First Lent: The Journey of Lent
and the Journey of Our Lives
This Sunday’s gospel presents us with the temptations of the Lord as related in the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke differs in the order of the temptations from the order found in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew the final temptation is when the devil led Jesus to the mountain and offered Him all the Kingdoms of the world if He worshiped him. In Luke, this temptation is placed second, the final temptation in Luke is the temptation from the parapet of the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke does this because beneath the relating of the teachings and miracles of the Lord, Luke has the theme of the journey: Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the fulfillment of the will of the Father. This journey is continued in the next book that St. Luke wrote, the Acts of the Apostles. Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, the center of the then known world. Deeper than this, Luke is stating that we Christians are called to walk with the Lord throughout the journey of our lives, the journey to complete the will of the Father. The forty days of Lent reminds us of this journey and invite us to examine how well we are traveling.
With this in mind, I would like to begin today with a brief story. A man had been teaching in an exclusive high school academy for over twenty years. Every year at Christmas time, the students would give each of their teachers presents. It was a tradition. Thank you notes were not expected. Well, after only about three years, the man began to realize that most of the gifts would be the same. He could tell what the gift would be just from the size and shape of the box. That was particularly true for the gift that was most often repeated: handkerchiefs. The teacher would thank the students who brought him those long thin boxes and just keep them in his closet unopened.
When he was short on handkerchiefs, he would just open a new box.
One day the man opened a box to get a handkerchiefs. To his surprise in the box he found an expensive antique pocket watch. He possessed that watch for years and did not even know it.
“We own a vintage wine cellar, but we never drink from it,” said the medieval theologian/spiritual writer called Master Eckhart.
“We have an inner fountain that spreads up into eternal life, but we are so out of touch with it that we only look to outer wells for water,” to paraphrase the Lord’s message to the woman at the well and to us.
We Christians possess the most valuable treasure in the world. Jesus Christ is among us and within us. Sometimes we are out of touch, out of touch with the treasure that we are, and out of touch with the riches that we already have. Why? Perhaps, we focus only on some of the external dimensions of our existence and miss that which really matters. For example, if a man or woman is highly involved in a particular sport, he or she might identify himself or herself as a golfer, a football player, a hockey player or a body builder. Or a person might identify himself or herself with a physical characteristic. Quite often we identify ourselves with our work. We might work as a doctor, engineer, mechanic, or carpenter, plumber or a mechanic, but we are infinitely more than that. We are Christians. We are tempted to equate or identity with a physical quality, a mental attribute, a social role, a significant experience or a personality trait. But we miss something. We miss that which we have which is the most significant aspect of our existence. We miss a dimension that remains hidden like an antique watch in a handkerchief box.
We are not just physical. We are also spiritual. Each one of us. At the level of our deepest being, our deepest selves, we are sons and daughters of the Most High. We are brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is within us. We have the capacity to bring His image to the world. We are the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth. We have a vital interior life that is capable of giving meaning to every situation, every aspect of our lives.
St. Paul says that we hold a treasure in earthen vessels. Sadly, we are often more aware of these vessels than we are of the treasure. We have an antique pocket watch in a handkerchiefs box. But we are often more aware of the handkerchiefs box than we are of the antique watch.
The journey with the Lord during Lent is a journey of spiritual self discovery. All of the practices we embrace during Lent, the additional prayers like Forty Hours, daily Mass, Stations on Fridays, the fasting to remember the suffering of the Lord, the seeking forgiveness for our sins, the search for ways that we can serve Christ in the needy, all of these practices are wonderful ways of strengthening our spiritual lives. They remind us we each have the capability of making the Lord present in the world. God can and will use each of us to transform the world if we just allow the deep reflection within us to become evident first to ourselves and then to others.
We conclude Lent with the celebration of the Paschal Triduum, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. The goal of the journey of our lives is making the Life of Christ relevant to the world in our own unique ways. He calls us to carry our crosses, to embrace suffering for others. The journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter travels through Good Friday. We are called to a deeper understanding of our personal passions, the suffering we willingly embrace because others deserve to be loved with a sacrificial love. For our young families, this suffering might mean being tired all the time because the baby and little children take so much out of you. For those with older children the suffering might be the continual battle against the forces of immorality attacking the children. For our seniors the suffering might mean not having the time to do the things you dreamed of doing in retirement because it is far more important to care for your sick spouse. Everyone can add their own difficulties and suffering in life. Suffering that results from sacrificial love is the way we have been called to join the Lord in his Passion. The Christian journey gives meaning to our own deaths. We need to die well, in union with the one who is Lord of Life. Our funeral Masses are Masses of the Resurrection. We pray for union with the Lord in the eternal life of Easter.
Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to radically transform the world. He invites us to join Him on the journey during this Lent. May our Lent be for each of us a journey of discovery, the discovery of the Life of Christ. That is the valuable gift we so often ignore, the antique watch in the box we thought was just handkerchiefs.
From today’s second reading: “The word is near to us, on our lips and in our hearts.”