Anyone who says that s/he was not surprised by the resignation of Pope Benedict needs to buy a lottery ticket — because they have keen insight and a gift of knowledge not shared by many people! Even in the midst of Mardi Gras, most of us connected with Church found the time to ask the question: what do you think? Next came the question, “who did you think will take his place?”
While such discussions are interesting — it should not be the focus of our personal journey during the Lenten Season. Like the image I used last week, such discussion will be like sitting in a rocking chair — it will give us something to do, but won’t get us anywhere. After such discussion, we will still be in the same place.
These weeks of Lent will lead to the election of a new Pope — or so it is said. But most important for you and me is the question …. will it lead to a new me? to a new us?
Here is an image: a popular advertising tool is to use pictures of “Before” and “After”. There are the pictures of men and women … quite overweight … and then AFTER following this diet plan or using this product …. there are the AFTER PICTURES …. in a swimsuit …. the new man, the new woman. Or, we see a BEFORE picture of a mouth with crooked, gray teeth ….. AND THEN AFTER seeing this particular dentist, teeth are straight and pearly white. More and more popular are the before and after pictures of men [and some women] who have used a certain hair restoration product or treatment …. and how different [and more glamorous] they are AFTER.
If we were to take a picture of our heart — our lives — today …. and then use that picture as the BEFORE PICTURE …. I wonder how different the picture will look six weeks from now when we celebrate Easter. Hmmm …. will Lent make any difference …. or will a snapshot of our hearts and minds …. our selves …. be the same six weeks from now?
Let’s look at each of the scripture readings this weekend to help focus the picture of ourselves … as we are now …. the before.
Deuteronomy – 26:4-10 – What have you/we brought as a gift to God today? Are we ready to bow down in the presence of God and offer a gift to the one who has rescued us so many times in the past? The basic issue here is: do we see ourselves as really NEEDING God? Moses was reminding the people that it was God who had rescued them in the past and brought them to where they now are. It is so easy for us to think, to believe, that we are where we are because our hard work alone. It would be so false for us to think that what we have has come to us because we deserve it. Everything is gift from God. God has rescued us and brought us here. Without the grace of God, even our hard work, the support of our friends, the good fortune we enjoy — would not be enough. So, let’s measure our gratitude and let us grow in gratitude.
Romans 10: 8-13 – does the faith we profess with our lips show up in our hearts? is our faith, “skin deep?” If we really believe, we have no one and nothing to fear. Confidence is different from cockiness. Confidence is a sense of hope … because of our faith, we need not fear being shamed or belittled by anyone. Our faith makes us strong. And then, if the faith we profess aloud resides in the quiet of our hearts, we see the connection that we share with all people of faith …. one Lord who is Lord of all … Jew, Greek, Catholic, Protestant, American, European, Asian, Hispanic. True faith unites — true faith does not divide. Let us measure the faith on our lips — the faith that brings us to this place …. and the faith that God really sees at home, work, and at play;
Luke 4: 1-13 – Jesus knew that everything he needed, came from God the Father. Jesus knew that no one or no thing could satisfy him — like serving the Father. So, while tempted, he did not give in. Jesus saw the illusion, the flashiness of what the evil one had to offer. He could reject the temptation, because his focus was on God … and not on what the devil laid before him. This is a two-pronged issue: the place God has in our heart and the temptations we face. Is someone or some-thing the focus of our passion? is someone or something THAT for which we live — or is it to serve God above all else?
The scripture reminds us that the devil departed from Jesus for a time — in other words, the tempter returned. We all deal with the tempter … and we all deal with temptations. The question: do we control the temptations or do the temptations control us?
I do wonder what difference the next Pope might make — even more than who the next Pope might be. No doubt, somethings will remain much the same. Yet, history tells us that no two Popes are just alike. Each puts his stamp literally and figuratively on the Church. The Church of today — the BEFORE SNAPSHOT …. will look a little different [or a lot different] than the picture that will be taken a year for now.
For us: let us take a picture of ourselves today …. and compare it to a picture that will be taken on Easter ….. the same? or different?
Do we believe that we … regardless of our age … can change? or are we RESIGNED to believing I am as I am …. and as I will always be?
1. Do I come with a grateful heart? Do I live with a sense that everything I have is gift and I have nothing apart from the blessing of God?
2. How far does my faith reach inside of me? Does my faith unite me with others … or is my faith “my precious faith?”
3. Are we facing temptations with our mind focused on God, 7 days a week …. or do the temptations occupy my thoughts and heart most of the time.
Take the picture.