To put one’s trust in the Lord means, therefore, that one trusts the Lord’s disposition to make such instrument of death and destruction as the cross to be, paradoxically, the instrument also of life and salvation. Indeed, as indicated by Jesus’ instruction that the vision not be related to anyone till after this resurrection, his transfiguration makes sense only to those who have earlier been taught that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three day” (Mk. 8:31).

In other words, Jesus’ transfiguration—his resurrection, for that matter—is neither understandable nor believable apart from his suffering and death. To think otherwise, I believe, would be to miss the lesson of Jesus’ struggle during his forty-day sojourn in the desert. It would be to rely on oneself and distrust Christ, and end up allowing oneself to be completely overcome by sorrow and despair at the sight of “so many poor brothers and neighbors … suffering beyond their strength and overwhelmed with so many physical or mental ills” that one cannot alleviate (cf. the non-biblical reading in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for March 8, the memorial of St. John of God). It would be to succumb to temptation and give in to the devil’s attempt “to divert Jesus’ attention and direct it instead toward a human logic of a powerful and successful messiah (Pope Benedict XVI’s February 1, 2009 Angelus address: [1]). It would be to propose that blessed are the rich, and to oppose Jesus’ proclamation, “Blessed are the poor!”