(From Wereldburger758, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
Lent is a time for me to improve myself, right?
That will be a by-product of what I do, but — no. Lent isn't about me.
It's like the rest of the annual cycle of Advent, Lent, Easter: we're reviewing and, in a sense, re-living what our Lord did, two millennia back now. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1095)
Lent is when we join Jesus in the desert. Sort of. (Catechism, 540)
I live in central Minnesota, where the nearest dunes I know of are the Uncas Dunes, a Minnesota Scientific & Natural Area a bit over an hour east of my town.
Folks going to the Uncas Dunes see oak savanna and forest, and wetlands: or go boating on Ann Lake. Minnesota isn't a particularly dry state, even in drought years.
The South Dakota Badlands look like a desert, but I'd have to keep going until I reached the Great Basin between California and Wyoming to find a desert.
Happily, I can work at joining our Lord in the desert right here in central Minnesota.
Again, Lent isn't about self-improvement, a road trip to arid land, or not eating meat. About that last item, ordering Lobster Thermidor instead of beef bourguignon misses the whole point of penitential fasting.
Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving — the three vital forms of interior penance — are ways we fix our relationships with others, God, and ourselves. (Catechism, 1434)
Almsgiving is a good idea. It gives a measure of relief to folks who need the money, and helps the giver remember that this world is God's gift to everyone, not just whoever has the most stuff. (Genesis 1:27-31; Catechism, 2211)
I've talked about the universal destination of goods, Trappists, and getting a grip, before. (February 5, 2016; August 30, 2015; May 3, 2015)
It's also an opportunity to see our Lord in others:
"...Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to 'train ourselves' spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: 'I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk'...." (Acts 3: 6)After Peter helped the crippled beggar stand up, he was "walking and jumping and praising God:" the beggar, that is. (Acts 3:7-8)
(Benedict XVI (October 30, 2007)1)
That does not mean that medical procedures are bad, or that Christians should shun anything invented since some arbitrary date.
Like I keep saying, science and technology are tools, not transgressions. God gave us brains, and expects us to use them. (Catechism, 1730-1742, 1778, 2292-2296, 2402-2405, 2456)
Ethics apply, no matter what sort of tech we use, or how curious we are, and that's another topic. (September 25, 2015; January 23, 2015)
So does motivation. Giving to some charitable outfit may be almsgiving — or a prestige-building photo op. I'm not sure where filling out the 'charitable giving' part of tax forms falls on that continuum.
"1 "(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
"When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites 2 do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."
(From Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, via the Google Cultural Institute and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi's "Christ in the Wilderness." (1872))
That brings me to today's Gospel reading, and the verse we read before that, Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:1-13. That's the bit where our Lord says "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.' " (Luke 4:4)
I checked, and "it is written" in Deuteronomy 8:2-3, where that forty-year desert detour gets presented as a learning experience:
"...to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD."Quoting Deuteronomy was our Lord's response to a three-part temptation: hunger, worldly power and prestige, and tempting God. The latter is "putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed," and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2119)
It isn't the sort of testing mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 and that's yet another topic. (Catechism, 801)
Getting back to that desert encounter, our Lord countered the temptations — not with abstract principles, moral strength, or a code of ethics.
Jesus repeats what God said, in Deuteronomy 6:13, 6:16, and 8:3. Jesus loved his Father too much to let anything interfere with that relationship. That's a contrast to the disastrous choice the first of us made, making something other than God top priority. (Catechism, 538-540)
For two millennia, we've been passing along the best news humanity ever had — God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:12-14, 3:17; Romans 8:14-17; Peter 1:3-4; Catechism, 27-30, 52, 1825, 1996)
Accepting the invitation is up to each of us, of course. We have free will. (Catechism, 1021-1037)
I decided that following our Lord makes sense a long time before learning who currently holds the authority Peter received, and that's yet again another topic. (September 13, 2014; June 30, 2013)
As an adopted child of God, acting like part of the family makes sense. (November 22, 2015)
That does not mean "How to live like a King's Kid" is on my devotional reading list. I've mentioned syncretic beliefs before. (March 15, 2015; January 11, 2015)
God's 'family values' are pretty simple: I should love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37)
"Simple" isn't necessarily "easy," and I've been over that before. (July 12, 2015; October 12, 2014; September 13, 2014)
I put a short link list of resources at the end of this post.1
There's more to say, but it's late Saturday night as I write this. I'll wrap up this post with this:
"1 2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.More, mostly my take on love:
"He was in the beginning with God.
"3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
"through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
"4 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
- "Evil is Not Good"
(December 6, 2015)
- "Truth and the Big Picture"
(November 22, 2015)
- "Life, Death, and Love"
(November 1, 2015)
- "New Evangelization: Fire and Light"
(October 25, 2015)
- "Mutant Malaria, Designer Babies, and Ethics"
(January 23, 2015)
1 More about taking love seriously:
- "Lent 2015: Make your hearts firm (James 5,8)"
Pope Francis (October 4, 2014)
- "Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2008"
Benedict XVI (October 30, 2007)
- "Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2006"
Benedict XVI (September 29, 2005)
- "Populorum Progressio"
Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Development of Peoples
Blessed Paul VI (March 26, 1967)