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First Sunday of Lent

February 14, 2016
Reflection by Professor Thomas Groome
Director, Church in the 21st Century Center

Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is completing his fortieth year of teaching at BC. He also serves as Director of BC's Church in the 21st Century Center. Tom is widely recognized as one of the leading Catholic religious educators in the world and is known for his commitment to integrating faith with the everyday of life. One of his many widely read books is What Makes Us Catholic: Gifts for Life (Harper Collins).  

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent:
Dt. 26: 4-10
Romans 10: 8-13
Luke 4: 1-13

We All Have Faith Stories to Tell

The great Jewish scholar Elie Weisel tells an old Chasidic tale of Rabbi Baal Shem Tov; the punch line is that "God made humankind because God loves stories" (Google it). So, being made in the Divine image, no wonder we love stories too. 

As persons, we are so shaped by our stories, not only the ones we tell but also the ones that tell us -- who we are and how to be in the world. And those stories that shape us can be a mixed bag. The key to our wellbeing, then, is to embrace our empowering stories and to reject or re-story the disabling ones.

All of us have stories that we should believe and others we should stop believing. But discerning between them can be difficult to do. A key resource, however, for choosing our life-giving stories nad replacing destructive ones is the Story of Christian faith. In Jesus, its climax, we have "the greatest Story ever told." He came, speaking mostly in parables (stories! Matthew 13:34) "that (we) may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). So Christian faith amounts to the constant integration of our own story with the Christian Story toward fullness of life-in-faith.

Pause and Reflect

  • Recall a memorable moment when you integrated your life with your faith, bringing together your own story with the Christian one.
  • As you recall it now, what life-giving wisdom does it yield?

Telling God the Story

The first reading today reflects “in spades” that God loves stories. Take out your Bible and read it through for yourself; I suggest you read the “whole story” – Deuteronomy 26: 1-11.

Here Moses is instructing the Israelites that when they come into the land of promise, they must offer its first fruits to God. But notice the procedure that Moses recommends. The priest is to place the first fruits “in front of the altar” before God.  Then, before explicitly offering their gift, the people are to first retell God their great story of God’s liberating them from the slavery of Egypt and bringing them into this promised land. Having reminded God of the story, they are then to offer the first fruits. One commentator suggests that by retelling their story, the Israelites, a little humorously, tie God’s hands. Their hope is that in light of the story, God cannot but accept their offering.  

Easter

In Hebrew faith, to retell God the story of God’s saving work is to have it “happen” again. And isn’t this what Christians do when we celebrate Eucharist? We tell God the story again of what happened “On the night before he died,” and Jesus’ saving self-gift on our behalf is made truly present again - from retelling the story.  

In recent years, the Church has placed new emphasis on the baptismal responsibility of all Christians to evangelize – to live and share the good news story of the Gospel - with joy. There is no more effective way to do so than by sharing the stories told by and about Jesus.  And the ones that have been most life-giving for your own story will most likely be likewise for others.

Reflect and Decide

  • Think of someone in your life at this time who might benefit from hearing your own faith story or re-hearing a story of Jesus (don’t forget your children, grandchildren).
  • How or when might you share it – for Lent?

Evangelizing From the Heart

Evangelizing is sharing what we believe; proselytizing is telling other people what they should believe. We are always entitled to evangelize but not to proselytize (well, maybe our kids). We must ever share our faith “with reverence and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15).

All of us can be self-conscious in sharing our faith; yet our baptism mandates us to do so. In today’s second reading, Paul gives a helpful hint. He writes, “The word is near you. In your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10: 8). So let us confidently share our faith story from our heart and it will most likely be heard! It is the best gift we have to offer.

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