Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent

Am a little late on the uptake with getting this on the blog.  Spent the past Saturday night, as I did the previous weekend, at the convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm.  The weather forecast for Sunday morning was, typically, miserable.  While I didn't turn out as bad as predicted, I did cover both Masses   And slept well the night before as there was no concern about driving.  Driving on snow and/or ice is definitely not on the list with raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and all that.  Quite the opposite.  

Gn 9:8-15
Ps 25:4-9
1 Pt 3:18-22
Mk 1:12-15

In general on Sundays the first reading and the gospel are related in some way while the second reading seems to be a bit deeper in left field.  On occasion the second reading and the gospel reflect each other with the first reading something of a puzzle.  Today however, the situation is such that the first and second readings play off each other while the gospel seems unattached.  The first reading details God's covenant with Noah, the covenant that promised flood waters would never cover the whole earth again.  This covenant was made despite the certainty that humankind would ignore and forget it. 

In its comments on this passage The Jewish Study Bible makes a fascinating point citing the Talmud.  Unlike the Torah, which is the first five books of the Jewish Bible,  the Talmud is a collection of commentaries on Torah that together form Jewish law. The Talmud makes the following observation in commenting on these verses. The descendants of Noah, that is all humankind, are obligated by seven commandments as opposed to the 613 imposed on observant Jews.  These seven are: To establish courts of justice, to refrain from blaspheming God, to refrain from idolatry, sexual perversion, bloodshed and robbery, and not to eat meat cut from a living animal.  Those who observe the "seven commandments of the descendants of Noah" can meet with God's full approval.  With the exception of eating meat cut from a living animal, the seven commandments resemble the Decalogue, the ten commandments, given to Moses.  The modern world would do well to take notice. 

The second reading from the First Letter of Peter, makes a direct reference to the Torah, in this case the story of Noah.  God waited patiently while the ark was built such that eight persons in all, and thus all humankind, were saved through water, water that Peter links to our baptism.

Water is a powerful symbol in the Church. It is a symbol that moves from the Old Testament into the New.  Consider the water in which the basket holding the infant Moses floated. The waters that were parted as the Israelites fled Egypt.  The waters of the Jordan in which Jesus was baptized.  The water mixed with blood that flowed from Jesus' side at the crucifixion.  Water is more important to human life than food.  We can live for quite a few days without food but only a handful of days without water.  Physicians spend much of their time in hospital, particularly in the intensive care units, worrying about and adjusting water balance in the critically ill.  Water is crucial to our physical lives; it is even more crucial to our spiritual lives.  

The waters of baptism are the way through which we all must enter to partake fully in the life of the Church.  Without the waters of baptism there is no spiritual life.  Without the waters of baptism there is no light of Christ.  Without the waters of baptism there is no partaking of the Eucharistic banquet or reception of the Holy Spirit.  Without the waters of baptism there is nothing.  Only a void.  A void like the one that existed before God said let there be light.  The light of Christ is fully visible only to those who have received the waters of baptism.

Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which give long and detailed descriptions of the interaction between Jesus and Satan in the desert, Mark's narrative of Jesus' forty days in the desert is as bare bones as it can be.  One would be hard pressed to understand the import or meaning of the forty days if we had only Mark's narrative.   

Lent is not meant to be only penitential.  It is a time that must be transformational as well.  It is a time to challenge ourselves to be more fully what Jesus wants us to be more fully what we want to be . . . but may not know how to become.

There were two possible formulae given for the imposition of ashes this past Wednesday. The first was a reminder of our common mortality:

"Remember, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return."

The second is advice not only for the holy season of Lent but the rest of our lives:

"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospels." 

As we observe this first Sunday of Lent, we are called to meditate on one and live according to the other.

Organs.  Nothing approaches the organ, particularly the power of a pipe organ, for liturgical music.  That organs are oftentimes visually beautiful adds to the experience.  All grand pianos look alike, they are rather boring.  But each organ is visually distinct and has its own personality when played.  

The organ at St. Mary's Church, Plymouth, PA, my home parish.  It is not the original one from when I was a kid.  Nice sound, particularly when Scott is playing it. 

The organ loft at St. Joseph Church in Warnambool, Victoria, Australia.  I spent three weeks here midway through tertianship.  It too had a lovely sound.  Very photogenic with the light coming through the stained glass. 

The organ in the loft at the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  This is a smaller organ for a smaller space.  Have only heard it briefly.  Am hoping to hear more when I celebrate the Triduum there at Easter. 

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.  This organ has power.  A lot of power.  It fills a huge space easily.  

The organ at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.  One of Our schools.  This organ was featured on many organ recital programs on public radio back when I lived in Plymouth.  Have only heard it played a few times.  There is good reason for it to be featured. 

Stay warm.  Not an easy task.  Driving to Framingham this AM the outdoor temperature indicator in the car registered MINUS 7.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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