As we enter the last phase of Lent, the halfway mark, also known as Laetare Sunday, we have an opportunity to see where we are on our journey with the Lord. I often look at the season of Lent as a sort of stimulus package that God provides to help spark new growth and abundant fruit in our spiritual lives. How effective the stimulus package will be and how quickly we will see results depends on our attitude, personal choices and how deeply we want to participate.
Will it be random little changes here or there in our old taken for-granted way of responding to life?
Will it be an Extreme Makeover Project…giving our full heart and soul to the conversion process?
As we reflect upon the readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we get a glimpse of how this stimulus package is working for us, but we also know that there is still time to deepen our efforts if we need and want to.
Three themes seem to emerge in the readings for this Sunday:
- We are called to conversion and to deepening our faith and hope.
- We are God’s work of art – still in the process of completion.
- The Paschal Mystery is more than a principle of our faith: it is a Way of life.
The liturgy begins with the invitation to rejoice, rejoice, for we have reached the midpoint of our Lenten Journey with the Lord. But then the challenge from the Prophet Hosea becomes a stark reality. “Come let us return to the Lord… It is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings, says the Lord” (Hosea 6:1,3).
Sometimes we do not heed the messengers of God in our midst and ignore the call to conversion of heart. We may become lukewarm in our response to the message for us in the Word of God. Yet even when all seems stripped away in our lives, we know that God has mercy and compassion for us and does not abandon us.
We realize that the call to conversion of heart grows more intense as the journey continues. In A Mystical Portrait of Jesus, Father Demetrius Dumm gives a new and fresh insight into conversion when he notes, “We learn that the first and most important precondition for conversion is a profound yearning for a meaning in life that is more than what worldly wisdom can offer.” (pg. 95) In true conversion, there is a sense of commitment that challenges us to stay with the process, no matter what happens in our lives. We listen deeply to our intuitions and the surprises of God as they unfold in our lives.
In her book Monastery of the Heart, Sister Joan Chittister writes,
The search for God is a very intimate enterprise.
It is the core of every longing in the human heart.
It is the search for ultimate love, for total belonging, for the meaningful life.
It is our attempt to live life and find it worthwhile,
To come to see the presence of God….
Beyond all the illusions of life.
Father Benedict sums up the process of conversion this way: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue) Deep within the human heart is this fascination with the Mystery of the Holy One. We learn to respond to the Spirit at work in our lives when we listen deeply to all of life, and our hearts are touched by divine grace.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul helps us understand what will need to take place in our lives for an Extreme Makeover project. “Whoever is in Christ is a new Creation: The old has passed away and, behold, new things have come.” Paul reminds us that faith is essential for true conversion. We are not able to change our lives through our own efforts alone. Faith is a gift of God. He writes, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which God loved us even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved and raised up with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
The conversion process unfolds as we let the Master Artist continue to sculpt our lives. “For we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for good works, prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10). Sometimes we find it difficult to believe that we are really the creation of God. There seems to be nothing spectacular about our life. This is where faith needs to support us. In Christ, we have all the gifts and graces we need to accomplish the work that is to be our way of life.
In God’s Enduring Presence, Joyce Rupp gives us this note of encouragement:
“As we listen to the hurt of another, overlook the impatience or irritability of a colleague, forgive a friend who disappoints us, take time to do a good deed, or refuse to add to gossip, we are expressing the truth of being God’s handiwork. …We have the essential ingredients for living in a generously loving and caring way.” (pg. 34)
The challenge for us is, do we believe it?
This takes us to the third theme of the readings for this fourth Sunday. The Paschal Mystery is more than a principle of our faith, it is a way of life, as noted by Demetrius Dumm (Dum mpg. 102). What does it mean to make the Paschal Mystery a way of life? If we look at the life of Jesus, he was led by the Spirit into the desert where he spent forty days discerning the will of the Father for his life. He left the desert began his work for the Kingdom and set his face toward Jerusalem.
We too have our desert experiences, our times of darkness and challenge. Like Jesus, these desert experiences can be the moments when we receive the power of the Spirit to make the total surrender to God required for the Extreme Make Over of our lives. Through this daily dying to self, we are able to respond to the challenge of rising to new life. Silence, prayer and solitude are tools we have to be attentive to the conversion process. Listening with the ear of the heart, as Benedict notes in the Prologue of the Holy Rule, is also very important.
As I was pondering these readings, I was reminded of an Ethiopian legend about a shepherd boy.
Alemayu had to spend the night on a bitterly cold mountain. He had only a very thin cloth to wear. To the amazement of all the villagers, he returned alive and well the next morning. When they asked him how he had survived, he replied:
“The night was bitterly cold. When all the sky was dark, I thought I would die. Then far, far off I saw a shepherd’s fire on another mountain. I kept my eyes on the red glow in the distance, and I dreamed of being warm. And that is how I had the strength to survive. The red glow in the distance continued to give me hope.”
Questions we might ask ourselves this Sunday are:
What is the “shepherd’s fire” that can keep our hope alive during the remaining weeks of Lent as we walk with Christ through the Paschal Mystery of our own life?
What would we have to change in our lives to surrender to the Extreme Makeover of our lives?