Sunday, Feb. 21, is the First Sunday of Lent (Liturgical Year C, Cycle II).
Feb. 22 is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Today’s feast and readings can be a good opportunity to bring up prejudice, unity and diversity with your family. Some people celebrate diversity as if it were itself a virtue rather than merely a description. For others, diversity is something to be feared or tolerated begrudgingly. Here are three reasons both are wrong:
1. Chair of St. Peter. This feast day shows that the unity of our diverse Church comes from our common love: Christ, as expressed in doctrines that tell the truth about him. The Chair of St. Peter thus not only guards our doctrine, it guards our diversity, too. Look at Pope Benedict XVI’s papal coat of arms as an example. There’s a picture of an Ethiopian king on it — a legendary figure who came to Munich’s rescue in the early days of the Church there. There’s also a picture of a Bavarian bear and a shell symbolizing faith and baptism (via another African, St. Augustine). His office is universal in exactly the way his coat of arms is: different cultures united in a single expression of love and truth.
2. Lent. This Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent not just in Atchison, Kan., but in Hong Kong, Lima, Peru, and Abuja, Nigeria. It’s also the First Sunday of Lent for Latin-Mass Catholics, folk-Mass Catholics and no-frills Catholics. There is a diversity of expression in the one faith in the one Church that supports and directs us all toward one end. This Lent, we are all one in that one end — it’s okay that we don’t look the same, as long as we’re all going there.
3. Scripture. This Sunday’s readings speak about this kind of unity. “‘My father was a wandering Aramaean … who became a great nation,” says Moses. Moses saw Abraham as the link between him and the others in his “great nation” of chosen people. Paul put God the Father in that place. “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek,” writes St. Paul, “the same Lord is Lord of all.” We are — whether our liturgical choir is black, brown, carrying tambourines or Gregorian chant books — supposed to be true to that relationship with God. Therein lies our unity.
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalms 91:1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
The Church very sensibly reminds us of the three temptations at the beginning of Lent. They are:
1. The temptation not to fast.
We’ve all been there. We see that meat on a Friday and think, “What’s the point anyway, giving up such a small thing?” Or we see the chocolate that we said we were giving up and think, “Whatever. It’s just one.” Jesus faced the same temptation — and answered it with: “Man does not live on bread alone.” He reminded us why we fast — to remind our appetites that they aren’t in charge after all.
2. The temptation not to pray.
The devil shows Christ all the kingdoms in the world to try to get him not to worship God. Christ refuses. To tempt us, the devil doesn’t have to go to those great lengths. He might just show us a cup of coffee and a news website when we were planning to pray. Or a football game when we were planning to go to Sunday Mass. Or a household project when we were planning on going to daily Mass. By choosing these activities, we aren’t worshipping Satan. But we’re not worshipping God either.
3. The temptation to “Let God handle it.”
Last, the devil takes Jesus up to the top of the Temple and tells him to throw himself down, since God will save him. Jesus says, “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
He refuses to fall for presumption (literally). Do we? God wants to reach people in our time. Do we say, “Go ahead and save them,” while doing nothing that will accomplish it? God wants to save us. Do we spend our life in a kind of comfortable free-fall, expecting him to keep us from dashing our feet against a rock in the end? Only the tough slog of trying to love God in sacrifice and daily decisions wins in the end. Don’t presume otherwise.
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Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.