Choosing God's ways as our ways
Lent calls for more than choosing some good work or penance we like
By Fr. Ellis Zimmer, OFM, Cap.
As Lent begins, the Scripture text: "God's ways not our ways" (Is
55:8) offers a timely reminder of God's startling choices for us.
God's Son, born in impoverishment, primes his public ministry
with a grueling fast of 40 days in the desert. He will conclude
his earthly life on a cross hanging between criminals and crying:
"I thirst!" (Jn 19:28)
In these God-choices the common denominator is kenosis
(emptying). Love drove God to these actions. Jesus teaches us a
message vital to our spiritual growth: through self-emptying we
achieve fullness of life and purpose.
Lent's first Sunday Readings focus us toward a wholeness that
can't ignore the task of self-emptying. The example of Jesus
fasting in the desert sets the stage. He was hungry. Three times
the devil tempted him to draw him away from obedience to the
Father, baiting him to use his power for self-satisfying ends
rather than remain faithful to his mission. Jesus spurned each
attempt with a fitting quote from Deuteronomy. He remained empty,
choosing the path of humility and obedience.
Jesus' temptations in the wilderness connect him with ancient
Israel where the People of God were tested and often failed. His
temptations also resemble those we face when we choose poorly
from selfish intent, or find ourselves drawn to a different set
The seductive enticements of our society are not helpful in
seeking a simpler, purer Gospel response for living. Lent
challenges us to a fresh embrace of Gospel values and their
grace-filled fruit. Words like loving, giving, losing, emptying,
form the gritty, gutsy underpinning of Gospel values. "Anyone who
finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my
sake will save it" (Mt 10:39).
It's helpful to ask: Do I, at times, contest God's ways rather
than receive the Divine plan peaceably, generously, as it unfolds
in my life? Lent calls for more than simply choosing one's own
penances or good works. A far more challenging Lenten choice is
to confidently open oneself to the mystery of death/resurrection
of Jesus. As we marvel at God's saving ways for us, we allow the
transformative energy of God to kindle deeper desire for
In the second Reading, Paul says this disposition is the core of
our journey: "The word is near you, on your lips and in your
heart." Embracing the "word" and proclaiming it with conviction
becomes the fiber of our trust-walk as we allow it to lure our
hearts, to re-establish Gospel values grown tired.
Mary Magdalen's life offers a profound example of Christ's
transformative power. She stood beneath the cross of Christ, her
heart completely "emptied" in sorrow. Restless, she later
wandered to the tomb, seeking closeness to her Beloved, and heard
him say: "Mary!" What was empty in her before surged to ecstatic
"fullness" as she raced back to the others with Jesus'
instructions to tell the Good News.
In our spiritual journeying, "emptiness" and "fullness" exist
side-by-side. It is a progressive movement in our life with God,
the "emptying" making room for further "filling." It can be
likened to a "desert experience." Our journeys are ever unique,
yet shared intimately in the "comm-union" of
brotherhood/sisterhood at Eucharist. It is just as truly shared
when we are alone, yet much aware of our "comm-uning with each
other in the gathering mystery of God-love. Always, we are a
"communion" people, bonded in the mystery of Trinitarian life and
love. In our faithfulness to this love-mystery of
giving/receiving, our growth is assured.
The following verses came to me weeks ago as I reflected on
Jesus' birth into poverty. Rhythmed to emptying/filling, the poem
is a bare-bone summary of spiritual journeying, accessible to
all, here cast in desert mystique. Hopefully it offers insight
and inspiration for taking up our challenging diocesan theme this
year: "Summoned to Serve."
silence - mentor
simplicity - style
"world" held at bay
no "thing" sought
peace, love, joy...
distilled to compassion
womb for rapture
"sense" yields to "non-sense"
love-lured to "beyond-sense"
God, the welcomed
God, the Welcomer!
(Fr. Zimmer, a Capuchin priest, lives as a hermit on the grounds
of Monte Alverno Retreat House, Appleton.)