First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends,

To contemplate the face of Jesus, this is our calling, this is our destiny.  As we read in the Book of Revelation, “They shall see him face to face.”  We shall see our Lord face to face.

I have a story about St. Anthony of Padua.  Now the story I have about him happened when he was just 9 years old.  St Anthony belonged to a wealthy family, and they had the tradition of generously giving to the poor. 

One day a beggar knocked at their door.  And it was Anthony who opened the door.  And there standing in front of him was a very poor looking man.  Seeing the sad plight of the beggar Anthony dropped a small bag of gold coins into his hands.  But the beggar refused the money and gave it back.  So, Anthony went to the kitchen and came back with a platter filled with all sorts of fruit and bread.  But again, the beggar refused.  Anthony then went into his dad’s room and got some clothing and a nice warm coat for the beggar.  And again, the beggar refused the gifts.  Anthony was losing his patience and in frustration, staring into the face of the beggar he said, “What do you want me to give you?”  And the beggar looked straight into his eyes and said, “I want your sins!”  Simple as that, “I want your sins!” 

At once the beggar disappeared leaving Anthony all alone.  It was a mystical moment that he never forgot, he was deeply moved, realizing that it was Jesus who had appeared as the beggar.  Our Lord wanted his sins.  In this story Anthony stared into the face of Jesus, and all Jesus wanted was his sins.  To look into the face of divine innocence, to look into the face of Jesus, is to know that you’re accepted, and your sins are forgiven.  And the face of Divine innocence, the face of divine love is experienced by us as mercy

In the Bible the wish to see God’s face is expressed 100 times.  God has a face, and this means he is someone we can enter into a relationship with.  He talks to us, he listens to us, he sees us, he makes a covenant, and he loves.   The desire to know God truly, the desire to see God’s face, is innate in every human being, even in atheists, they just don’t know it.  As St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.”    And as we know God had shown his face, he is visible in Jesus Christ.

During the season of Lent, we spend time focusing and pondering the Passion of our Lord.  On that first Good Friday on a cross next to our crucified Lord was a man we have traditionally called the “good thief.”  Now the good thief had been looking for meaning his whole life, but always looking in all the wrong places.  And now on the very last day of his life he sees the face that clarifies everything, and it brings peace to his heart.  That face of Divine Innocence received the sinner on the cross next to him.  And the thief yielded to the love of God giving him all his failures, all of his sins, and all of his fears and in return the good thief was filled with God, hearing the most beautiful words ever spoken, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

St. John Chrysostom once wrote, “The man to whom these words were spoken was a robber, one ignorant of the sublime truths of religion, knowing nothing of the prophecies, who had spent all his life in desert places, committing many murders, never hearing the Word of God, or being present at the reading of the Holy Scriptures.” 

“Was there ever a creature as miserable as this robber?  And suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, he attains the greatest happiness.  He had committed hundreds of murders; his life had been spent in wickedness.  As many, as witness his death, accuse his crimes.  And yet now he is made blessed, because during a few seconds of time he had feared God, as God ought to be feared.” 

“Whence the change?  A sound of that Voice, which breaks the cedars and makes the mountains tremble, had found its way into the heart of the thief; and this heart of stone had been changed into a heart of flesh; the heart of a brute had become that of a man; and the heart of this infamous sinner had been transformed into that of a saint.  A ray of the Sun of Justice had fallen upon his countenance, and his whole body had become lightsome.  His hideous deformity had given place to superhuman beauty, even angelic grace; and his mouth, which had been full of blasphemies, now uttered words sweet as honey, pleasant as the lowly violet.  Such is this admirable metamorphosis of Calvary; a wolf became a lamb, a blasphemer turned into an evangelist, a vile criminal transformed into one of the greatest saints.”

“The mercy of God had done everything.  For what had this robber said or done?  Had he fasted, and wept, and afflicted his body, and done penance during a long time?  Nothing of all this.  But on the cross itself, immediately after the sentence of death, he received his pardon.  See with what speed he was transferred from the cross to heaven.  In the midst of torment, he found salvation.” 

He looked into the Face of Divine innocence, he saw no judgment, and he was received.   In his struggle the good thief looked into the face of Christ.  He looks into the face of the one who fills his heart with meaning and restores his dignity.  In our struggles do we seek the Face of Jesus?

 Do we look for the Face of Jesus?

In the Eucharist

In the Confessional

In our Spouse, or loved ones

In our fellow Parishioners, or in our neighbors?

Where do we look for the face of Jesus?

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley