The Third Sunday of Lent (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
A girl - the daughter of his publisher - once wrote J.R.R. Tolkien asking him the fundamental question, "What is the purpose of life?" Ordinarily, when someone asks this question we tend to laugh it off as though the question had no answer. Tolkien did not.
In his response - which he said was "much too long, and also much too short - he pointed ouT that "if you do not believe in a personal God the question: 'What is the purpose of life?' is unaskable and unanswerable." But Tolkien, being a faithful and devout Catholic, did believe in a personal God; so it was that he answered her question in these words: "So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks."
In the depths of our hearts, each of us knows his understanding of the fundamental meaning of life to be true. If we did not, we would not be here this morning to offer the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We know that at the heart of this current Makahiki Kalele - this Year of Faith - "is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world (Porta Fidei, 7)." If we are to make this renewed conversion to the Lord, it will only be because we have come to know him more clearly and more intimately.
If we are to know the Lord it is first necessary that he reveal himself to us, as he did to Moses through the bush that burned with the mysterious flame (cf. Exodus 3:2). Though he may not have used such dramatic means to reveal himself to us, to you and to me, we can be certain that he has revealed himself to us. The natural beauty of these very islands are filled with many signs of God's involvement with the world. He has also revealed himself to us in many other ways, but in none so profound as in the person of Jesus Christ in whom "God has visited his people" (Luke 7:16).
He has revealed himself to us also in our baptisms, when we received a share in his divine life and were joined to the Body of Christ, the Church. He reveals himself in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist, and in the Church. Sadly, sometimes we simply are not paying attention to him.
When Moses first saw that bush, he drew near to it because he saw that the bush, "though on fire, was not consumed" (Exodus 3:2). There is in this detail an important lesson for us: Moses could simply have glanced at the bush and continued on his way, minding his own business and tending the flock, but he did not.
The curiosity of Moses indicates his openness to the Divine, his search for the Lord. His openness led to his encounter with the God-who-is and his life would never be the same. Rather, his life took the form of a greater knowledge of God through his relationship with him, which also led him to give praise and thanks. Moses' life took the shape of a life of faith and because of his faith he produced great fruit, even if not all the time.
If we look at our own lives, can we say that they have taken the shape of lives of faith? Has the direction of our lives turned towards the Lord because of our encounter with him? Do we seek to come to a deeper knowledge of God, born of love, that leads to Praise and thanks? In short, we might well ask, does my life bear the kind of fruit the Lord has come in search of, the love of God and of neighbor?
Romano Guardini once commented that "two thin veils keep us from seeing the living truth of Jesus." The first is "the veil of our ignorance." We simply do not know the Lord well - or much about him - because we do not spend enough time speaking with him in prayer, reading the Scriptures, or studying his life.
The second "veil is that we think we know, but in truth are just accustomed to hearing the same words, episodes, statements over over again." We simply go through the motions, as it were, and fall into a sort of religiously molded routine, without actually thinking about what it is that we do or what gives direction to our lives.
We, like, Moses must recognize the signs of God's presence in our lives; we must be open to encountering him, to knowing him, and to being conquered by him. Only if we live in this way will we live the purpose for which we have been created by Love, in love, and for love; only in this way will our lives bear fruit. Because the Lord wants to find such fruit in our lives, he is "merciful and gracious," "Slow to anger and abounding in kindness" (Psalm 103:8). He is patient with us as we make our pilgrimage toward his face, sometimes faithfully and sometimes sinfully, because of his great love for us.
Just as the Lord said to Moses so he says to each of us: " I have witnessed the affliction of my people ... and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what we are suffering. Therefore I will come down to rescue them" (Exodus 3:7-8).
What temptation, what sin enslaves us? If we turn to the Lord and seek his mercy he will set us free, but first we must allow his love to permeate our hearts and shape our lives. "If we welcome [his love] with faith," wrote His Holiness Benedict XVI in his Message for Lent 2013, "we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us 'fall in love with Love', and then we dwell within his Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others."
This, dear friends, is the fruit the Lord desires to find in us. He found this fruit in Father Damien and in Mother Marianne in their love for the residents of Kalawao and Kalaupapa. Through their intercession and example, may he also find this fruit in us when at last he comes in search of fruit (cf. Luke 13:6-7). Amen.
N.B. Footnotes to be added later.