November 14, 2019

Returning to the Lord

So that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings. (Genesis 9:15)

Evidently those misguided and self-righteous preachers who, in 2005, said that Katrina was God’s punishment for the sins of the people of New Orleans overlooked this passage. The same can be said of those who consider the devastating floods like those in California, Texas and Florida in 2017 as God’s punishment. God doesn’t punish but saves through the “flood” of Baptism. (cf. 1 Peter 3:18-22).

Punishment is already built-in in any wrong choices (sins) that people make. Natural calamities like floods, wreaking havoc and devastation on so many victims, are in great measure the result of human greed, ineptitude, indifference affecting everyone in their path regardless of the victims’ personal guilt or innocence.

Quite the opposite: in Christ Jesus, God has stooped down to our miseries; has taken on human flesh; has debased himself to our level so that we could not only be saved but become ourselves the instruments of his salvation so that his Kingdom could embrace everyone.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

As we begin the grace-filled time of Lent, we must realize that, in Christ Jesus, the history of us mortals and of God have become the same history, the History of Salvation. For this reason we cannot react to our passage from the Gospel of Mark (1:12-15) as if Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness by himself and, there, was tested alone by Satan and angels ministered to him alone.

From the moment the first believer was saved in the waters of Baptism to the time of fulfillment when Christ will have reached his fullness, Jesus should not be looked at as separate from us. Therefore, during Lent and throughout the year, we should never feel like little islands, isolated from one another and far from God, but as integral parts of the Total Christ, led into the wilderness caused by sin (ours and of other people)—with Jesus, struggling through temptations—with Jesus and ministered to by angels—with Jesus.

I guess that in our western world which stresses so much rugged individualism, it is harder for us to lead our lives with the comforting awareness of being enveloped, indwelled and “possessed” by God. In Jesus, in a sense, we are indistinguishable from the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Looking at us, the Father cannot allow his wrath to flare up and wipe us out as in the days before his covenant with Noah because our flesh is indistinguishable from Jesus’ flesh, our blood from his, our supplications from his. Since the Incarnation, the Father, in a sense, “fails” to see our sins because we are washed clean in the Blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb. This is the shocking way in which St. Paul put this reality: He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21)

Furthermore, those angels mentioned in our Gospel passage as ministering to Jesus in the wilderness inhabited by the wild beasts of sin might prepare us for the overwhelming fact that, in Christ, God wants to be… at our service.

 “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Luke 12:37)

“…I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)

Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Ultimately, this is the reality of the Kingdom that Jesus has ushered in and proclaimed. This is the time of fulfillment during which God carries out his all-encompassing service to us in the Blood of his Son.

If we stop and think, this fact should change everything for us: our outlook, our lifestyle, our expectations, the focus of our efforts, absolutely everything. And this is precisely the deeper meaning of Jesus’ command to REPENT.

Now we could take that order and consider it separately as the first stage of our life in Christ; but in most cases this is not how this order is fulfilled. What we should become aware of during Lent is rather that our decision to have a completely new outlook on reality (to repent) and the process of believing in the Gospel are taking shape at the same time. In other words, our return to the Lord happens at the same time in which we must decide to live by something, humanly speaking, outlandish such as the Beatitudes or other shocking statements made by Jesus.

It is not easy to pass from doing things out of self-interest and self-preservation to consider blessed those who mourn, who are persecuted or who are poor in spirit. It is not easy to pick intentionally the last place, to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. It is practically impossible to embrace the philosophy of a grain of wheat as our goal in life: to fall to the ground and die in order to bear much fruit. The same goes for washing each other’s feet, for loving each other as Jesus loved us on the cross, for denying our very self, for taking up our cross and following Jesus.

Do you see? Turning our outlook on its head, i.e., repenting and believing this bold teaching is something that can be, and in most cases is, overwhelming and disheartening. That is why it is so important for us to see ourselves as integral parts of Christ, sustained by his grace, living enveloped and held tightly by God the Father in his most loving embrace. This is the only way we can begin to consider our return to the Lord and believe that the impossible is actually not only possible but the very unique, single desire consuming our Heavenly Father.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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