PRE-NOTE: I would like to introduce you to Lyle C. May, a friend on North Carolina’s Death Row. See below: "Meet Lyle May."
Ash Wednesday was a sobering reminder – those ugly ashes smeared on our foreheads, dusted our jackets and sweaters. We quickly brushed them off our chests and maybe the ones on our foreheads lasted a bit longer. What a bleak reminder they were about our frailty; to put it bluntly, we all face a death sentence. We were born and we will have an end. There is no running away from our creatureliness. As we survey our successes, achievements and dominance, whether as individuals or a nation, we know they are ultimately limited. The grim reaper will come along and take us away and also those we love and all our projects. After a while our names will be forgotten. Not a cheery way to being a Sunday reflection! Those are morbid thoughts, aren’t they?
But we must face the truth about who we are so that we can live our lives with perspective, in other words, live our true lives. Genesis reminds us that if we acknowledge we are creatures of dust, we can also express our belief that the Eternal One has placed a life-giving breath in us. ("God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life....") This breath orients us to God, and calls us to follow God’s ways. If we haven’t been doing that, Lent is an opportunity to make necessary adjustments; in other words, to "reform."
The gospel reminds us that during Lent we can look death, or anything that threatens our vocation to follow God, in the face and not be afraid, because Jesus has entered our desert experience and come out triumphant. He has preceded us into the place of temptation, the desert, and can help us get through our own deserts, the places where, like the Israelites, we wandered from the path. We do not have to be afraid, we are not alone and today at this Eucharist Jesus will feed us himself, the desert bread that gives us life. There is consolation for us this Lent, even as we cast a sober glance over our lives, because we have been given hope that Jesus has looked into our darkness, seen us there and has come to pull us out. As God rescued the Israelites in their wanderings, so God comes again searching us out, bringing us home.
John Kavanagh, SJ. says that Lent is our Christian Yom Kippur, our time of critical self evaluation. It is a time to think things over, to reconsider and to be more aware of our limitations, our mortality and our need. It is a time, in other words, to remember that our lives need to be and can be, transformed by grace. Once more, through Christ, God breathes into us a life-giving Spirit. This dust we are has its origins and destiny in God.
We have forty days ahead of us to make some choices. It is "focus time"– it’s like going for an eye exam and the optometrist places those adjustable lens over our eyes and keeps asking, "Is it clearer now? How about now?" We have forty days to choose more positive ways of looking and acting. The scriptures will be like the lens the optometrist places before our eyes. We didn’t think we had impaired vision, but then we were given a better lens and the blurred letters cleared up. So it will be this Lent, as we listen to the scriptures and take them to heart, we will get our vision cleared. We will learn what Jesus taught us from the desert, "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." God wants to breathe new life into us again through the life-giving Word.
Baseball players are starting Spring training. They need this time to get ready for the opening of the season and the long season of games that will take them into the Fall and possibly into World Series contention. Without this preparation time they will get off to a poor start and not make it successfully through the season. Like these athletes, each year, year after year, we need Lent. We need a time to refocus. We need a time to renew our baptismal vows, our commitment to Christ and our profession of faith. We notice our sinfulness and our tepid responses to the gospel; but more, we look to the one who saves us. We are reminded during Lent that we can break away from sin by the enabling grace of God.
The reform in Lent is both for the individual and the community. Together, especially at these liturgies, we are called to a more attentive listening to and acting on the Word. As we listen, we become more deeply unified, we hear our family story and claim it as the one we want to believe in and live by. We could make it our Lenten practice then to be more attentive to these readings and even to prepare for liturgy by reading and reflecting on them in advance. (Most parishes list next Sunday’s readings in the bulletin---the preacher might refer to this.) The readings will discourage, even expose, our sin. But this not to laden us with guilt, as much as to denounce sin and proclaim God’s mercy. Thus, Lent is a joyful time when we become more deeply aware of God’s saving grace for us.
Be careful in the Genesis reading not to make too much of Eve’s first eating the fruit. Women have too long been portrayed in religion, literature and world cultures as the temptresses. The "Fall" from grace is our human story, not the fault of a first woman, or man. In the Genesis account we are not hearing a factual "you-are-there" historical retelling. But we are hearing the truth – human beings have turned away from God. In the narrative we observe God lovingly creating humans, "by hand," breathing the divine life into them and planting a lovely garden for them to enjoy. But they turned away from God – the human story to this day.
No one needed to tell us that, we know the personal and social effects of sin on humans, institutions and God’s own lovely garden – the natural world. We can’t blame Adam and Eve for something they did "back then," rather, we must claim responsibility in our own time and place for the choices we make. "The devil made me do it," is a lame excuse for what we have done, or neglected to do. Like Adam and Eve we have a porous wall of resistance to sin’s allures, glamour and false promises.
Thankfully we have not been left on our own. The gospel shows us that Jesus had more power than sin. With him we can overcome what we have not been able to on our own. Jesus resists the temptation to take care of his hungers by multiplying bread. He also resists the temptation to draw crowds by spectacular wonders and miracles. God will provide him and us the food we really need, when we need it – our "daily bread."
Jesus also resists the temptation to go through life on an easy ride; expecting no pain or harm to befall him. As the "beloved" shouldn’t he expect God to protect him? And, if we are loved by God, why must we suffer? Jesus doesn’t doubt God’s love for him, even when he "falls" into the hands of those who hate him and reject his message.
Jesus could have possessed the world with all its power and splendor. That would certainly have attracted multitudes to his message. But Jesus kept his eyes fixed on his God and would not sway from his calling as a servant, to become an earthly ruler. Through his strength we are made strong. Because of his clear-eyed vision we can see the difference between what is alluring, but passing and what has lasting value—and offers life.
Let’s come to the Eucharist today aware of our deep-down hunger for God, who gives us Jesus’ life for strength and his Spirit for guidance for our own particular wilderness struggle.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
The Lord God formed man out of
the clay of the ground.
I once attended a retreat where our topic was about using art as a form of prayer. One of our exercises was to take a lump of potter’s clay and see what emerged as we kneaded the clay in our hands. One of the participants remarked how cold, clammy and heavy the clay was and she wondered if God viewed us like that.
Are we cold, clammy and heavy in God’s hands OR are we pliable and warming to God’s promptings to form us in the image of the Son?
I have often thought that in my many years of participating with Habitat for Humanity, my soul and my heart has been stretched and formed, much like the lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. How so much of my life has morphed and changed from my very first encounter with the working poor until today. How it wasn’t until I really got to know a truly poor person that I could see they were just like me in their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
In their pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. economy titled, Economic Justice for All (#88, 1986), the U.S. Catholic Bishops teach the following: The option for the poor states "that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves." Solidarity can be compared to clay that has been properly prepared so that the air bubbles are removed in a process called "wedging" and ensures that the clay will not fall apart when it is put in the heat of the kiln. How much stronger is a community that stands with its weakest links in an act of mercy and solidarity.
As we begin this Lent, next weekend is the Works of Mercy Stewardship Fair. Pick a cause where you can come face-to-face with the poor and sign up. Then, show up. Showing up is absolutely necessary for your soul to be stretched and your heart softened. To preview our ministries, check out our parish website ahead of the Fair: https://www.raleighcathedral.org/socialjustice2
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NCFAITH BOOK
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil for forty days and forty nights.
During Lent we can look death, or anything that threatens our vocation to follow God, in the face and not be afraid, because Jesus has preceded us into the place of temptation, the desert, and can help us get through our own deserts, the places where, like the Israelites, we have wandered from the path.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
Meet Lyle May
I have known Lyle for about 15 years. When I lived in Raleigh, NC we visited monthly at Central Prison, where he lives on Death Row. Lyle is pursuing a college degree from Ohio State University. His counselor there has put him in touch with law teachers at Duke, Harvard, Gonzaga, Oxford, etc. He calls the teachers in their classes and answers students’ questions in 15 minute call segments. Lyle writes articles on issues of prison justice. He has just submitted the proofs for a book he calls, "Witness: An Insider's Narrative Of the Carceral State."
If you would like to meet Lyle, here is his blog:https://www.lylecmay.com/
If you would like to drop him a line:
Lyle May O580028
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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