SUNDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2016
Jesus was tempted in every way, just like us but did not sin (Heb 4: 15)
Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher who had a lasting influence on St Thomas Aquinas often said: “An unreflected life is not worth living”. This, I believe is very true for modern men and women in our cities and towns. We live in an age where we are so busy working hard to achieve our noble dreams. We are driven by success, we brand and promote ourselves so that we can rise to fame and become icons and celebrities, in our own right. There is tremendous speed in our life and we find ourselves racing after the latest trends of technology, fashions and modern gadgets which gives us a feeling of being in control of our lives. We can be so obsessed with an insatiable desire for fame, power and success that we don’t have quality time for introspection so that we can become aware of what is happening deep down inside our minds, hearts and spiritual life.
Lent is therefore, “the favourable time of grace and salvation” (2Cor 6:1) We are challenged to stop, look into our lives with eyes of faith, discern properly our values, set our priorities right and make radical choices and decisions that are in harmony with our Christian faith and deepen our relationship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters.
On this first Sunday of Lent we are invited to ponder upon the example of Jesus, our Merciful High Priest who “was tempted in every way, just like us, but did not sin” (Heb 4:5). The Gospel of St Luke pays great attention to the role of the Holy Spirit in the conception, birth, baptism, vocation, mission and the whole life of Jesus; and the role of the Holy Spirit in the community of believers, the Church. Everything is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit – ‘the Lord and the Giver of Life’. Jesus who is “filled with the Holy Spirit” makes a pilgrimage to the desert to unite himself more intensely with God his Father, in preparation for his public ministry. It is from this deep spiritual experience of prayer, fasting, reflection, discernment and temptation that Jesus will emerge with a clear mission and vision statement inspired by the Prophet Isaiah which was to encapsulate and define his whole life on earth: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4: 18 – 19).
Fr. Flor McCarthy says that this was a watershed moment in the life of Jesus and the whole Church – and that is why we relive it every Liturgical year as a form of preparation for Holy week and Easter when we celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. From this spiritual experience Jesus grew to love solitude and made a habit of seeking it at difficult moments in his life. When people and events threatened to overwhelm him, he would go off to a lonely place to recuperate, recover and rededicate himself to the Father. He always hungered for God, whose ‘food and drink’ it was ‘to do always the will of the Father who sent him’ (Jn 4:34).
We too need a lonely place for prayer, reflection and discernment. Often we live foolishly on the level of our emotions, driven on by disordered desires and imprisoned by selfish habits. We are surrounded by noise and constant hyperactivity. We get our priorities wrong. We are afraid of silence and solitude. We don’t want to “be still and know God”. And we wonder why we aren’t happy, why we don’t find it easy to get on well with others, and why we can’t pray.
We need solitude, that is, ‘to be alone with God’. In solitude we begin to stand on our own feet before God and the world, and accept full responsibility for our own lives. In solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our selfish desires, our anger, and our need for recognition and approval. We also encounter our ‘true self’, like the prodigal son we ‘come to our senses’.
We don’t go into the wilderness to escape from others, but to find them in God. Thomas Merton shares with us from his personal experience that: “Only in solitude and silence can I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my fellow brothers and sisters”.
I wish all of you a fulfilling and fruitful celebration of Lent which will culminate in the profound experience of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
+Bishop Vincent Mduduzi Zungu OFM
Diocese of Port Elizabeth