1st Sunday of Lent
“Come let us worship the Lord
who for our sake endured
temptation and suffering.”
Every morning during Lent the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours, begins with this antiphon. Temptation and suffering are two critical words that define what it means to be human. They characterize the human condition. Temptation and suffering describe how Jesus was like us, like us in all things but sin. Though the word temptation generally suggests something negative and almost synonymous with sin, the Latin, Hebrew, and Greek roots of the word temptation are neutral. They suggest “trying,” “testing,” or “proving.”
Each of the temptations satan dangled in front of Jesus were tests of his trust in God the Father. Each temptation tested Jesus’ obedience to his Father. Unlike Adam, who was disobedient to God’s command, Jesus, the New Adam, was obedient to the Father’s will in all things. He was obedient even to accepting death on the cross. Satan held up temptations front of Jesus, who was hungry from fasting, tired from prayer, and disoriented from his long time in the desert. They are the same temptations satan presents to us. They are the same temptations that dance in front of our eyes when we are hungry, when we are tired, or disoriented. They are the temptations we must confront when we are dissatisfied with the status quo, when we are more concerned with being of the world rather than simply in the world.
In the first test satan tempts a hungry Jesus with bread. “C’mon, take care of yourself. You can be self-sufficient. Aw Jesus, just do it.” Sound familiar? It is more than bread here. It is the temptation to self-sufficiency, the temptation to taking care of number one: me, myself and I. That temptation looms large in our lives.
The second temptation is to put God to the test. “Hey Jesus, it’s a quid pro quo. You jump and the Father saves you. If not . . . welllllll.” God is not a divine marionetteer who pulls our strings to make us dance. Nor is God a marionette that we control with strings or with prayer. “If this or that happens I will no longer believe in God.” That is the type of thinking characteristic of a three year-old. An immature three year-old at that. How often do we try to test God in that way? How often do we demand that God answer our prayers in a highly specific manner? The late Jesuit Father Stanley Marrow, was accurate when he wrote that, '. . . our appetite for signs is insatiable. We are forever testing to see if God is still there, to check whether our prayers are getting through.'
The third temptation is the classic Faustian bargain. “Sell your soul. Worship me. I will give you great power.” Power. Prestige. Money. Control. These idols have replaced God in too many lives. Just read the papers. Or if you really want to become repulsed, follow the campaign for president in the U.S. At the moment taking Slovenian citizenship seems like a good idea.
All of Jesus' replies to Satan are direct quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus freely chose to be faithful. He freely chose to be obedient to God the Father. And in so doing he made it possible for us to imitate Him in our own exercise of free will.
Human freedom, the gift of free will, is generally misunderstood. It is not a freedom from. It is not freedom from restrictions, rules, or responsibility. Freedom is not the opportunity to choose anything whatsoever. Dogs and monkeys can do that. They have no will, only instincts. Freedom is not the ability to adopt an individual attitude towards this or that.
Human freedom is freedom for. Human freedom, our free will, is the possibility of saying yes or no. As we see in Jesus' example in the Gospel human freedom is the possibility to say yes or no to one's self, one's real self. Free will grants us the ability to decide for or against ourselves, to decide for or against God. Freedom is the opportunity to choose or to reject sin and to act on that choice. Think back to Adam and Eve. They chose and acted on their choice. They chose wrongly. But they were and remained free. We have the same freedom. Jesus had that same freedom. He is our model, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
“Come let us worship the Lord
who for our sake
endured temptation and suffering.”
It has been a rewarding and deeply consoling three weeks here in Ljubljana and Maribor (I spent half me time there). The Jesuit community has been warm and helpful. As I've come to see the work they are doing here I am having the opportunity to see the Society at its best. They are taking risks, beginning some new apostolates and working very hard.
Most consoling has been meeting the college students, mostly those from other countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Netherlands and Italy to name a few) who are studying here for a semester. We met at Mass on Sunday and Bible study on Friday evenings. The last Bible study for many of the students this past Friday began at 8 PM as usual. It ended at midnight. Also met a few Americans while here. Approximately 50 people attend the English Mass at 11 AM on Sunday.
The weather has been interesting. Thursday was glorious. Will include some photos of going with Fr. Joze (little mark over the z) to his family farm in the mountains about thirty minutes from here. Then to Maribor. Snow began as we returning from Maribor at noon on Friday. It began to rain Friday night. The rain changed to snow. LJ (Ljubljana) got about 2 inches of wet heavy snow. Saturday dawned spectacularly sunny. Yeah, I was out with the camera for several hours. Fortunately I brought some water-resistant construction boots with me. It was no time for a pair of canvas Chucks.
I fly home on Tuesday. Leave LJ at 7 AM (one of the men will drive me to the airport at 5 AM and I will owe him dinner should he come to Boston) for a short flight to Munich. Seven hours in Munich and then direct shot to Boston. This is not bad. The other option was LJ to Geneva. Geneva to Paris-Charles de Gaulle, an airport I hope to never visit again. Then, and this is the kicker, CDG to JFK arriving in New York at 9:15 PM with a flight to Boston at 7:00 AM. Nine hours overnight at JFK. No way. I could drive from NYC to Boston in four hours but not at that time of the night. Munich will be fine.
Thursday in the mountains was tremendous. Frs. Joze and Vili and I hiked at a slow pace for about an hour. I lagged behind a great deal. They were good humored about it. The first photo is a house just up the street from Father's family home and farm that his brother and sister still run. Wonder if it is recycling day.
This is the view from the back door of the family home. Indeed, I took this as I was getting into the car for the short drive back to LJ. These mountains are visible from parts of LJ including a little bit from the skylight in my room. Hope to return.
The parish church in the town. The priest was very welcoming, it seems to be a characteristic of Slovenians. Tea, cookies, cheese, bread on no notice whatsoever. He also had a dog. Glad he was tied up on a short leash. There are thousands of them.
The two below are from the cold room or root cellar in the family home. We had some of the kielbasa for lunch. It was great. Father came to call me to lunch and saw me taking photos of the kielbasa curing. He found it rather funny and, I suspect, bizarre. This evening I showed him the photo and told him that in my eyes it is the Mona Lisa. Then he lost it.
We have many dozen of eggs in the refrigerator. It turns out that they come from Father's family. He took a handful of empty cartons out with us.
The next two photos are from the Butcher's Bridge in LJ. A number of years ago it became the custom for lovers to place a padlock (mostly, there were a few very large bicycle locks. Was wondering what the stories were behind those) that is sometimes inscribed with names and dates.
Back in LJ we see a man shoveling snow to clear out a sidewalk cafe for business. Slovenians are prone to sitting outdoors for their coffee in weather that would rule out the possibility for most Americans. This one included. When offered the chance to do so on a day in the fifties I declined.
The view from the plaza in front of the Franciscan Church. Ljubljana seems to be a mixture of wide public spaces and narrow streets and alleys.
A narrow cobblestoned street.
Slovenia appears to celebrate Valentine's Day though it seems with less hysteria compared with the U.S. The photo of the nearby cafe, again with outdoor seating, was probably not going to be using it today. The snow is gone. But it poured all day long.
Wonder if they had plans to today?
And finally Fr. Peter who invited me over. We were at Georgetown together while he was doing his PhD. Social paranoia was a part of a paper he was writing. It was obvious that his understanding of paranoia and delusional thinking was not much better than the popular understanding. We had a very long conversation that night. I gave him some papers, and subsequently quite a bit of what he wrote. Slovenian does not have the articles 'a' and 'the.' He is quite the athlete and has participated in triathlons. He ran by me in the plaza in front of the Franciscan Church. Couldn't resist a few photos. Oh to be able to run again. But that ain't gonna happen. Ever.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD