1st Sunday of Lent 2012

25 February 2012

Genesis 9: 8 – 15
1 Peter 3:18 – 22
Mark 1:12 – 15

Some time ago a businessman went to a psychologist.  He told him that he was very stressed with all the work he was doing.  Also he suffered from very high blood pressure because of tension. Could the psychologist help him and give him peace and tranquillity in his life.  He assured him that he could if he did exactly as he was told. The businessman agreed. So he was told to take 2 periods of 20 minutes a day, one in the morning, the other in the evening, to stop all work and activity and just be quiet by himself. He was told to return to report back after a month. This he did and told the psychologist that he was no better.  ‘What did you do?’ he was asked. ‘Well, I did as you said.  I did the 2 twenty minutes of silence daily, did no work or activity. I just listened to very quiet music to calm me’.  ‘Ah, replied the psychologist, but I asked you to be told silent and that meant no music. But replied the businessman.  ‘If I kept completely silent I couldn’t live with myself’.  ‘Well’, replied the other,  ‘if you can’t live with yourself how can you expect others to live with you!’

In the gospel today the Spirit drives Jesus into the desert. The desert is a place both of testing and encounter with God. It is a place of silence. There are no signposts.  There are no distractions available. There, our human needs are barely met.  The harshness of the situation makes us fight for life. Our will is weakened and we are tempted to give in to the possibility of some relief.  Faced with the harshness of the desert, the Israelites were tempted to go back to their oppression in Egypt. But the desert with its profound silence is a privileged place to encounter God.

Some years ago I was working with seminarians in Africa and once I asked them why they found silence very difficult. Their answer was that if they remained totally silent even for a period of 10 minutes they would become aware of aspects of their lives they were not happy with. Their past and present failings and sins would have to be faced and they wanted to avoid that.  Indeed a very human and understandable response.

How are we ever going to discover who we really are if we don’t have some silence in our lives to become aware of our sinful inclinations but also our good qualities? The seminarians seemed to focus only on what they regarded as not good about themselves.

In the gospel passage today Jesus is tempted by Satan. He is with the wild beasts and the angels looked after him. I think this is a great reality in all our lives.  There are both wild beasts and also angels in each of our lives. By wild beasts we mean temptations that can be so strong that they almost overwhelm us – the temptation to take revenge on someone who hurt us, the temptation to indulge in wrong sexual activity, to take drugs etc. These temptations can be so strong at times that like the wild beasts they can drag us along almost out of control of ourselves. So when I see what goes on in Kosovo, East Timor, Chechnia etc. I see what I am capable of doing if I grew up in those situations of ethnic hatred. For sure, there are wild beasts in all of us. I know it is true of me in my own experience.

But the good news is that like Jesus, the angels are with us too to help us face and overcome our inner wild beasts just as they did Jesus.  It may be a friend that God puts in our path to help us in a time of great trial.  It might be be someone we may want to do wrong with but who has the courage to say ‘no’ and so helps us avoid the possibility of terrible consequences if their answer were ‘yes’.  In all this the Holy Spirit working through these so-called angels is there with us as he was with Jesus.

Jesus knows how we are tempted as he went through it all before us even if the details may differ.  And He who is God loves us as we struggle, even when we fail and try to begin again.  That is the Good News Jesus came to proclaim to us. God is a God whose love is not determined in the slightest way by our virtue or our failings.  It is always there for us, constant, faithful, unconditional, passionate.

But how will we become aware of our wild beasts and angels if we don’t take time to be alone with ourselves. The more we become aware of our struggles and the wild beasts of our sinful inclinations, then we will call upon God’s help which is readily available. But if we don’t take time out for silent reflection from time to time, if not daily, then we run the risk of not knowing ourselves face on.  If we pray for the grace to take this time out then I believe we will be slow to judge others, and hopefully become more compassionate because we know that others’ failings and struggles are but a mirror of our own.

Finally, in our world today there is a constant and continual effort by advertising, the radio and TV to try to prevent us taking this time out because if we do we will see how they try to manipulate us to buy their goods and services. Some of course are very good, but do we need to fill up our lives with all they offer?

It is not easy to turn off the music, the walkman, the TV but from my own experience I can know that the benefits are well worth the effort.

“Lord Jesus, you entered the desert and faced yourself.  Give us the Holy Spirit to do the same to come to know ourselves and realise that you love us as we are, not as we would like to be or think we should be.   Give the courage to face ourselves and invite your Holy Spirit through his angels to help us. Amen”

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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