Third Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends,

Imagine for a moment that one morning while you’re standing in the bathroom and you’re just staring at yourself in the mirror and the reflection of you, that image of you that you see staring back begins to talk.      This image of you begins to talk to you saying, “You know I don’t really need you anymore.  You’re holding me back I have these new and exciting ideas and interests.  I don’t need you.”  Of course, this would be a foolish thing for the mirror image of you to say because once you leave the proximity of the bathroom mirror, once you stop looking into the mirror the image would cease to exist, it would disappear.  The image in the mirror needs you to exist. 

As we know you and I are made in the image and likeness of God.  We were created out of his love because love when it’s real and true always wants to share, God wanted to share his endless joy with us; we are creatures of his love.  And there’s no one person created on this earth who is not carried and surrounded by his infinite and benevolent and ecstatic love.  If for just one nanosecond God were to stop loving us, to stop beholding us, to stop looking upon us in his loving gaze we would cease to exist.  We’d be like that image in the mirror when we step away; gone.  But this isn’t going to happen because God created us to spend eternity with him and he isn’t about to stop beholding us in a gaze of ecstatic love. We on the other hand are sometimes like that image in the mirror distracted from God by our own exciting ideas, and our own interests, and our idols.

For this third week of Lent, we are given the Ten Commandments for our first reading.  These commandments are the foundation of Western Society and they’re intended to keep us pure of heart, to keep God at the very center of our heart and soul.  The first three commandments deal with right relationship with God while the next seven deal with right relationship with our families and neighbors.  However, the Bible places a great emphasis on the first three commandments because we won’t love our neighbor right until we love God right.  The first commandment states, “I am the Lord your God…you shall not have other gods besides me.”   These few words are the spiritual foundation of our life.  And you can tell a lot about a person by how he or she answers these questions, “Who or what do you worship?  What do you hold to be of highest value? Where is your treasure?”  Is it pleasure, health, reputation, wealth, power, ego, family, or business?  What do you hold to be of highest value?  St. Ambrose would say, “Where a person’s heart is, there is his treasure also.”

We heard next in the first reading that, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.”   Now this word jealous is not to be read as an emotion.  We can’t add or detract from God.  We can’t add anything to God; we can’t take anything from God. We can’t change him in any way, he’s already perfect, and we can’t make him emotionally jealous.  The worship of God benefits us, not God.  Let me repeat that, the worship of God benefits us not God.    God is jealous because he wants us to be fully alive and the way for us to be fully alive is to stop worshipping idols whatever they may be and to worship God alone.   We exist for Him.

And then we heard, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”  Keeping this day holy we demonstrate that God is the highest love in our life.  We set aside a day for God, He is the one we worship above all people and things, not in the abstract but through concrete set of actions. 

As we know, the Saints are experts at loving through concrete actions, Mass, prayer, and corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  From the life of St. Catherine of Siena, we have an example of her great intimacy with Jesus. St. Catherine was a third order Dominican and as a third order Dominican she made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day.  In her great intimacy with Jesus St. Catherine would sometimes hold a dialogue with our Lord (some of these dialogues are written down for us to read); on one occasion she prayed the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours with Jesus.  At the end of each Psalm the “Glory be” prayer is prayed, and St. Catherine prayed it like this: “Glory to the Father, and to thee, and to the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus was right there with her, and she addressed him as “thee.”  This might not sound too extraordinary to the modern ear, but to use the words “thee” and “thy” and “thou” shows a great intimacy and love.  Thee, thy, and thou are the informal words for you and yours.  Thee and thy and thou are used when speaking to someone very close to you, someone you love.  The words “you” and “yours” are used when addressing someone you’re not too close to, someone not a member of the family.  St. Catherine addressed Jesus as “thee” a personal and intimate word.  The same word we use with the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary.” 

Of all the World religions Christianity is unique; we address God with intimate and personal words.  Our transcendent Lord, who created the universe, loves us personally and individually and ecstatically.  In John’s gospel Jesus says to us, “I no longer call you slaves…I have called you friends.”  And we call him Thee.  To obey and adhere to the first three commandments protects and nurtures our personal relationship with our Lord.  Scripture tells us and all the saints throughout the centuries tell us that we only find happiness to the extent to where God is made first in our lives.  To help us make God first in our lives and to help us obey the first three commandments I encourage everyone to spend an hour a week in front of the Eucharist, that can be where the Eucharist is exposed for adoration or simply coming to sit in church when the Eucharist is reposed in the tabernacle.  This will make a difference in your life.  You might feel like nothing is happening, but God is slowly and carefully transforming you into the saint He knows you can become. 

Pope St. John Paul II was a great proponent of spending time in front of the Eucharist. He wanted every parish in the world to have some form of Eucharistic adoration.   In his own personal chapel he had a desk and that’s where he wrote a majority of his letters and encyclicals.  He once said, The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift—however precious—among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity.”  And “It is pleasant to spend time with Him, to lie close to his breast like the beloved disciple and to feel the infinite love present in his heart.” 

Our Lord looks upon us always, let us spend more time looking upon Him.

Let us become great saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley