You may not know that I almost got a tattoo in the Navy. I did not but I thought of it. At the time, there was a popular poster and tattoo that I loved. Remember, I was not in the Church at the time and as my mother described me, I was an angry teen mad at the world.
The poster was called the Last Great Act of Defiance and it was of a field mouse about to be snatched up by a hawk. The mouse, in the last act of defiance, just turns to the hawk and offers him a hand symbol that most people equate with angry drivers.
I was out of the church, I hated school. In fact, teachers told me that I would never make it in college. I now have a Master of Divinity and I graduated college magna cum laude.
When I came back to the Church in the Navy approaching the new decade, I used to read the Bible and discovered so much there that I wished I knew before. The most powerful words I discovered were in the first chapter in john. Have no love for the world. When I read those words, they astounded me.
“Wait a minute! Have no love for that whole system that told me that I would never make it? That system that I saw as like a big eagle swooping down? Hey, you don’t have to ask me twice.” I never forgot that moment.
Today in the Gospel, we see Jesus begin his ministry calling people to repent and believe in the good news. We can see repentance as turning from sin trying to be good. No! Go deeper. Change your life so that you embrace the truth of the gospel by rejecting the lies of the world.
There is an interesting section that precedes this passage it is where Jesus is in the desert. Now the other gospels are more comprehensive but Jesus is sent by the spirit to be tempted by the devil. Why?
St. Thomas Aquinas has an interesting take on it. Jesus is going in the desert and he battles the devil. Why does the devil attack him? Because Jesus attacked him first. His prayer and fasting were also weapons against the devil.
His going to the desert is his shot across the bow to the devil; it is Christ attacking the kingdom that will now fall. It is the kingdom of the world that will dehumanize us if we succumb to its desires and battles.
How do we battle that kingdom? Jesus said it well—Prayer and fasting. This is what Jesus did. When we pray and fast our connection is on Christ and we turn from the distractions that are part of the world.
We turn towards Christ so that we can embrace the gospel which is about drawing us into the kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God? this cute castle in the clouds? No, it is us coming to what Jesus destines us to become. It is to shed all the dehumanizing aspects of the world and turn to the place Christ calls us to enter. It is to become fully human and fully alive by turning from the distractions that lead us to believe the lies of the world. When you are turning from sin you not stopping to do bad things so you can do good things. No, you are rejecting that dehumanizing Kingdom in standing in the Kingdom to which you are destined.
When we do that we become closer to what Christ is calling us to which we will embrace fully in Heaven provided that we have no love for the world.
I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. John Cuddeback and that interview can be found at CatholicaudioMedia.Com and on Medium tomorrow. We talked about a book he wrote on friendship and that true friendship is found when both parties seek virtue.
Why is this true because in true virtue is not only the avenue to find true friendship, true friendship leads us to Christ. In Christ, we discover our true destiny which is to become fully where the Lord is leading us.
We are not going to a kingdom where everyone is all good, we are becoming what St. Paul says is beyond our imagination to become divinized in Christ. This journey is also a fierce battle against the forces that seek to keep us down and make us feel like the tiny defenseless field mouse that can do nothing but give a hand gesture.
No, this journey leads us to be more than we can imagine because this is where Christ calls us.
Lent is that time to turn from sin and toward Christ but we misunderstand it if we sum it up this way. Instead, it is a time to turn from distractions from the dehumanizing world and turn toward the empowering world of Christ that defeated the Devil and all his traps and destructive weapons.
I also wrote an article on the words of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn at Harvard University a famous moment locally and internationally that shocked many. He railed against the media and the media was not happy. One local now national pundit dismissed him as not being able to write his way out of a paper bag. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn exclaimed that we had lost our spirituality and gave it up for the comforts of the material world. This took away our courage and our strength.
Now almost forty-five years later we can look back at those words especially in light of the state of our country and our world and ask was he in fact right.
Lent is the time to seek the Gospel and open ourselves to Christ more. We respond to the call to be the people who stand against those dehumanizing factors that lead us to believe lies about ourselves. We need to embrace the truth so that we can turn to others and say Christ will lead us to the Kingdom join us.
What are the weapons of his battle? Prayer, fasting, almsgiving and a growing in faith and wisdom. I think our nation needs us to live that here now. Maybe the reason why our nation is the way it is today because too many Catholics turned away from those practices from the highest levels of our church hierarchy in the United States. We need to turn back because we have a call to live in holiness the most powerful tool we can use to fight sin so that we may embrace the promises of Christ.