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Be Faithful to Love
A reflection for the second week of Lent
Lent is closely associated with Jesus’ temptations in the desert. In Luke’s gospel they are sandwiched between his baptism and his homecoming. The temptations carry a message for all who know they are loved by others and by God. At his baptism, Jesus hears the word from the sky that he is loved by God. Immediately, the Spirit drives him into the desert to encounter Satan with his false interpretations of what being loved means.
Satan suggests to Jesus being loved translates into having his physical needs met at all times. Jesus should turn rocks into bread. But Jesus refuses that implication.
Satan suggest to Jesus being loved translates into power and prestige in society. If Jesus worships Satan, he will be given the power and glory of the world. But Jesus refuses that implication.
Satan suggests to Jesus being loved translates into being safe no matter what. Jesus should jump down from the top of the temple. But Jesus refuses that implication.
The temptations of being loved is to think we will be always full, always powerful, and always safe. It is no easy task to let go of these assumptions. But then what does being loved mean?
The Spirit who drove Jesus into the desert now drives him toward his hometown. In the synagogue, he reads the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.” Being faithful to love we have received means loving others.
Be Salt and Light
A reflection for the first week of Lent
High potential and high danger. This double dynamic is how Jesus sees people in the Lenten Gospel that is part of the Sermon on the Mount. The people are described as “crowds.” They are ordinary people from the fields and streets, struggling to survive, hoping to flourish.
Jesus addresses them, 'You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people's feet.” (Mt. 5:13)
The high potential is people are “salt,” the power to preserve and flavor their situations. The high danger is this potential will never be realized. Instead, this goodness will be lost and become “good for nothing,” not positively influencing people but being trampled underfoot.
But Jesus is not done. He develops and deepens this truth about people.
“'You are light for the world. ... No one lights a lamp to put it under a bushel basket; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 14-16)
The people are not only salt for the world. They are light for the world, but this light must shine. When it does, other people will see these good works. More than that. They will recognize these good works are grounded in the goodness of God. The deep identity of the crowds is they mediate God’s goodness into the world. Bushel-baskets are to be avoided: lamp stands are to be provided.
Be True to Who We Are
A reflection for Ash Wednesday
Years ago, I visited my parents in Florida on Ash Wednesday. We went to Church to receive ashes. Afterward, my mother, unable to resist being close to a shopping mall, insisted we stop.
Inside, we passed a gaggle of teenagers. They watched us go by. “Hey,” shouted one, “the Catholics are giving out ashes. Let’s go.” Our foreheads had unsuspectedly become an ecumenical and inter-faith invitation.
Receiving ashes is a Catholic tradition that begins the Lenten season. But it has a universal appeal, tapping into something right beneath the surface of every human life.
“Remember, Human Being, you are dust
and unto dust you shall return.”
Ashes invite us to take stock of our lives in the light of the fact we are mortal. Although we may not want to look at the terrifying certainty of our own death, we do often need to check in with ourselves, to make sure we are on the right path. We can fall into ways of thinking and acting that we are not quite satisfied with. No one is exempt from drift. “A little scrutiny,” the saying goes, ‘is good for the soul.”
In popular culture, this type of reflection coincides with “bucket lists.” “What are the things we want to do before we die?” But in spiritual traditions, the question is deeper. “What do we need to do to be true to who we are?”
On the personal level, this question may bring us into gratitude and love. Who do we need to say “thank you” to? Who do we need to say “I love you” to?
On the social level, we may find ourselves asking, “What struggles should we be concerned with and active about?” “What commitments do we need to re-connect with?”
Catholic Extension is honored to publish this series of reflections from renowned author, theologian, and storyteller Jack Shea.
He is a consultant to dioceses, parishes, and faith-based organizations and former director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Mundelein Seminary.