10 March 2006

Leave it there!

1st Week of Lent 2006 (F): Ezekiel 18.21-28; Matthew 5.20-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving and Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas

Hear it!
I’ve decided to spend the rest of Lent in the desert west of San Antonio. I’m leaving right after Mass. Nothing but me, the sand, the hot wind, and a few lizards. I’ve packed the absolute essentials for desert survival: nonperishable food, lots of water, light but durable clothing, portable shelter…my laptop and printer, my cell phone, a small TV with satellite feed and TIVO, a microwave oven, an electric razor, a minifridge, portable air conditioning unit, a CD player, two trunks of books, a full set of vestments and Mass kit, twelve pairs of shoes, a cappuccino machine, and a table-top Kitchen-Aid mixer.

I’m also bringing a thirst for God, a hunger for righteousness, a longing need for love and hope, a contrite heart, several wounds that I won’t let heal, a couple of well-nursed grudges, some petty competitiveness, three sins that even God can’t forgive, a quiet self-loathing rooted in a fear of the flesh, several strange obsessions with rules and ritual observances, self-righteousness, pride, an envy of others’ gifts, a couple of huge decisions that I have to make soon, an unwillingness to say thank you to God, and a sure sense that I deserve more than I’m getting. With all of that and that minifridge on my back, I should be dead within a week!

No, I’m not going to the desert west of San Antonio. And, no, I’m not carrying any of that stuff around. But I am wondering how tempted we are to treat out Lenten retreat just this way. Are you tempted to bring into this time of survival in the desert alone with God all of the extraneous things of your life, all of the excesses of stuff, excesses of anxiety, hurry, plotting and planning, hurts, fears, lapses in holiness? You are? Good!

In some sense, I think this is the right way to do Lent! Bring all of this along. Bring your doubts, your panic, your rushing around, all your future preparations, all the sins you can’t or won’t let go of. Bring it all to the desert of Lent! But leave it there. Take it all into the desert and leave it there. Leave it all to the fired wilderness, the scouring sand, and burning wind. You are here among the cacti and lizards for forty days to survive alone with the Father, to be set ablaze with the austerity of a simple need—a need for Him alone.

This is the time to run after righteousness. A righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Run after the righteousness of a heart scrubbed raw by humility. Not a heart stressed to failure by meticulous rule-following or showy acts of religiousy compliance. Or a heart murdered by useless anxiety, self-pitying guilt, or a deep love for unhappiness. Jesus dares us to a righteousness, a justice of the spirit that settles us firmly into the peace of our Father’s rule.

You are dared by Christ to surrender, to just give up, give up everything that bends your back, hardens your heart, darkens your spirit. You are dared to walk into the desert naked and alone, and find there the peace of His kingdom, the rule of His eternal favor. And find Him there rejoicing at your freely offered sacrifice of a heart burned bare, your heart set ablaze by a longing, an aching need for His mercy.

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