Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Catholicism is the oldest and the fullest expression of Christianity. Under the inspiration and protection of the Holy Spirit, this small mustard seed has spread its branches through every facet of human life. It so permeates the life of its followers that everything is sacred, everything is sacramental, everything is a visible sign of the invisible God.
This great fecundity which is the glory of the Church, unfortunately, can also become a snare for its members. Not all of the truths of Catholicism are equally important. There is a hierarchy of truths. At the center are the essential truths, and then fanning out from the center are the peripheral truths, diminishing in importance as they distance themselves from the center. The snare and the danger is that we could make one of the peripheral truths the center of our lives and thus become eccentric.
This would indeed be a tragedy because we only have a limited amount of time and energy, and we don’t want to spend it “spinning our wheels” on the periphery. Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for doing just that. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. These you should have done without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23: 23-24)
To help us avoid the danger of becoming eccentric the Church gives us the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we get back to basics. We begin Lent by receiving the ashes on our forehead and hearing the most basic of all of the truths of our faith, “Remember man, you are dust and into dust you will return.” And Lent ends with the Paschal Mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the center and the heart of Christianity.
The centerpiece of Lent is the most basic of all the sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism. As the RCIA reminds us, the main purpose of Lent is to prepare the catechumens for Baptism and the faithful for the renewal of their Baptismal Promises at Easter. And the preparation for Baptism and the renewal of our Baptismal Promises is the three most basic exercises of religion: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
The Gospel for the First Sunday in Lent tells us that Jesus began his public life by being led into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Temptation is one of the most basic of all human experiences. To be human is to be tempted. It reminds us that as we begin the season of Lent we must be prepared to be tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil.
The Gospels during Lent also give us the most basic of all prayers, the Our Father, the prayer taught by our Lord himself. It asks pardon for the past, provision for the present and protection for the future. St. Augustine said that if we say the Our Father as it should be said we will find nothing further to say.
The Gospels during Lent also gives us the Ten Commandments. The observance of these Commandments is the most basic necessity for human beings to live together in society in peace and justice. Just think what this country would be like if there were no killings, no stealing, and no lying. If family life flourished because children really honored their parents and parents really loved their children. If “in God we trust” was not only engraved on our money but on our hearts. If “One nation under God” was not only a pledge of allegiance, but a fact.
Jesus reduced these Ten Commandments to Two Commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” And the second is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Even more basic is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This Golden Rule is found in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and also in the Koran. All we need now is a little practice.
Lent is the time to
get back to the basics. Back to the awareness of our mortality, back to
the fulfillment of our Baptismal promises, back to the Ten Commandments,
back to the love of God and love of the neighbor, back to the practice
of the Golden Rule and back to the crucified and risen Jesus, the way,
the truth and the life. But don’t hold your breath. We are still
looking for new revelations, new theologies, new devotions, new theories
of economics, new discoveries in medicine and science and still trying
to get Congress to legislate our morality.
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