By FATHER ROBERT BARRON, Commentary | Published February 19, 2015
The following meditations—for the first three days of Lent—were written by Father Robert Barron, a noted author and speaker, of Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.
Ash Wednesday, day 1: “Back to Basics”
At the beginning of baseball season, the coach has to bring his players back to basics. He has to remind them of the three-point stance, the mechanics of throwing, the timing of a swing, the importance of keeping your eye on the ball, etc. It doesn’t matter how great a season a player had the year before. He has to begin spring training with the basics because before he can do spectacular things in a sport, he must make sure he is doing the simple and elemental things well.
The same is true in the spiritual life. Lent is a time to get tuned up, to get back to basics, to remember the fundamentals. This is why the Church asks us to look at the beginning of the book of Genesis, the story of the creation and the fall.
We’ve heard it often; it’s probably emblazoned in our minds—but we need to hear it again: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” On Ash Wednesday, we hear echoes of this in the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Today we are reminded that our lives come from God. Our very existence comes from God. We are owed nothing. We have nothing coming to us. Every breath we take is a reminder of our dependency upon God; every beat of our heart is a reminder that God is the Lord.
As we begin our Lenten journey, let us take a few minutes to reflect on the reality that without God we are nothing and to give thanks that God loved us into being.
Quote: Every breath we take is a reminder of our dependency upon God; every beat of our heart is a reminder that God is the Lord.
First Thursday of Lent, day 2: “Into the Garden”
We begin at the beginning by entering the garden. One of the first things we notice is that God planted a garden in Eden and placed the first humans in it. This tells us that God’s intention for us is a garden, a place of delight, color, vitality, energetic engagement of our powers. He wants us to have life and life to the full.
How does this life come to us? Through an acceptance of God’s grace and a willingness to let that grace flow through us to others—a state that existed at the beginning of Creation.
God gives the first humans, Adam and Eve, practically free rein in the garden. The Church fathers saw this liberty as expressive of God’s desire that we cultivate the earth and our powers as fully as possible, that we develop our skills as scientists, politicians, poets, lovers and friends.
But there remains a tree from which we should not eat: “it is only from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘you shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’” Why does this symbolic tree stand in the very middle of the garden? Because it represents the criterion of good and evil, that over which God alone has control. It is the standard by which the good life is to be distinguished from the tragic life.
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and desirable for gaining wisdom. When that fruit was seized, when the man and woman tried to appropriate godliness for themselves, when they—and by extension all of us—make ourselves and our own wills the criterion of good and evil, the flow of grace is interrupted.
So it goes in the order of sin. Our autonomy and independence from God looks desirable, but in fact, it leads to deep vulnerability. (Adam and Eve realized that they were naked.) Ultimately, it leads to the expulsion from the Garden and introduction into the desert of self-regard and fear.
Quote: God doesn’t stay in the Garden, waiting for us to come back; rather, he ventures into our fear and dysfunction and, on our behalf, rolls back the power of sin.
First Friday of Lent, day 3: “The Great Lie”
Our God is a living God, and God wants us to share his life. This is why “God planted a garden in Eden … and he placed there the man he had formed.”
In Eden he gave us near total freedom as a sign of his good will in our regard and his desire that we fulfill ourselves in every direction. Politics, art, science, literature, philosophy, music, sports, entertainment—all that conduces to human flourishing is desired by God.
Enter the serpent. Like us, the serpent is a creature of God. He is totally dependent on God for his life. He is not some sort of co-equal rival to God. The fact is the Church has always taught that evil is parasitic on the good, not a substantive opponent.
Nevertheless, he is a wily opponent. He forces Eve to wonder about the prohibition: “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” When she clarifies, he says, “You certainly will not die! God knows well that the moment you eat of it you will be like gods knowing good and evil.”
This is the great temptation and the great lie. The serpent places in the minds of Adam and Eve the conviction that unless and until they determine the meaning and purpose of their lives, they will not be free. To put it in modern terms, their lives will not be lived to the fullest.
But the knowledge of good and evil is the godlike prerogative to set the agenda for one’s life, to determine the difference between right and wrong. And this belongs to God alone. Just as he breathed life and being into us, so he breathes moral and spiritual purpose into us.
When we convince ourselves that we live on our own terms and that we choose on our own terms, we cease to be really free and really alive.
When Adam and Eve grasped at this knowledge, they were expelled from the garden. Not because God is vindictive, but because it is the natural consequence of making oneself into God. When we grasp at divinity, whatever life we have dries up. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our egotism, victims of the Great Lie.
Quote: God comes that we might have life and have it to the full.
Father Robert Barron is an author, speaker and theologian and the founder of the global media ministry Word on Fire (www.WordOnFire.org). He currently serves as the rector and president of Mundelein Seminary University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois.