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Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent

Posted on February 21, 2021, by Eileen Custy SL

“I will be your God and you will be my people.” We are a people with a history of covenants entered into with our God. In the first reading, God promised Noah that the people would never again be destroyed. In the covenant with Abraham, God promises, “I will make you a great people and all nations will be blessed through you.” With Moses, God says, “Be faithful to the commandments and I will be faithful to you.” In the Davidic Covenant, it says, “Through David, God will form the people and promises a messiah.” And finally, there is the New Covenant – the covenant of love – the advent of the Messiah to teach us how to love: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Today’s Gospel invites us to sit with Jesus in the desert. Try to imagine what was like for him – wrestling with the decision of how to conduct this ministry he felt called to. Perhaps he might drop the whole idea. His cousin has been arrested. What will that mean for Jesus? If he carries out this mission will he also end up in prison? Can he refuse to continue on this path and live a peaceful life in Nazareth? Yes, he could do that. But if he continues and is arrested, what good would that do? The mission would probably fail. What is God calling him to do? I can’t imagine that Jesus was enjoying a peaceful retreat with his God. He was human – he was probably fearful – he was wrestling with what to do next. He had to know that continuing his mission could mean imprisonment and possibly failure or even death. But on the other hand, there was the tug of his God to go forth and not be afraid. I suspect most of us have a tiny understanding of his struggle, having gone through slightly similar experiences as we worked out the big decisions in our lives.

Lent is about the crucifixion. These weeks culminate with that event. So, let’s look at these weeks in our lives from a point of view that is relevant to what we are experiencing at the present time. Our world is immersed in suffering of all kinds. It always has been. Look at it this way. If we share God’s life, if we all have God’s DNA, then we all share suffering as well. Suffering and life go hand-in-hand. Richard Rohr writes that life, suffering and death are all one piece. Your suffering is my suffering and my suffering is your suffering. The pain of the poor beggar starving in India, the refugee desperate for asylum, the innocent person incarcerated for years, the persons dying this very moment from COVID-19, the child being abused and Jesus hanging on the cross – all are a part of our suffering, and we are a part their suffering. We are all in this together because we share life, the life that God breathes into us. All life is one, all suffering is one.

It’s Black History Month. The suffering that people of color experience is our suffering, just as our suffering is theirs. Many of us have been reading various books that give us insight into the suffering that our African-American brothers and sisters have experienced. Did you know that some 5,000 men and women of color were lynched or burned or beaten to death from 1880 to 1940? White men and women stood by watching, enjoying the spectacle with their children. Those scenes are immersed in the memories of people just like you and me except for the color of their skin. Those memories also shape their theology. For people of color, there
is no difference between hanging on a cross and hanging from a tree. That is the heart of their faith – Jesus died hanging on a cross, our people died hanging from a tree.

Did Jesus know that he would one day hang from a cross? No. Did he know that going forth with his mission was risky? Yes. But he did understand that covenant of love – “1 will be your God, and you will be my people.” – yes? I think he probably did, and that that was the source of his strength. I suspect those hours in the desert were filled with anguish, but also with a sense of God’s loving presence, the realization that he would not be alone in this mission.

Suffering is a fact of life. It goes with the territory of living beings. God does not cause it or use it to punish us. God helps us get through it. We are more than likely to bring it on ourselves. Often it is due to a fluke in nature like this vortex of cold air that has caused so much misery this past week. We may not be suffering personally at this time but many of our brothers and sisters who share the same breath of God that is in each of us are struggling under terrible burdens. Their suffering is our suffering, all of humanity united with Christ on the cross. In our covenant of love, we hold them all in our own hearts and in the heart of our God.

All of Lent leads up to the crucifixion. All of humanity shares life, suffering and death. Lent seems to be an appropriate time to hold in prayer and love all the suffering people in our world. And our God walks with us whispering, “I am still your God, and you are still my people.”


Eileen Custy SL

Eileen Custy was born and raised on a dairy outside of Denver and attended a one-room schoolhouse for her first eight years. After a year of college at Loretto Heights, she joined the Sisters of Loretto. In spite of the fact that she thought at that time she never wanted to be a teacher, she loved the work and taught for 46 years. Most of those years were spent in El Paso, Texas. Eileen “retired” in 2004 and moved to Kentucky, where she served as an administrative assistant to the Motherhouse Coordinator for nearly 20 years before retiring in November 2023. Eileen continues to serve the Motherhouse Community, particularly pastorally.