Lent and the Essentials of Our Faith

Published on 2nd Apr, 2017

Lent is often described as a time of getting back to basics. A kind of autumn pruning when we focus on the essentials of our faith.

Focusing should not be confused with narrowing down. Our Lenten Sunday readings are big picture.

The Genesis creation story – you can’t get a wider kaupapa than that – is retold and in it we are reminded of God’s great desire to be at work among us.

Though God rested on the seventh day, God’s mahi was and never is complete. At the centre of the garden of Eden were two trees – the tree of life and the tree of knowledge – and they were reserved to God.

Why? Because God wanted to remain working in the garden of our lives. Those two trees then can be understood as forerunners of our sacraments because the sacraments are God’s work, God’s gift to us of the goodness and sustenance of his own life; sacraments are not prizes or rewards for our own achievements and thus, as Pope Francis has been reminding us, should never be presented as kinds of grades to be met.

Back to the creation story. What of the devil or serpent? His temptation of Eve is not simply to eat forbidden fruit. The temptation is to reject God’s desire to be at work among us. The devil says: ‘by-pass God and help yourself to the fruit’. And thus emerges the supreme human folly: make God redundant ‘and you will be like gods’ (Genesis 3:5).

Lent is the season then in which we try to notice God at work in the entirety of our lives and communities. The two reserved trees were set apart but they were not in quarantine; they were set apart because they were indispensable for it was they which made all the rest of the garden fruitful and plentiful too.

Lent invites us to notice and marvel at the link between God and goodness, between the indispensable source of goodness and examples of it. In doing that our sense of awe and wonder are renewed.

“Lent is the season in which we try to notice God at work in the entirety of our lives and communities.”

The multitude of good principles and acts and movements in our lives and society – social justice, voluntary work, ecological concern, whanau ora, disarmament etc, etc, all stem from God’s design for our world – the tree of life – of which we are tillers and cultivators not patrons or would be little gods. When we forget that, when we forget to make the link, we can unintentionally begin to paganise our world through substituting God with examples of goodness. We can start to follow an ideology rather than live a faith. Or more simply put, we notice only our own favourite tree and not the whole of God’s magnificent garden.

Let us grow in awe and gratitude this Lent. Let us humble earthly pride (Exsultet, Easter Vigil). For, ‘not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory’ (Psalm 115).

Bishop Charles

Published in WelCom April 2017

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