First Sunday of Lent 'B'

Sunday March 1, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I came upon an old application form used several years ago for prospective candidates for Confirmation at one of my former parishes. Question number six addresses the relationship of prospective candidates with God in this way: “Which of the following phrases best describes your present relationship with God? a) still having trouble believing in God. b) I talk to God and look for God’s help. c) I believe in God, but God is not a big part of my life. d) I am growing in my relationship with God. e) other…

The vast majority answer check c, “I believe in God, but God is not a big part of my life.” I hope you don’t find that shocking.

It should not surprise us to learn that teens are less than enthusiastic about their relationship with God. They are outgrowing their childhood images in much the same way as they outgrew their image of Santa Claus. I hope that doesn’t sound shocking either!

It is less an issue of belief than a question of definition. In other words, their child-like and perhaps childish understanding of God is no longer adequate in their adolescent world. New challenges yield new questions to which old explanations and definitions fall short.

Indeed, religion is not for children; it is for adults. The simple faith of children must eventually give way to a stable adult faith to which they can commit themselves through faithful religious practice. That’s what it means to be an observant believer or a “practicing” Catholic. And being a “practicing” Catholic doesn’t mean just going to Mass on Sunday.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that although we adults might submit a different answer to that question, it is not always obvious that God is a part of our adult lives. Religion and religious practice can tend to become rote and even remote — disengaged from the secular. Faith can become cerebral, another academic pursuit as it were; religious practice just one more obligation among many. We recite our prayers instead of praying our prayers. We go to church instead of participating fully in the mysteries celebrated at these two tables at Mass — the table of God’s Word and the table of Eucharist. We may know a lot about God but we may not know God.

One of the outcomes of the Confirmation preparation process is to enable young people to “taste” God within a community of true believers — to be in relationship with a personal God who wants to be in relationship with all humanity; a God who we believe was fully revealed in the person of Jesus.

Lent is a time for adults to get to know God again perhaps for the first time, i.e., as we have never known God before. In order to do this, we too may need to shed our childish religion and re-visit our the Lenten stories stories with a more mature attitude.

Whenever I come upon the first reading about Noah and the ark, I think of Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz. It was a heartwarming rendition, full of the emotions that has made that song popular forever. Whom does a rainbow not excite?

The story of the great flood was not original to the Israelites nor was it intended as a children’s story. However, many adults continue to look for the remains of the ark somewhere in Turkey or northern Iraq. It’s a metaphoric story borrowed from an ancient Babylonian folk tale with a melodramatic outcome intended to demonstrate that God’s enduring covenant was not just with Israel but also with all humanity —indeed with all creation. In fact, it is a ‘creation’ story — a fresh start, a new beginning as if for the first time. The rainbow was to be the enduring sign that God would not resort to destruction again. The bow was an instrument of war and the raising of the bow in the air indicated that God would never go to war with the earth again. And so the rainbow became the symbol of reconciliation and peace.

Saint Peter’s letter calls to mind the story of the flood assigning a new meaning to the waters and to the ark. The ark is the church set free from sin by the waters of baptism and Noah is the prototype of Jesus who is the new Adam. We have been baptized into Christ and as such have become the Body of Christ, the enduring sign of a new covenant, the fulfillment of the promise symbolized in the rainbow. God will be faithful forever. You and I are to be the signs of God’s faithfulness. In essence, we are called to be rainbow people.

Lent is a time to re-enter the story, relive the experience and revive its meaning in the face of the challenges of the present age as we journey from Ash Wednesday to Calvary and then to the empty tomb.

We need to put ‘heart’ into the God stories and especially the Jesus stories. We need to dive into the God stories and especially the Jesus story. We need to be immersed in the waters again and again and again not to be re-baptized but to be washed of our sins and healed of our blindness to see as God sees.

This surely will engage us in a struggle. We do not always live the mystery willingly in the midst of voices that call us to live according to the law of politics and the rule of war instead of the demands of justice and the order of peace. This struggle is not only individual, it is also communal — for the whole church and for society at large. Mark’s account of Jesus’ temptations assures us that even he was not spared from the temptation to follow the rule of earthly kings instead of the heart of God.

War creates dissonance in the heart, in the family, in the nation and in the world. Though we succumb to battle, it cannot be the ultimate solution to ideological struggle or the unequal distribution of the world’s resources.

Does not the simple prayer of St. Francis state it as clearly as it can be stated?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where here is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive:
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in giving that we are born to eternal life.

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