Before we know it, we will be reading the Passion of Jesus, recounting his death and then celebrating his resurrection at Easter. Just as Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem for the last time, making these events take place, he stopped at Lazarus’ house to ease the suffering of his friends, Martha and Mary, and to give hope to all of the apostles as their darkest time was approaching.
I have always loved fairy stories. I’m not talking about fairy tales like the Grimm brothers’ stories this time (although I do love them, too), but the old stories about the different kinds of fairies—like Brownies, Sprites, Will ‘o the Wisp, Jenny ‘o the Bog, etc. They are some crazy stories. One of my favorites is about what happens to people when they are put under a fairy spell—you could be walking through a forest, minding your own business and boom! You’ve stepped right in the middle of a fairy ring, and now you’re going to be stuck dancing until your boy gives out and you die. Or, you might be walking through a forest, minding your own business, and find yourself in the middle of a fairy celebration, and now the fairies will sit you down and make you think you’re enjoying a great feast, only to discover that you’re eating acorns, worms, tree bark, leaves and other awful stuff. The poor soul is eating forest garbage while thinking that they are having the meal of their life!
Two lessons can be learned from this: one is that forests are way more dangerous than people generally suppose, and the other is that fairies are nasty tricksters. Sure, they’re cute–Tinkerbell is the epitome of cuteness…but that’s part of fairy trickery! They give the appearance of sweet, innocent, helpless little things, but boy are they sneaky! In the old stories, the magic that the fairies use to make things appear other than as what they are is called, “glamour.” Glamour is a word we’re all familiar with—but we usually use it in relation to fashion. In fashion terms, glamour is all the fancy, sparkly clothes, hair and gobs of makeup that gunk them up to look fabulous. But, once the hair is washed, the makeup is off and the sweatpants are on, the people underneath are themselves again—flawed, blemished and sometimes pretty average-looking.
One of the promises that adults make at their Baptisms, parents and godparents make at their children’s Baptisms, and we all renew at Easter has traditionally (until the last translation came out) read thus; “Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin?,” to which we all respond, “I do.” The glamour of evil. That’s so perfect. Whether its fairies, fashion, or evil, glamour speaks of that which is misleading and misrepresenting. Temptation and the Devil present things not quite as they are. They take a truth and twist it; they take a good bit of creation, and offer it to us broken, corrupt and misused. But, if we refuse to be mastered by sin, we will look at things and see them exactly as they are. You won’t mistake twigs and acorns for a feast, and you won’t mistake something that doesn’t belong to you, or isn’t good for you as something that will fill you.
Throughout Lent, the Elect (adults who were Catechumens and are preparing to make their Baptismal Promises for the first time at the Easter Vigil) stare sin in the face, scrutinize it, see if for what it is and ask God to remove it from them. This coming Sunday is the final of three Scrutinies, when they ask God to take a look at their hearts with them and ask God to remove whatever doesn’t belong there–whatever was disguising itself as useful, but was really preventing them from living fully; maybe some resentment, or judgmental tendencies, or addiction, or envy…We can use the remainder of Lent as a training period for us too—we can use it to get really good at spotting sin, stripping the layers of glamour off until we see it for what it is, and letting God root it out of us. That way, when it’s time for us to renew our Baptismal Promises, we can do it with sincerity, conviction and gusto; knowing that we’re nobody’s fool, but children of the light who make clear, life-giving decisions with purpose and intention. The rest of this Lent, train like a Catechumen.
There are so many great themes in today’s readings: darkness and light, seeing with our hearts instead of our eyes, being blind to the truth that is right in front of our eyes, and God’s constant choice to take seemingly ordinary people and make them great.
Our culture is in somewhat of a crisis these days regarding our concept of what makes a man. And, I’m not talking about who can use which bathroom, or what an individual “identifies” as, but about what makes a man truly manly.
There was a campaign on Facebook a few years ago called “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” There are memes of celebrities (a lot of them men) making statements about treating women with dignity. There is a real, felt push-back against the way women are objectified—in the media, our president, in the horrors of human trafficking and prostitution, and in everyday lives like our own. Now, I will own that some of the progress the world has made in seeing women as human beings with intelligence, ability, dignity, grace and value are continually undermined by women offering themselves as objects for ogling and devaluing. But, still…it’s 2017 and the world apparently needs celebrities to us that we shouldn’t purchase other human beings.
Today is the Feast of St. Joseph. After reading today’s Gospel, I’m having a serious case of respect for this guy and his response to God’s call to protect the dignity of his bride and the safety of her son—not his son—hers. When he found out that the girl he was set to marry was already pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t his kid, he had every right to expose her to shame and even to the possibility of stoning. He could have ruined or even taken her life and the life of her child. But, he didn’t. He trusted that what he was told to him in a dream was true—that this was God’s doing and that he had been chosen to protect and care for these two. And he said “Yes.”
Who does that? People go on “reality” TV shows and publicly humiliate and destroy those that they claim to love and yet have no confidence in their ability to be faithful to them. It’s a freak show out there. And, while there was no TV in Jesus’ time, Joseph could have done the equivalent. But, he didn’t.
The model Joseph gives to men of gentleness, faithfulness, trust and responsibility is as much needed now as it was back then. He loved and honored Mary and Jesus. He worked hard to support her and Jesus as best he could (which did not bring them gobs of money or any real material comfort, but he didn’t just sit on his butt and do nothing because the pay scale was beneath him). And the sacrifices that he made for his family echoed out in our Salvation, as well as continuing to be an example for us today. Joseph should be held up by men and women alike: men for a model of how to live respect and uphold the dignity of others (specifically women and children) and women for how they should expect to be treated (not forgetting, of course, that we have our own model in Mary of devotion, gentleness, personal dignity and great love). You can have all the muscles, good looks and stuff in the world–and those things are not bad–but to be honorable, respectful, kind and dignified; that’s truly manly.
I’m just saying…if we looked to Joseph (as an average, run of the mill dude) for how to treat one another, maybe we wouldn’t need celebrities to tell us not to buy girls.
Today’s readings are full of thirsty people. God quenches their thirst in unexpected ways. Sometimes, we distract ourselves from what we’re really thirsty for by focusing on things we want that will never satisfy us. God always gives us what we really need.
I openly defy anyone who would dare call King Kong a monster—he is a good, kind, very large ape who has made it his life’s work to protect the people of his island. Naturally, he’s feared because he’s big—but anyone who would take the time to observe his behaviour would see immediately that he’s all about protecting the weak.
Do you ever feel like you’re not really sure what’s going on around you? Well, you’re in good company this week! Abram, Sarai, Peter, James and John are all in the same boat! The good news is that we don’t always need to know the whole story to play our part in it.
This is my debut guest appearance on the Geekdom House podcast, “All Who Wander” discussing the Lord of the Rings movies. It was fun!
Temptation is a part of daily life. While the devil means for it to be a stumbling block for us, it doesn’t have to be; and if we ask the right question when we feel it, it can actually bring us closer to God.
When I was a kid, starting on approximately the day after Christmas, my Dad would begin a daily countdown to Lent. He would get a bit excited. I always thought he did it to torture us. Why did we need to be thinking about it so long? Why the heck would he be so happy about it—Lent was miserable! Plus, you know we weren’t picking what we were going to give up until Ash Wednesday morning and then would try to change it later that day when it got too hard.
When I was in high school, our Diocese used to provide what was one of the most formative Church experiences throughout my whole, entire life—Service to the Suffering. Hundreds of high school kids would converge on the campus of St. Gabriel Parish throughout the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). We would gather for prayer in the morning and then be sent out to do charitable work—we’d go to Marlboro Institution to care for the buildings and grounds (every kid who went there has AMAZING stories), inner city Trenton to clean up back allies, a CYO camp to clean up, nursing homes to visit, and all kinds of other good work. After the work, we’d return to the gym and observe the Triduum liturgies as a community of young people. Liturgically correct? No. But, man if it didn’t mean something. It made an indelible mark on the hundreds of kids (some of them non-Catholics and some exchange students that we brought with us) who were present. We encountered Christ broken for our hurting world, and then encountered Christ made whole in the celebration of the Liturgy. It was powerful.
Even with my dad’s excitement about it, my experience of Service to the Suffering, nine years of Catholic elementary school, and six more years of Catholic higher education, it wasn’t until I was working with the RCIA (the adults who are in formation to become Catholic) that I really “got it.” I got why Dad was always looking forward to Lent (it wasn’t as sinister as I thought as a kid).
Lent is a forty day period originally designed to prepare those who would be baptized to train their ears to Christ’s voice, to echo it forward, and to allow Christ to root out of them whatever wasn’t worthy of a New Creation in Baptism. Forty is the allotted time for testing and preparation in the Bible–Noah’s Ark, Moses’s time before God called him, the people of Israel in the desert, Jesus in the desert… God really likes the desert apparently–probably because there are no distractions out there.
All Catholics renew our baptismal vows at Easter Mass, so Lent is preparation for us, too. We’re called into the “desert” to confront temptation, acknowledge the things that tempt us for what they truly are, and discern what it is that we really want. It’s a chance to walk through our hearts with Christ; to see what distracts us from actual happiness and let it be crucified on the Cross and drowned in the waters of Baptism so that we can rise with Christ, renewed. At the end of the forty days, we are ready for something big–to live differently and boldly after allowing God to refine us.
LENT IS AWESOME.
My boss and I begin singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” as Ash Wednesday approaches. The prayers, Scripture readings at Mass, and liturgies throughout Lent and the Triduum teach us more about who we are as a church than any other time of the year. They expose the heart of why Jesus came to earth, why we need God, and what our lives can be when we partner with God. If we allow it, Lent can be life-changing.
Fast, pray and give. Make a point to see suffering around you and do something about it. Make a point to spend a lot of quiet time with Christ—and listen. Give up something that you will miss and unite your discomfort with the people in our world who never have what you gave up for only forty days. Participate in the offerings of your parish; try Stations of the Cross, go to Bible Study, volunteer to help the poor, go to Confession, go to your diocese’s Chrism Mass and to your Triduum celebration. And pray for and welcome the Catechumens and Candidates who will become united with us in the Sacraments at the Vigil. Then, go ahead and try to tell me that it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. 😉