Sunday, February 24, 2008

Eyes Fixed on the Lord

Third Sunday of Lent
24 February 2008

Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, quia ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos. Respice in me et miserere mei, quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego. (Psalm 24: 15-16)

My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord, for he releases my feet from the snare. O look at me and be merciful, for I am wretched and alone.

Opening Prayer

Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.

With a powerful Gospel like that of the encounter at the well between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman and the discourse about living water, it hardly seems appropriate to offer a reflection on anything else this Sunday, but I find myself drawn to the Opening Antiphon and Prayer of today's Mass.

I guess I'm looking for a word of challenge and encouragement for the “hardened sinner”: “hardened”-big or “hardened”-small, mortal/grave or venial/faults and failings type of sinner. What do I say to myself and to others as preacher to turn on that light, to open that door, to point out that “path less taken”. Which way leads to Lenten conversion? I think that our antiphon from Psalm 24 can be a great deal of help or at least it can offer us another approach than those we may have tried to date in achieving our goal through prayer, fasting and works of mercy without ending up back again at square one.

To say “My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord” is to say something powerful and big. Truth to be told, not many of us can say it: we are people of wandering eyes and therefore of wandering thoughts. The distractions are partly imposed upon us by our world: TV, sound systems, cellphones, the Web... Even people of modest means have many more things which crowd them than in the past. Our world everywhere is noisier and hence more distracting than once upon a time. What to do?

Perhaps the effort is futile. Should we be that focused in life? What would being that focused look like? Would it leave us time to earn a living, to live our lives, to smell the flowers, as they say?

Lenten sacrifices are meant to have to do with giving up vices, yes, but also and especially offering up good things for the benefit of the discipline as well as the symbolic value, the significance of the sacrifice involved. On the other hand, even when it comes to repentance from our sins and our firm resolve to sin no more, it's kind of like the old country western song's refrain: “Temptation, get away from me... but not too far!” That our life is with the Lord, we know. Rarely, however, do we encounter people like St. Paul who are torn between this world and the next. The here and now, sometimes even the sinful one, seems to have the edge over our longing for heaven.

As we said in the opening pray, we are discouraged by our weakness, by the way we give in to distractions. We seek a confidence in the love of the Lord, which will free us from anxiety. Having been freed from the snare by forgiveness, we are often faced with Jesus' admonition not to have cleaned and swept the house for the devil to return with seven spirits worse than himself, thus leaving us in a worse state than we were in before our Lenten penance.

The message would be that we really are fooling ourselves if we cannot identify with the psalmist: “O look at me and be merciful, for I am wretched and alone”. The good is not to be found in setting our hearts on the here and now. Where in this world can I look for my good? Which other person, what other thing is going to carry me? Not only is Godless-living a folly, but a “time-share” relationship (Sunday, Lord, for You and the rest for me) doesn't work either. St. Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

Everybody should take the habit then, right? Not quite! Another way of approaching the matter is in trying to understand what is meant by the command to “pray constantly”. “My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord” is really a figure for the same thing. Another way of saying it is to say that we need to live in the Lord's presence at all times, not as if we were under surveillance but as if we were being held or accompanied by Him.

I recently had a visit from a woman of retirement age, born here in Trinidad, but who had spent all her adult life up north. With time on her hands over Christmas, my friend reflected with me on what distinguishes Trinidad today from the Trinidad of her childhood and youth. Permit me to share one little insight, which I have since tested with other ordinary folk and have found to be frighteningly accurate. These are not her words, they are mine. “Mommies are no longer sanctifying the home with prayer and song as they did almost universally 50 and more years ago.” I repeat, those are my words; what she told me and what every adult in Trinidad whom I have asked about this has confirmed, goes this way: namely, that back when they were children, while mother was at home all week doing her chores, she would hum or sing the hymns from Sunday Mass.

When I mentioned this to one man, he looked at me as if a light had gone on in his head, as it dawned on him for the very first time why he could sing all the hymns from heart, by heart, as a child. Mommy provided the joyful noise which was a direct link with God and a window on the Gospel. Granted, I would be the last one to suggest that we try and turn back the clock. Even so, one must ask, how was it that such a good part of society lived in the presence of God, while cleaning up the house, hanging out the clothes, washing the dishes or changing and bathing the baby? Have we lost that grace forever? How can we recover it? What would be the equivalent in our day and time and how do we attain that atmosphere for ourselves and generations to come?

Maybe it would be enough, rather than trying to answer objections like “I can't sing”, my job doesn't allow of humming and such, just simply to say, beyond your Lenten resolutions... Seek the Lord! Keep an eye on the One who has forgiven you, on the One who grants you salvation, life and joy without end. We can be frightfully anxious and depressed, if we focus on the limited. The limitless is so much better and so much more beautiful.

My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord, for he releases my feet from the snare. O look at me and be merciful, for I am wretched and alone.

Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.

Amen. Amen.

No comments: