Second Sunday of Lent, Year A-2011

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt. 4:17—NAB)

The mention of the kingdom probably conjured up in Jesus’ hearers images of glory, joy and every imaginable good. It was perhaps in view of the kingdom, which was full of promise, that the two pairs of brothers followed Jesus just like that. It appears that, focused on the kingdom, Peter and Andrew did not find it hard to leave their nets behind, and James and John, their boat and their father. Maybe they were not yet clearly and fully aware of either the demands of personal convertion or the hardship for the Gospel, a share of which they would later bear.

Like the first disciples, we undoubtedly have our eyes fixed on joy, the light, the glory, the transfiguration, the resurrection. We like neither anguish nor darkness, shame, deformation, death; or at least we do not notice them right away maybe because we are captivated by a vision of splendor. But it does not really take long to realize that life consists of the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Both pain and joy are part and parcel of birth (Jn. 16:21). Maturity supposes the sadness or crisis that separation is as well as the joy or stability that comes from union. Death and life come as though they are twins. Roses, as St. Louise de Marillac reminds us, are to be loved amidst thorns [1]. We witness the grain of wheat fall to the ground and die first before it produces much fruit (Jn. 12:24). We know by experiences that before dawn comes, there is dusk.

Such is human life on earth, the same one that Jesus, the Word made flesh, assumed. Sympathizing with our weaknesses, he “has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Familiar with the light and darkness of life, Jesus warned his followers three times “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt. 16:21; 17:22; 20:18-19).

It was a warning that the apostle Peter apparently did not expect to hear. And because he showed his ignorance about the true identity of the Messiah and having allied himself more with Satan than with Jesus, thinking not in God’s terms but in human terms, he deserved the same condemnation that the tempter had received.

And we members of the Church, do we not perhaps play the tempter also in such a way that “Get away, Satan!” or “Get behind me, Satan!” are the words that we will end up hearing from Jesus? We, of course, do not intentionally try to be an obstacle to Jesus. But does not our lack of charity make difficult Jesus’ being welcomed by our neighbors or our neighbors’ drawing to Jesus to follow him? Meditating and recalling the passion and death of Jesus, we may be overwhelmed with grief and compunction. But do we not subsequently give ourselves away as hypocrites because we show the same concern about who is the greatest that the disciples, in Mk. 9:14, showed? To continue having such a concern indicates, it seems to me, lack of understanding. Maybe a vision of Jesus’ glory, or un expected light or an Ignatian “consolation without cause” confirms us in our faith in Jesus as the fulfillment par excellence of the Law and the prophets such that we cannot help exclaiming, “Lord, it is good that we are here!” and expressing our desire to stay in the place of delightful encounter with the divine. But would it not be good to think of the others who, because of our absence, may be running the risk of falling into idolatry and worshiping a golden calf? To go down from the holy and resplendent mountain to attend to the needs of those in danger would be, I believe, a case of leaving God for God [2]. We should be proud, for sure, of our purity—moral, doctrinal, liturgical, ritual, artistic, ornamental or whatever—but not at the expense of the common Christians, so to speak nor at cost of the salvation of souls, the supreme law of the Church [3]. We do not want to imitate either the proverbial nuns of Port-Royal, “as pure as angels but as proud as devils,” or the scribes and the Pharisees who neglected the weightier things of the law in favor of things of lesser importance (Mt. 23:23). Like St. Vincent de Paul, let us find consolation and happiness in finding ourselves in the midst of simple, good and obedient folks; but like him, too, and like Abraham, let us also be ready and willing to go to where God’s providence is sending us, not fearful when something outside our secure shell or comfort zone is shown us [4].

I think the above-mentioned points for an examination of conscience that aims at conversion (Lam. 3:40) applies to the sheep and especially to the shepherds, for “much more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more (Lk. 12:48). And, without question, each Christian should examine himself before eating the bread and drinking the cup, given that he who eats and drinks without discerning the body, that is to say, without wholly respecting the Church and without honoring those who have nothing, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor. 11:22, 28-29).


NOTES:

[1] Spiritual Writings, 36.
[2] P. Coste IX, 319.
[3] Code of Canon Law 1752.
[4] P. Coste IX, 646; XII, 89-93.