On this First Sunday of Lent, Fr. Steve reminded us of the basics of the spiritual life. Our continual challenge is to keep God at the center of our lives. When God is moved out of the center and we put other idols in God’s place, we are setting ourselves up for disaster and misery. The readings this Sunday invite us to stop and reflect upon where we are at in our relationship with God.
As we begin the season of Lent, the church calls us back to the basics. It is the time to do the hard work of the Spirit. So we focus on the fundamentals of the spiritual life and today’s readings invite us to look at the fundamentals. Let’s look a little closer at the first reading from Genesis – now remember, Genesis is not about the scientific method. Some struggle with the mythological cosmology of this particular book in the Bible. It is an entirely different literary style/genre than a science book. You cannot approach it as a science book. In fact, Genesis was written long before what we now know as modern science – science as we know it would have begun with Galileo and Descarte in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The last book in the Bible was written around the year 100. The literary genre of Genesis would be more in the realm of the theology, spirituality and mysticism. It is truth. It speaks of the deep truths about the inner dynamics of the human person and their relationship with the Divine. This text calls us back to the elemental or basic truths of the spiritual life.
First the text tells us, God planted the first human beings in a garden, which was full of life. What does God desire for us? God created us as human beings to enjoy life and experience it to the full. God is not our competitor – God wants what is best for us. This teaching is in contrast to the approach of Greek gods and others. Our God desires what is best for you and me. Secondly, God gives Adam & Eve permission to eat of all the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one - remember that, God gave us so much to enjoy. And if they would have lived according to the dictate of God, they would have simply flourished. However, there was that one prohibition – they could not eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die! What is so special about this symbolic tree? For human beings to flourish, they need a keen sense of right and wrong. Whose prerogative is it to determine what is good or evil? It is God’s! So if God and his criteria are at the center of your life, your life will become a garden, a place of delight as you will be in right relationship with God and others. However, if you seize the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, your will and your desire becomes central in your life rather than God’s (you personally will be the determinant of what is right or wrong), you have just walked out of the garden and entered into the desert. This is the moral relativism that Pope Benedict XVI spoke of and that Pope Francis continues to address and name. This is at the heart of the disaster – the deification of your own will. We do this far too often. This is the sin against the first commandment. This is the deadly sin of pride. This approach doesn’t work in our relationship with God; nor does this approach work in our relationships with others.
A fundamental temptation in life, the work of Satan, is to get us to think that God is a rival to our good. Satan says to Eve, “You certainly will not die. You will be like gods when you deify your own will.” In other words, when the pursuit of pleasure, the esteem or adulation of others or your thirst for power and control becomes central in your life, Satan says, “You will be like gods!” This lie has bothered the human race for eons and it continues to destroy us spirituality. When in reality, the truth is this: our lives are elevated when we surrender to God’s will, not lessened.
After his baptism, Jesus entered into the desert; he entered into our sin and confronted Satan and confronts sin. Jesus was tempted in the three classic ways that we are tempted: 1) sensual pleasures (eating, drinking, sex); 2) honor/esteem (where the adulation/praise of others becomes primary) and 3) power/control (your will has to be central). Jesus confronts all these temptations by telling Satan and reminding us that we must serve God alone. The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve. Jesus was tempted just as we are. Yet, he did not succumb to the temptation; he continued to keep the will of the Father at the centre. And this leads us into the garden – right relationship with our God and others.
The source of our greatest suffering is the deification of our wills – when we put ourselves, our will at the center rather than God. In other words, making ourselves God leads to our greatest suffering. (Think of it in your relationship with others. How could this approach work in a marriage? It undermines the core of the marriage vows themselves.) When everyone puts their own will at the center, it leads to a community experiencing isolation, self-absorption, incredible conflict and extreme self protection. The Scriptures are clearly telling you and me this truth: do not put up the walls of self-absorption, do not fall into the trap and sin of deifying your will; rather, become servants of the will of God. That is basically our spiritual work this Lent. Who are you going to serve? Your selfish self or God?