3rd Sunday of Lent
Holy Family Parish, Davidsonville
Mar. 24, 2019
It is a pleasure to return to Holy Family Parish to offer this Lenten Sunday Mass. This morning, I would like to join you in expressing our common gratitude for the leadership and service of your good pastor, Father Andy Aaron. So too, I want to thank all of you for your leadership, kindness, and patience in this challenging time in the life of the Church. Some have described these months as “the Church’s long Lent”, and that description will be a fair one if this time of reckoning leads to a profound purification of the Church and its leadership. Only in this way will the Church proclaim with new life and vigor the Name of Christ, both here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and even to the ends of the earth.
The Church’s protracted Lenten journey coincides with our personal and parish journey through these forty penitential days that precede the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. We are guided in that journey by the light of God’s Word which today warns us against the twin dangers of idolatry and complacency. I realize these warnings do not constitute particularly cheerful topics but let us accept and heed these warnings as expressions of God’s merciful love.
The Temptation to Idolatry
So first, a moment’s reflection on the temptation to idolatry. I don’t imagine that many of you have on your mantle a golden calf to which you bow down morning, noon, and night. Today, temptations to idolatry are more subtle if no less real than in the days of yore. Idolatry happens when something else takes the place of God in our lives and absorbs all our attention and our affection, be it money, pleasure, or power.
This is why the story of Moses and the burning bush is important to our Lenten journey. Moses’ encounter with the living God, the God named “I AM” – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, impresses upon us the truth that there really is only one true and living God who is worthy of all our love. And just as through the leadership of Moses God delivered his people from the slavery of Egypt, so too we are reminded that only God can deliver us from our sins and, ultimately, from the many things that beset us in our busy, complicated lives.
Idolatry in Corinth
Reading between the lines of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we learn that the Apostle encountered a form of idolatry in his flock at Corinth. It wasn’t that those early Christians went down to the temple to worship Zeus and his companions; but they did take part in meals that entailed the worship of idols. The Christian Corinthians did this because they didn’t want to offend their neighbors or to suffer ridicule and even persecution for their newfound Christian religion. Worse still, those idolatrous meals had even begun to contaminate the celebration of the Eucharist, which in those days, was done in their homes.
Just as Moses had warned the Israelites against all forms of idolatry, so too St. Paul challenges the Christians at Corinth to stop engaging in this “soft” idolatry and he does so in terms that evoke both Baptism and the Eucharist. Passing through the Red Sea stands for Baptism; manna in the desert for the Eucharist, and water from the Christ, the Rock, connotes the Holy Spirit. Using sacramental language, St. Paul emphasizes for the Corinthians that God really did accompany the Israelites in their journey through the desert; but many of them ended up grumbling against God and worshipping other gods. He warns the Corinthians lest they end up in the same way.
Those warnings apply to us as well. Although, as a rule, we are not invited to dinner parties where idolatry is explicitly practiced or condoned, we may find ourselves in many social situations in which religious faith in general and our Catholic faith in particular are in the crosshairs. Not unlike the Corinthians, we may be unwilling to risk giving offence to others by respectfully and patiently bearing witness to the hope that is ours in Christ, just as the Apostle St. Peter urges us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). But when, in such situations, we instead we fall silent or dissimulate, we risk partaking in the godlessness that surrounds us and thus we also risk contaminating ourselves and our worship.
Lent is a time to ask ourselves this question: if anyone or anything that is near and dear to us were up for grabs in a discussion or a social setting among our peers, would we be content to practice a silence that seemingly gives consent? Would we not want to speak lovingly and compellingly about a person or a value that is important to us? Is the God who appeared to Moses and his Son who came as our Savior and our membership in the Body of Christ truly nearest and dearest to us?
The Temptation to Complacency
If the idolatry to which we may be tempted is of the soft and subtle variety, so too the temptation to complacency is also soft and subtle. By complacency I mean an almost unreflective sense that because God is loving there is no urgency about our faith, and no urgency about the need for repentance and renewal in our lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus aims to shake us out of our complacency, and he does so by reflecting on stories of contemporaries who died suddenly and tragically. In Jesus’ day it was commonplace to think that people who ended in this way were more sinful than others but Jesus rejects that interpretation. What he does teach his audience (and us) is that our hold on life is fragile. There’s not a moment to lose; now is the time for you and me to address those areas of our lives that are as yet unredeemed, especially through the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Jesus makes the same point in his parable of the fig tree. Unlike the burning bush that was alive with the Presence of God, the fig tree – which looked perfectly healthy – was in fact devoid of any fruit. After three barren years, the landowner wanted to cut down the tree, but his gardener counseled patience and promised to fertilize in the hope that the tree would bear good fruit in the future. If it still failed to bear good fruit, the tree would be indeed cut down and burnt. The moral is this: God is good and patient and loving – he never gives up on us – but that does not mean that our opportunities for repentance are endless. Our span of years is short, time passes quickly, and like that tree, we have a limited window in which to bear the good fruit of holiness, charity, virtue, and evangelization.
Lent is that time for our faith in God to come alive; it’s a time when we sense anew the urgency of our faith; a time when our faith must bear the good fruit of holiness. May the only true and living God and his Son Jesus Christ, guide us in the Spirit through the penances of Lent to the joys of Easter. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!