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User's Guide to Sunday
BY Tom & April Hoopes
Sunday, Feb. 28, is the Second Sunday of Lent (Year C, Cycle II).
On Feb. 27 Pope Benedict XVI, with other members of the Curia, finishes up his yearly retreat, which makes this an excellent opportunity to mention the importance of retreats.
Now, you may be someone who already knows the importance of retreats, in which case there’s nothing much to say except: Schedule your next one!
Or you may be someone who has heard about retreats for years, or went on an unsuccessful one years ago, and you just aren’t interested. If you’re that second kind of person, please reconsider.
April bugged a friend of hers for years to attend a retreat — and when the friend finally went, she found it very worthwhile.
Socrates went so far as to say, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We are surrounded with so much noise and so many distractions we can forget the pure joy of reflection. The joy of a deeper relationship with God comes after the retreat is over. We can be at least as connected to him as we are to the Internet via BlackBerry and laptop.
If a retreat you took was strange, superficial or uncomfortable, ask Catholics you know and trust for a retreat that is being offered by a priest who understands the tried-and-true ancient methods of giving retreats, such as St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Find one whose work is known and blessed by your diocese.
If you’re looking for a Lenten read, we recommend a new book by Brother Michael Gaitley, a friend of ours: Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat. It’s perfect for Lent. As the subtitle says, it is a retreat, a very good retreat. At TheDivineMercy.org, Brother Gaitley recalls, “When I was pounding out one of the many ‘final drafts’ of my book, I had the bright idea of asking my friends and family to read the retreat as their Lenten sacrifice. They loved it. … Almost all of them wrote back to me that making the retreat was so much more effective for their spiritual growth than some arbitrary sacrifice, like giving up chocolate.”
Friends of ours here in Atchison recommended the movie The Miracle of Maldonado, which was directed by Salma Hayek. It’s a good family-friendly film (with some adult themes — as always, preview movies first). It centers around a scenario not unlike that of Henry Poole Was Here. That movie’s hero (antihero, really) is living in a house that has a water stain that looks like Jesus.
The same sorts of questions arise about the miracle in Maldonado — with more satisfactory results. It’s an examination of faith, community and relationships without the overdramatic, unexplained love story that takes over Poole.
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17- 4:1 or 3:20- 4:1; Luke 9:28-36
This Sunday’s readings are about how Lent can transfigure you. And that includes the odd first reading in which God wants Abram to split animals in two after Abram (before he is Abraham) sees a flaming pot.
Let’s consider that reading first: God takes Abram outside to count the stars to get a sense of how numerous his descendants will be because of his faith. He then promises him the Holy Land.
“O Lord God,” he asked, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
God asks him to take a cow, a goat, a ram and three birds, and “split them in two.” Abram then falls into a trance as a “deep, terrifying darkness” surrounds him. Then a smoking firepot and flaming torch pass between them.
This seems like a very odd thing for God to do. But one has to realize that, in the days before pen and paper, people made covenants — “signed contracts” doesn’t exactly do it justice — in very different ways.
“The medium is the message,” said Marshall McLuhan, and here’s a perfect example. To do this with these animals and walk in between their carcasses is to say “May what has happened to these animals happen to me if I don’t keep my word to you.” Here God makes a promise to Abram — and he means it.
The Gospel and second reading make an analogous promise. To Abram, God promises descendants that number as many as the stars in the heavens. To us, he promises “he will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” and make us “citizens of heaven.” If we accept his covenant, that is.
How do we accept it? Paul hints at one way: by refusing to make our stomachs our gods, a timely reminder for Lent. Christ points to another way: by being friendly with Moses and Elijah. That means being close to the Ten Commandments and the Church.
Here, the God who spoke to Abram has another demand for us: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
We’re all ears.Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.