When eaten, food becomes us. Once external and on a table or in a garden or on a grocery shelf, food is internalized as nutrients. At the Last Supper Jesus gave to his apostles his very self, and this continues in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. How profoundly self-giving is the life-sharing that Jesus intends. And because this happens for every person receiving the Eucharist, the Body of Christ is intimately joined to the body of each person. Beatrice Bruteau writes in The Easter Mysteries: “And since his Body is the most vital and the most vitalizing—the most life-giving—element in any of us, all of us together constitute a kind of extension of his Body. And that enlarged Body acts as any living body does: it grows and unifies and develops; it supports diversity within itself by being secure in its unity. . . .” As His Body, we too must become food for others to eat. We need to feed one another through self-giving.
Jesus said that by their fruits we can know them. We know God by what God does. And what does God do? In Jesus we see God giving food and life and healing and forgiveness. We see the God-Man taking on the sins of the world, actually becoming sin. Could there have been any greater vulnerability? Jesus suffered and died for us. He subjected himself to the whims of evil men and the rejection of religious leaders—but in his powerlessness was power. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The totally vulnerable one is the present ruling Lord.”
Jesus brings life in a world of death. That’s resurrection foreshadowed in the stories of the raising of Lazarus, the young man, and the little girl. In equally dramatic ways Jesus was the life-bringer as he told the story of the Prodigal Son, fed the 5000, and talked to the woman at the well. All his actions were life-giving. Such was his mission as he came to let the blind see and the lame walk.
How am I a bearer of life? By my fruits I shall be known.
In Lent we read John 5 when Jesus speaks about testifying to the truth. Jesus praises John the Baptist for his testimony, but says that his own testimony is “greater than John’s.” Jesus claims that his works testify on his behalf. And, above all, God the Father testifies on his Son’s behalf. The context is the disbelief of the Jewish people who believed Moses, but did not believe what Moses wrote about Jesus. Jesus asks, perhaps with some exasperation, “But if you do not believe his (Moses’) writings, how will you believe my words?”
Some read the Bible as absolute historical or scientific fact and misuse Biblical quotations to prove points, but the Bible is not an answer book. The pages do not collect right doctrine which needs to be believed verbatim regardless of historical context or unfamiliar language. The Bible is proclamation, kerygma. It stands alone without need of any other frame of reference. It’s the book of God’s love for God’s People. It’s the message that from death comes life, because of Jesus who came to bring life in abundance. Jesus said: “You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.”
What doe God do for a living? Well, God is always on mission. How do I know? When we see the Son, we know the Father. After spending about 30 years in obscurity, Jesus is in the synagogue when his friends and neighbors ask him to read. This was his moment. He found the place in Isaiah that describes his identity and tests his mission. His mission was to “bring glad tidings to the poor,” “to proclaim liberty,” “give sight,” and “let the oppressed go free.” Imagine the moment. All eyes are on Jesus. Perhaps he takes a deep breath, quickly checks in with his Father, and declares, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Wow! What a mission! It turns society upside down, for the poor become rich, the confined go free, and sightless see. Did the assembly in the synagogue catch the reality? Did they begin to think “This is salvation. This is God’s Word coming to fulfillment”? At the center of Jesus’ preaching and ministry is the coming of the reign of God—today. What an impact! We live in God today. We live in the Kingdom today. We don’t have to wait for death and heaven. God’s timing is like a basketball game. If your team is 20 points ahead, and there are 10 seconds to play, you just wait for the clock to run out. You know the victory, and it’s ours! We’ve got salvation now. We live in God’s forgiveness and love now. We’ve got it all, because we have God today.
So get out there on mission! Do the work of God today!
Throughout Scripture God habitually claims “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Yes, God has chosen his people of old, and he chooses us now. God promises to be just (sedegah), faithful (amunah) and kind (hesed). And God lets us hold him to his part of the bargain! We’re held to our part of the bargain, too. We have been covenanted in baptism, and we have our own personal vocation signed with our God-name, which we will know some day when we receive our white stone (Rv. 2:17). We have the responsibility to keep our baptismal vows. We have a duty to live our personal vocation. We can even expect that God will treat us as peculiarly God’s own. And God can expect us to treat Him according to the sacred image that we hold of the Godhead. God knows our innermost being, our dreams, our neuroses, our masks, our grace and gifts. It is comforting to be so well known. God knows what our inner perfection must be and guides us toward that goal, where our perfection and God’s perfection converge, where God’s name and my name meet in one hyphenated word.
Reader, don’t think I’m fixated on bingo. The only time bingo entered my brain cells occurred a few weeks ago when our parish had Brown Bag Bingo after the Saturday evening Mass. (Just so you know, our parish does not endorse bingo. This was just a fun night without money involved and candy prizes.)
So what’s a bingo mind? It’s a mind in which thoughts bounce around like bingo call numbers in their cage. Random. Never knowing what will pop up. Proud thoughts, humble thoughts, angry thoughts, sad thoughts, spiritual thoughts. Thoughts that make me smile or grit my teeth or make me shed a tear. Brilliant creative ideas jump around with the ho-hum ones.
Centuries ago Marcus Antoninus said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” Centuries after Marcus Antoninus, Ingrid Bergman claimed, “Happiness lies in good health and a bad memory.” Scientists have proven these things to be very true. Happy thoughts affect our heart rate positively and give us over-all better well-being. Rhonda Byrne in her book The Magic claims positive thoughts attract the positive things and events we desire. Apparently I should make sure my thoughts are of a high, happy quality.
In his book The Bible Makes Sense Walter Brueggemann writes: “Conversion, the decision to be God’s holy people, is the entry into alternative consciousness which distances itself from the ways of the culture in which it is placed.” Our American culture is quite individualistic—a Lone Ranger culture. Lent is a time to make a decision to alter our consciousness away from me, myself, and I and toward community. In the coming week let’s decide in a conscious way to be God’s holy people. Let’s be more observant of the times we could reach out into family, parish, community. Maybe stay after weekend Mass a few minutes to chat, attend a parish Lenten service, do something together as a family, pray with someone, notice the cashier, thank someone answering the call of “Cleanup in aisle 7.” Send an Easter card with a sincere message of gratitude. Above all, be conscious of thought-patterns. Is my first response to a situation “How will this affect me?” “Do I like this?” “Do I have time for this?” Our culture often dictates such thoughts. Lent is the time to put off the older nature. It’s the time to put on the mind of Christ who emptied himself and spent his entire life to inaugurate the kingdom-community on earth.
The Book of Daniel and other Biblical books refer to God as a “great and awesome God,” who keeps his merciful covenant toward those who love him and observe his commandments. God has an enduring commitment to us, an obligation to us, and we to God. God and we are Covenant Partners. How are we doing in keeping the covenant?
God our Creator emptied the Godself in Creation and Incarnation. Jesus Christ emptied the Godself in his kenosis. We are called to kenosis as partners in God’s plan. Covenant kenosis is more than doing some Lenten sacrifices like giving up TV or meat. Covenant kenosis is the shape of our lives—to be persons of almost unconscious self-emptying through the absence of ego in our daily doings. Like Jesus Christ, our first response is toward the weak, embracing their suffering. It’s a call to make ourselves vulnerable in care for our brothers and sisters. It’s to hold nothing back that makes us only “just us,” rather than becoming the extension of Jesus Christ in our world today. To view ourselves as nothing is key to God-partnering.
Self-emptying God, help us keep up our part in your work of Incarnation and in our incarnational spirituality.
Abraham Lincoln said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” Ask me to give up sweets for 40 days, and I’ll say “Forget it.” But Lent is only one day at a time. Maybe we can give up sweets—or bad habits or excess time on social media or gossip—on Ash Wednesday. Maybe even the day after Ash Wednesday. And we certainly won’t break our Lenten resolution on a Friday, the day Christ died for us. But then comes Saturday. The weekend. Well . . . .
Persons with incurable disease are forced to take one day at a time. Persons who are unemployed also have one day at a time, deciding what to buy that day–food or medicine. Persons who are in prison with life sentences cannot choose but to exist from day to day. Do these persons also choose to live one day at a time?
What about us? Do we live with Christ, offering him our sacrifices? Are we attentive to our extra prayer? Does donating money become a weekly routine rather than an act of loving service?
We have begun our Lenten journey. Every journey begins with one step. And every journey continues with one step, then another. Left, right, left, right.
We Christians enter into Lent knowing the three basics: pray, fast, give alms. Other religions know the importance of these three also. The Koran, for example, states “Prayer carries us half way to God, fasting brings us to the door of His palace, and alms-giving procures us admission.” Why do we need all three? I’m sure it would be good to pray more during Lent. Wouldn’t that be enough? Or why not just give up chocolate and bad habits? Or just give a weekly donation to charity? Each one of these is spiritually and physically helpful to ourselves and others. But consider them as twined cords. How much stronger in the weaving together! Furthermore, when doing only one we more easily concentrate on ourselves. I prayed an extra rosary every day in Lent. I gave up desserts six days a week. I gave ten dollars every week to a charity. Yes, look what I did. Somehow doing all three simultaneously keeps me more grounded. Instead of concentrating on me—my sacrifices, my prayers, my alms—my focus is somewhat shifted to those whom I help. I feel I don’t do enough. I pray for the needy, but I better give them service and money, too. I serve those in need, but am I praying for them also? I give up food or certain pleasures, but what do I do with the extra money and time? Am I using extra minutes for good deeds and extra money for the needy? You can’t do one very well without the other two. So as we continue our Lenten journey, we can sing this song to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.”
P-F-A. P-F-A. Make sure you pray. Make sure you fast.
Whatever you do in this Lenten time.
Do some service and give some time,
And don’t forget to collect those dimes. P-F-A. P-F-A.