“They took soundings” as the ship Paul was travelling in as a prisoner ran into a storm and was eventually shipwrecked off Malta. It is a dramatic story in Acts 27 which, for some reason, is mostly ignored. But we can refer to it for a moment as this three word sentence serves to describe what we often do; assess where we are.

That is what we do in Lent. The forty day preparation for Easter was an eastern idea which did not catch on in the western Church until the seventh century. Karl Rahner has taught us not to divide our life between the secular and the religious, the profane and the graced, the daily round of work and family and the going to Church on Sundays and sometimes during the week. They are all  one. We have one life and for anyone who is focused on God, even if they do not call him/her by that name, everything they do is either directed towards or away from what is true and good..

So, whoever we are, how do we take soundings? In our tradition Lent kicks off with a reflection on “temptation.” It is a word used freely in the secular world as well as the religious. “I am tempted to give my parents a miss this week-end and spend my time with friends.” Temptation is the meeting place between two worlds. It is a place of choice and the power to choose is the greatest power we have. My life depends, often literally, on the choice I make. A friend once asked me to accompany him on a visit to a community where people living with intellectual disabilities lived with others who came to share their lives with them. I could easily have  said “no”, I was “tempted” to do so. But somehow I said “yes” and it changed my life.

Temptation is presented to us by the Hebrew Scriptures as a tree and a fruit that was “pleasing to the eye.” It would not be a temptation if the thing proposed was not appealing! The temptations of Jesus, which Matthew describes, are also “pleasing” – wealth, status, power. We know how these appeal to many of our contemporaries. Our political leaders are distracted by them.

The “soundings” I take in Lent are the way I look at what I am doing, where I am going. Is there a need for adjustment to avoid shipwreck? Or am I on the right track? The secular world of today does a lot of rigorous assessing. “Religious” people are often not so rigorous. Assessments pay off. The Western Church decided to follow the custom of the East and gave us, “officially” and “liturgically”, this time of soundings.

5 March 2017                          First Sunday in Lent A

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7                Romans 5:12-19                      Matthew 4:1-11

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