One of the defining characteristics of the American culture is that we admire strong individuals. We have a certain fascination with going it alone, standing up against tyranny, making it against all odds. This tendency has served us well as a nation in many respects, but it has also served us very poorly. With each passing generation we seem to grow more and more distant. As a result we as Americans seem to have little in common. There are marked culture differences between North and South, the Midwest and the Northeast, the Southwest and New England.
As a nation of immigrants we have little shared history. Most of us do not have any familial connection to either the American Revolution or the American Civil War. Even the percentage of the population has no real connection to World War II!
To a great extent, we aren’t vested in our own history. This enables us to dismiss our history and the characters who shaped our national identity. That trend is, of course, problematic for many reasons.
On this First Sunday of Lent, we open with the final instruction of Moses to the people of Israel in the desert before he ascended to Mount Nebo. In this sermon, Moses reminded the Israelites of their common history, their shared experiences, and admonished them to celebrate an annual ritual whereupon they would recite their national collective memory of their time slavery and all that God did to bring them to freedom in the land of promise.
Lent is our time to remember as a Christian people our own freedom from enslavement to sin. We are challenged to take a meaningful stock of our lives, our relationship to God and, in a particular way, our relationship to the People of God, and to restore the imbalance that afflicts us.
In a very real way it is this call to reflection and reconciliation that poignantly highlights how we are in conflict with the prevailing American value of individualism.
Our entire liturgical and sacramental life is one of celebrating the shared memory. Each ritual, each prayer reminds us of the great and mighty works of God in accomplishing our creation and our salvation. The prayers of the Church connect us to one another: past – present – future, so that we might more fully recognize our place within the Kingdom of God and the Communion of the Saints.
While there are all-stars among us – we call them saints – we are not in this alone. Ours is not a faith of God and me, but a communal faith. We worship together as a community, not as individuals on our own, or sitting at a monitor watching a broadcast.
It is also important to note in this ritual outline from Deuteronomy the similarities to the Prayer Over the Gifts in our Liturgy: “Therefore, I have now brought you the first fruits of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me;” “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”
The acknowledgement that all we are and have comes from God and returns to him, is the first sign of true humility and the foundation of all growth in faith. May our Lenten journey begin there and lead us to a deeper relationship both with Christ and with the Church.
Feb. 21 – We walk with Christ in the silent encounter
Having encountered the transfigured Christ atop the mountain, St. Luke makes the following observation: “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.”
This is a profound and beautifully simple observation of a significant reality. In response to the magnificence and majesty of the Transfiguration the disciples Peter, James, and John, needed time for silence.
All too often the response of people to an encounter with God or an important religious experience is that the individual involved is quick to speak, and certainly, quick to draw attention to him or herself.
Such a reaction, though a part of human nature, should always give us pause. When we hear of the reluctance of St. Juan Diego or of St. Bernadette Soubirous in speaking about their encounters with the Blessed Virgin, or indeed of many other great mystics and visionaries, then those who are want to speak so openly and publicly raise suspicion for sure.
In our own spiritual lives we all are aware that we need time and silence to more deeply apprehend our encounters with Christ. The Scriptures, for example, deliver such profound messages that it can take a great deal of effort to grapple with the meaning of the text. This is why the practice of lectio divina is so important. Saint Ignatius of Loyola designed and mandated a thirty day silent retreat built around his spiritual exercises for all the members of the Society of Jesus. It is an important and necessary encounter with God.
Each of us is called to silence in the face of the experience of God. We need time. In our busy and cacophonous lives to find such times for silence can be very challenging if not downright impossible. Yet, these disciples managed to not even discuss their encounter even with the others, until after the Resurrection of Jesus.
On one hand we would think that such an awesome experience would have had them chattering about like school boys, they instead keep silence. This is a similar to what St. Luke tells us of the Mother of Jesus as she, too, ponders her encounters with Gabriel, Simeon, and Anna in the silence of her heart.
As we reflect on this Lenten Season and the journey that still lie ahead of us, it is important that we consider silence as a great way to listen more carefully to the call of God in our lives. This is a good time to turn off the radio, television, and social media and to take the time to listen to the Word of God as it presses upon our minds and hearts.
The initial reaction of Peter – the nervous and seemingly inane suggestion to build three tens atop the mountain – gave way to the silence.
We are all on a journey where our relationship with God is in flux – it grows deeper (we hope) with each passing Lenten Season.
The question, then, is what is the call of this Lent in your life? How are you challenged through your encounter with the transfigured Christ to a deeper sense of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s movement in your own life?
Like the disciples, we cannot stay atop the mountain forever. We all need to live and work in a world that does not want to hear and fails to understand what we experience, know and love. It is through deep reflection and in the silence of our hearts that the Lord can make himself know to us. We just need the time and commitment to walk down the mountain (and back up again) in solitude and silence.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish and School, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]