Sunday Scriptures

Returning to God

By Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J.

“Come back with all your heart, leave the past in ashes, turn to God with tears and fasting, God is slow to anger – ready to forgive.” — Joel 12:13

These words challenged and comforted us on Ash Wednesday as our Lent began. Last week, we recalled that our ancestors in the faith, and we, were and are called to acknowledge the “comfort zones, weakness and sin, traps and nets” that entangle and choke our lives and our spirits. Today, we recall moments of amazing grace as people chosen, called and invited to “Come back … to return to God with all your heart.”

With Jesus as companion we’ve embarked on another 40 days’ journey through the wilderness of our own humanity. Will this be a time of healing, mercy and transformation? Will God’s everlasting covenant be manifested in us? Will we be closer to professing a total faith and covenant with our God?

Better Witnesses

Today’s Scriptures leave these questions for us not as a test for which we will be graded but as a possible response with which we’ll become better witnesses in the remaining days our lives. The three readings this weekend offer us strong professions of faith, which may point to a place asking for a strong response from us.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Israelite people, “… declare before God that your cry has been heard … that your affliction, toil and oppression have been seen … and that God’s strong hand and outstretched arm has brought you into a safe land … flowing with milk and honey… bow down in God’s presence.”

This reading is the oldest account of a “credo” (profession of faith) of ancient Israel and its profession is a primary action of their covenant with God.

Profession of Faith

Paul addresses the Romans, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord … believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead … you will be saved … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This was the profession of faith that every neophyte (beginner) to Christianity would embrace. It is the profession from which flows the Church’s creed, “credo.”

The Gospels of Jesus’ temptation in the desert are told to us on every first Sunday of Lent. Each evangelist follows the Baptism of Jesus with God’s statements of “Beloved, Chosen, Favored,” and Jesus’ movement into the wild. Luke, however, precedes the movement into the desert wilderness with a listing of Jesus’ ancestry. This long list begins with Joseph and with a glance backwards ends with Adam.

Luke reminds us here that although Jesus is indeed the Son of God, His mission as Messiah unfolds within the human sphere. We followers are again challenged and comforted to view the temptations of Jesus through the lens of every human person’s most basic struggle with evil: “My sin is always before me.”

“Jesus’ mission marks humanity’s complete victory over evil. Adam had fallen short of that victory … Jesus rose to its challenge … accepted the limitations of created humanity … manifested the ideal of divine Sonship… and the victory over evil was effected in His acceptance of creaturely limitations,” as has been noted by Father Eugene A La Verdiere, S.S.S.

We know these limitations so well in our need to continually “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.”

Pope Francis reminds us: “The Paschal Mystery – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – the gate (doorway) between humanity and God, between heaven and earth is open for all” and that we, “the Church need to be like the hand holding it open for others.”

Our Holy Father becomes a brother in the journey as he openly shares with us the story of his own struggles and weaknesses in the face of sin and evil. His personal transformation and his visible response to God’s love and compassion has given us, our Church and the world another door of mercy.

Today we hold that door open in a very special way. Candidates and Catechumens in our diocese will, this Sunday, express their calls to conversion and their desires to profess and live the Catholic faith. Rites of Election and Sending mark a more intense preparation in Lent as they move toward the reception of the sacraments at Easter.

Call to Transformation

“Election” is God’s loving, compassionate, gratuitous and unmerited love. It’s a call to an intimate relationship with God and all God’s creation. It is a call to transformation and imitation of God and of Jesus, chosen above all others as God’s elect. The Gospel shows us this discipleship – one with dangers, temptations, self-emptying service and an ultimate cross.

Will we walk this journey with God, with each other and with God’s newly elect? Let us pray for each other. May each of us come back with all our hearts.

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent

Deuteronomy 26: 4-10
Psalm 91: 1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13

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.

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