Refreshing our faith in Lent

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday of Lent in Cycle B, 07 March 2021
Exodus 20:1-17  ><}}}*>  1Corinthians 1:22-25  ><}}}*>  John 2:13-25
Parish Church of St. Joseph in Baras, Rizal.

One thing we notice in Lent is the “noble simplicity” of celebrations: no flowers at the altar, simple music without percussions, without Gloria no Alleluia meant to refocus our attention back to God in a more personal level.

That is why during Lent, our faith is refreshed or rebooted in order to “reset” it back to God himself than with rites and rituals and other formalisms that have made our relationships with him and with one another stagnant.

When faith and religion get fixated on formal codes of worship and belief, detached not only from God but even with people like those in the margins, then it had become an idolatry.

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

John 2:13-17
Photo from turbosquid.com.

Our personal, relating God

On this Third Sunday of Lent until its final Fifth week, we turn to the fourth Gospel of John to deepen our personal relationship with the Father in Christ when each gospel is compacted with signs and language rich in meanings to reignite our faith with “zeal” that “consume” us like Jesus.

Observe John’s formal introduction of this episode of cleansing of the temple by presenting to us its chronemics, the non-verbal communication of time and space to indicate the presence of God in Passover (time), Jerusalem, and temple (space/place). Keep in mind that the fourth gospel is called “the book of signs” because John would always use events, buildings and places, and people as signs pointing to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

In this episode that immediately happens at the start of the Lord’s ministry as seen by John, something very wrong have happened with the very signs of God’s presence so revered by the people during their important feast of Passover right in their temple in Jerusalem: God had been eased out from the lives of the people and from their worship itself!

The gospels teem with many references at how the people at that time led by the temple officials and religious leaders have turned into worshipping rites and rituals than God himself, forgetting to serve the people by sticking to the letters than to the spirit of the Laws that Jesus always attacked.

It is similar to our own time where our faith and church worship have become empty of God and spirituality filled with human inanities led by some priests who tinker with liturgy, forgetting its noble simplicity, that less is always more. In our efforts to make God “present” with so many “shows” and gimmicks in the liturgy and church buildings, the more we have removed the Divine, unconsciously creating a cult around ourselves.

Notice some churches devoid of the holy with all the flat screens and tarpaulins all over. Worst is how priests have promoted this culture of shouting and clapping of hands during and after Mass as if God were deaf!

So many other things are sadly going in our celebrations where emotions are heightened without really stirring the hearts nor souls with God’s presence. Good liturgy flows from our personal and faithful relationship with God anchored in prayer life, not with shows and activities.

In the first reading, God reminds us in his Commandments that more than laws, these are meant to bring us into a relationship with him our God. See God speaking in the first person, addressing everyone with conversational personal pronouns, “I am the Lord your God” or “I am the Lord thy God”.

More than a mere body of commandments, the Decalogue are a covenant by God with people he had freed from slavery, pledging his unfailing fidelity to them who are expected to be wholeheartedly attached with him as their Lord and God. The Decalogue is first of all a call to intimacy with God expressed with our respect for one another.

This Lent, God invites us to renew our personal relationship with him in Jesus who had come to bring equilibrium in our lives through his Cross where our vertical relationship with the Father is intersected by our relationships with one another in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ. Without this, our faith or any religion will drift to extremes, either to joyless conformism as seen in fundamentalism and traditionalism or exaggerated expressionisms happening nowadays, disregarding the norms of liturgy and of sanity as well. In both instances, there is human manipulation strongly present that pretend to serve God but actually massage somebody’s ego, totally forgetting the people who suffer most.

Photo by author, 2019.

Jesus himself as the new temple

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was newly elected in office, he wrote a bishop in Europe suffering with cancer. According to reports, the former Pope tried to uplift the spirits of the sick bishop by telling him that “Jesus saved the world not with activities but by suffering and dying on the cross.”

Beautiful words from one of the most spiritual and theological man of our time! Here lies too the fullness of our relationship with God expressed in our worship when our “zeal” for him is consumed in our oneness in Jesus Christ, our new temple.

At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

John 2:18-22

John now presents to us Jesus more than a prophet cleansing the temple with full authority, being the perfection of every worship that is “in Spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23) because as the Messiah of God offered on Good Friday which is also the feast of the Jewish Passover, his Body becomes the new temple.

Of course, sacred buildings are still important as well as rites and rituals but they are signs pointing to the realities of Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel or God-is-with-us truly felt in ourselves, in our lives when we have that oneness, that intimacy in him in our personal and communal prayers that flow down to our interpersonal relationships with others especially the poor and the suffering.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last October, I had the most severe test in life when my only brother was diagnosed with an ailment affecting his spine, becoming immobilized for three months. I took him to my parish so I can look after him. What was most difficult for me was seeing him suffer, writhing in pain even in the middle of the night, sometimes begging me to ask God to take him so his sufferings may finally end.

I thought already knew how to pray, that I was tough and strong especially in my faith but, like a child, I would always hide and cry to God for my only brother who in his entire life has always been sickly and afflicted with many illnesses.

One morning in our daily Mass, tears swelled in my eyes during consecration as I held the Body of Christ in my hands with my voice breaking as I said, THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.

How I wanted to stop the Mass at that moment to cry in joy as I felt Jesus so true, in his flesh and blood, truly alive and personal!

Until now I could not explain what or how I felt that I cried at that time except that the night before, I assisted my brother in bed and cleaned him up. It was very difficult and even messy but a great moment of God’s grace and mercy for me expressing my love for him through my brother. That is when I realized that to truly touch Jesus is first of all to touch him among our sick brothers and sisters; that there is an intimate connection between the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and everyone especially the sick and suffering. And, for us to truly receive the Body of Christ, to experience the Holy Communion in him, we must first have his eyes and heart and hands among those deprived around us (https://lordmychef.com/2020/10/28/the-body-of-christ/).

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Good Friday 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Faith in God is not meant to be explained nor analyzed. Though we do not stop studying and learning our faith doctrines and teachings, we are reminded this third Sunday of Lent to keep our zeal for God burning. Let us pray to Jesus that like him, may our zeal for the Father consume us by seeing him in persons not on things that are often self-serving. Amen.

Have a blessed and refreshing Sunday in the Lord with your family and loved ones!

Photo by author, 2019.

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