Saturday, March 8, 2014

March 9, 2014: 1st Sunday of Lent A

We now have a new Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge -- it was dedicated in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2013, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the outside, the front facade looks like the Alamo, the historical mission church located in San Antonio, Texas where the brave Texans fought to the end against Mexican troops. The church interior is decorated with beautiful art. The backdrop of the altar is a huge mural of Calvary with Blessed Mother, John, and Mary Magdalene standing below the Crucified Christ. The Stations of the Cross were individually hand-painted as well, each depicting a full array of emotions, captured in vibrant colors.

The artist who painted the the Third Station of the Cross said, “My inspiration was, I fell for the first time and I see Jesus and the cross fall for the first time. It’s part of my life.” The artist is 63 years old, and he is serving his 33rd year of a life sentence for a second degree murder conviction. Each of the beautiful 14 Stations of the Cross were painted by different inmate artists at the Angola Prison. It took the inmates of Angola only 38 days  working 12-hour shifts to complete the new Catholic Church inside the prison compound. One inmate said, “This is a place where you can come and forget about your life and your life sentence. It is a place of fellowship and peace.”

What motivated Jesus to spend 40 days and nights of solitude, prayer, and fasting in the Judean wilderness? The desert landscape was largely uninhabitable and was full of dangers for anyone who dared to venture in it. Danger from scorching heat by day and extreme cold by night, danger from wild animals and scorpions, plus the scarcity of food and water. It was an uninhabitable environment much like the Angola prison many years ago when chaos was prevalent. The prison environment was chaos because each inmate lived with only a couple of rules of survival--don’t trust anyone except yourself and always think of what’s in it for me.

In the First Reading we are reminded that Adam and Eve had everything they needed in the Garden of Paradise. However, they ate of the forbidden fruit because they trusted in themselves rather than in God, and thus were cast out of Paradise and driven into the wilderness. The Israelites also spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness with Moses. They complained to the Lord of hunger (Exod 16:3), they put the Lord to the test (Exod 17:7), and they committed idolatry (Eox. 32:1-6). Jesus, however,  freely entered the wilderness in order to regain Paradise for those who lost it. Jesus refused food to show his dependence on the bread of heaven, the word of God, that sustained him not only in his physical hunger, but in his hour of temptation as well.

In this wilderness we call life, we are tempted by the evil one just as Jesus was tempted.  The tempter seduces us to seek what we perceive as finer things in life, but in reality they are like the stone which cannot feed our soul. The tempter seduces us to seek advancement in this life and to climb the ladder; however, such effort leaves us ever more unsatisfied. Finally, the tempter seduces us to seek influence and control over our life, but it is like trying to grasp the fog that vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.  

Where did Jesus find the strength to survive the desert's harsh conditions and the tempter's seduction? He fed on God's word and found strength in doing his Father's will. Satan will surely tempt us and he will try his best to get us to choose our will over God's will. If he can’t make us renounce our faith or sin mortally, he will then try to get us to make choices that will lead us, little by little, away from what God wants for us. Jesus was tempted and he overcame sin not by his own human effort but by the grace and strength which his Father gave him. He renounced his will for the will of his Father. He succeeded because he wanted to please his Father and he trusted that his Father would give him the strength to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way.

In our time of temptation, we are to cling to the Father, to His Word, and Our Lord. Jesus from the cross left us His mother to be our mother to shelter us. I don’t think the new church inside the prison was named by accident. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose name, Guadalupe, is a translation of the native Aztec word that means, “the one who crushes the serpent.” As we face the temptations and fears in this life, we are reminded to trust the tender words that Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to the Aztec indian St. Juan Diego, “My little one. Do not be distressed and afraid. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?”