Sunday Scriptures

Ready, Set, Sprint!

by Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J. 

“WHETHER WE GAZE with longing into the garden or with fear and trembling into the desert, of this we can be sure – God walked there first!” – James Healy

With new ashes upon our heads and a mandate to “return to God with all our hearts,” we come to this Lent 2017. We pray God walks ahead and alongside us as we begin this journey of repentance and mercy.

Last December, I attended morning Mass at my motherhouse in Brentwood, L.I. In the homily, Father Brian likened Advent and Lent to “sprint” times in the Church’s year. I must admit that viewing Olympic races from an easy chair or relays and practices from a school bleacher are my only experiences of sprinting. I do walk more than I used to, but I don’t ever run, not even slowly!

The “sprint” image became meaningful again as I prepared for these reflections. Seeking to expand my “sprint” understanding, I spoke to Meagan, who is a track coach, and with one of my parish co-ministers, Father John, who runs very early in the morning. I have not begun running (I am sure I never will), but I did get the picture. A sprint is a shorter, faster run in which all energy systems and increased oxygen are combined and exercised to increase endurance, speed and strength necessary to reach a goal faster.

Journey From Temptation

Last Wednesday, our foreheads were marked for this Lenten “sprint” of 40 days. In it, we’re challenged to exercise all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our spirit and every fiber of our being as we journey with Jesus. The Church offers rich symbolism, vivid Scriptures, powerful practices and merciful hope to “oxygenate” and motivate our hearts, souls, minds, spirits and beings. We’re reminded by the ashen cross that the journey (the run, the race) is for all of us (“blow the trumpet, call an assembly, gather the people”) and that God is with us, constantly loving, forgiving, slow to anger and rich in kindness.

Today’s readings bring us to the garden where evil begins that cunning invitation to power, control, self-concerned desire and the blaming of the other for our own weakness or sin. It is from this place that we’re invited during this Lenten season to journey from temptation to transformation. This Sunday reminds us that the way and route must be through an honest look at our lives, and those drier deserts where we continue to face the tempter. The Gospel shows how the spirit of evil tells Jesus – and us – “You can have it all.”

Sin is a choice. In our lives and in our journeys, we will find those smaller or larger obstacles that could deter our spirits from the right choice and final goal. The more we choose sin, the more difficult it is to see and choose the grace (oxygenation) that enlivens our hearts, souls, minds and spirits. Jesus chose God.

In church today we are given another vivid image. Through the RCIA, men and women throughout the world are being “chosen” for initiation and full communion. These brothers and sisters have chosen – and have been chosen – to turn their lives to God. You and I are called and chosen, over and over, to return our lives to God. Jesus, God’s Own and Chosen One, shows us the path, the route, the stamina, the resistance needed to follow the mission.

A Personal Transformation

We are invited to enter into this Paschal Mystery with Him. Lent recalls salvation history and encourages a personal response and participation in bringing that history and Mystery forward. The grace (oxygenation and life force) that makes any such choice possible is that we are never alone. Our God – Who was there in the garden, Who continually reminded our ancestors in the faith, Who was there in the desert with Jesus – is with us always.

Sadly, the world today bears much resemblance to the world of our ancestors. We see and hear terror, war, violence, hunger for food and hunger for power, exclusion, oppression and negative “isms” of every kind. Our call is to choose with every fiber of our being to change that. It’s a scary and difficult call. We trust that God – Who assumed our nature, became like us and knows our fears and desires – is with us always, moves with us and is “the wind beneath our wings.”

Happy sprinting!

“… And when we who have sinned and despoiled the garden are challenged now to face the desert, we do not face it alone; Jesus has gone there before us to struggle with every demon that has ever plagued a human heart. Face the desert we must if we would reach the garden, but Jesus has gone there before us.” – James Healy

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7

Psalm 51: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17

Romans 5: 12-19 or

Romans 5: 12, 17-19

            Matthew 4: 1-11

Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.