Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reflections Wed 3rd Week of Lent C: Michael U. Udoekpo

Reflections Wed 3rd Week of Lent C: Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Deut 4; 1, 5-9; Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20 and Matt 5:17-19

Obedience and Fidelity as we Journey through Lent

Today we come together, again to celebrate our 1st Wednesday’s Mass after our Spring Break. And I hope we all took advantage of it to give ourselves a little time off, a little rest. Some of us actually rested. While some still had some travels to make, some meetings and theological conferences to attend. I some of us upstairs using that opportunity to tidy up their rooms and offices, or finish up their assignments and take home mid-term exams. Some of us may also have squeezed-in a little time to follow the events in the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo, or the economic sequestration arguments between our law makers and the rest of the nation. Whatever you were doing, I guess all were done in the in the spirit of Lent, “a time we consciousness reexamine or “reconscientize” our relationship with God, and with our neighbors. Or as the Russells would Ignatiantly put it the other day, on Ash Wednesday, “a time for reexamination of consciousness.”

As we journey through the discipline of Lent 2013, with all the scriptures we have read; with all the great homilies, sermons and reflections we have shared, our confidence in God continues to grow. We are confident in his presence. We are confident in his nearness to us. We are confident in his protection. We are confident in God’s provisions for us, his love, his mercy and forgiveness (‘erege payim), especially when we turn to him in repentance, fidelity and obedience.

It is this virtue of obedience that is at the heart of the two sermons of today’s bible readings. One is from Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 4, and the other from Jesus’ sermon on the mountain, in Matthew chapter 5.

Deuteronomy basically is a farewell address, a reflective speeches, or series of 3 sermons given by Moses in the land of Moab, on the themes of obedience and fidelity to the Covenant. In this first sermon (today’s first reading) Moses reviews Israel’s past history and what God has done for them, from creation through liberation in the wilderness.

Appealing to the Scriptures, Moses then preaches and encourages Israel to be obedient to the Lord’s precepts. He says, “Observes them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statues, and say, “this is a great nation…., smart, intelligent people.”

 For Moses it is a wise thing for Israel to practice obedience and observe the Torah, the teachings of God. And the blessings that come with such wise response is the inheritance of that Land which God had promised Israel- that land, that rest, that covenant of peace, prosperity, that Katapausis (for those taking Epistle to the Hebrews with me), which God has promised them.

For Moses, obedience to God is not a contradiction to wisdom. It is not a sign of weakness. It does not contradict faith or our greatness, but rather it appeals to our human prides without ethics and righteousness. Obedience to God is nothing else, but recognition of God’s nearness in our homes, in our midst, his abiding presence with us, especially as we journey through Lent. 

In the context of the Gospel’s sermon on the mountain (Matt 5:17 Christ on the other hand affirms Moses’ exhortations, – the call to fidelity and obedience, which many of Israel’s prophets (Hosea 6:6, Amos 5, Micah, Jeremiah) , including the  Psalmist, have all stressed. For each of these prophets, “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Put, differently by the poet of Psalm 95 “O that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your heart…”   However, Christ, in Matthew 5:17, reminds his disciples that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but he came to bring them to a fulfillment/ perfection/telois. For Christ a good disciple of his will go beyond empty ritual and sacrifices will go beyond lip-services to teach, to love, to encourage one another, and to live scriptures as expressed in the tradition and magisterium of the Church.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan addressing this subject of obedience, in one of his writings, Priests for the Third Millennium defines Obedience, but at the same time acknowledges how difficult it could be to obey. He says,

“Obedience could be the easiest virtue to describe, but the toughest to live. Obedience is simply conforming our lives to the will of God, submitting ourselves to his dominion as expressed in the Bible, in the Tradition and magisterium of the Church, in natural law, in the directives of our legitimate superiors (our Rector, professors, administration), in the dictate of a well form conscience and in the prompting of the Holy Spirit interpreted prudently in discernment (cf.  p. 75).

The Cardinal, who is now in Rome, is right. None of these was going to be easy. My brothers and sisters, as we wake up each day, exit our homes  or rooms to our cars, offices, work places, meetings, shops,  class rooms,  shovel the snows, or run around this building, we are bound to be met with all kinds challenges, and frustrations. Challenges to love, to forgive, encourage one another, to work as a team, to teach and walk the faith. We are met with challenges, akin to those of the Israelite in the desert, who were gathered to listen to Moses’ sermon on mount Horeb, or those who listen to Christ’s sermon on the mountain, in Matt 5 on the perfect law of love.

 Lent is a time we want to re-acknowledge or "reconscientize" ourselves of how weak and broken we are, how vulnerable we are to these challenges, of the prides of our times, and of the desert of selfishness and individualism.  It is also a time we strive to acknowledge how great, how smart and how wise we could be, and how near God is to us, when we strive in our own little ways to be faithful to our callings, and practice the virtues of obedience and fidelity to God and his teachings.