The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 2, 2001 Issue

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.

Summoned to Serve

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 of values.

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 conversion.

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."

Desert Mystique

solitude -setting

silence - mentor

simplicity - style

"world" held at bay

reverently received

no "thing" sought

"nothingness" embraced

Spirit fruit

peace, love, joy...

distilled to compassion

"common" commonplace

womb for rapture

"sense" yields to "non-sense"

love-lured to "beyond-sense"

mystic-fired "full-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.)

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