Thursday after Ash Wednesday

February 11, 2016

Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 9:22-25

The Journey of Lent

But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
                                                                               Dante, Paradise XXXIII, 143-145

Today’s readings from Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 1, and Luke 9 invite us to reflect upon the mysterious relation between law, identity, and suffering.

The Law of Life
St. James describes the law as a mirror in which we see our “natural face.” It is not a body of rules imposed upon us from the outside; it is a portrait revealing the depth and beauty of the human form and function in action. (James 1:22-25) He calls it the “law of liberty” because it frees the life-principle at the very core of our being to develop and flourish. This is why Moses says that to choose the law is to choose life (Deut 30:19).

The Logos (Word) of Identity
St Paul tells us that our life is “hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3) With these words, St. Paul sounds the inexhaustible depths and riches of identity. I am hidden in Christ, the Eternal Word of Creation, through whom God spoke the cosmos into existence. (Psalms 104; Proverbs 8:22-31; John 1:1-3; Col 1:16). Christ is the Word which fashions the inner mysteries which make each person unique and irreplaceable. (Ps 139); he is the Word of Law and Culture, which plants within the deepest inclinations of the heart an orientation to others and toward the gifts of creation. (Gen 1:28; Ps. 8:5-8, 15; Rom 2:14). Finally, he is the Word of Redemption, the second Creation (John 1:12; James 1:21). This is the sense of identity which St. Francis lived and disclosed, and which finds expression in Laudato si. Because Christ is the Logos, I am an “ontological siblings” with all of creation and a participant in the very life of God.

The Swerve
And then, there is the mystery of sin – the condition for the I’s inexorable tendency to circle its wagons in self-defense. “Possessing skill beyond all expectation” (Sophocles, Antigone line 365), we have woven a technological and political bunker for the “I.” In this safe space, which neither nature, people, nor God can penetrate, I am free to fashion my own identity. There is a cosmic/tragic irony at work here. The more firmly ensconced in my self-fashioned “I”, the more threatened I feel, and the more inclined I am to wield the double-edged sword of self-justification and scapegoating. This is the cursed way of death to which Moses refers (Deut 30:17-18).

The Joyful Journey of Lent
In the gospel reading for today Jesus tells his disciples the sad news of his imminent passion, followed by an unimaginably terrifying invitation: take up your cross! (Luke 9:22-23) Naturally, they recoil. Only later, in the light of the resurrection, would they grasp the significance of these words. “For the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2) When I take up the cross, I crawl out of the cramped space of my bunker to begin the joyful pilgrimage of lent: the journey “in him,” “with him” and ultimately “to him,” where he sits at the right hand of the throne of God. As Dante reminds us, this “right hand” is Love, the fundamental law of being and existence. As it turns out, this is also where my true life and identity are found – their beginning and end.  

Dr. David Foote
Associate Professor of Catholic Studies