A reflection on the readings for the First Sunday of Lent, February 26, 2023.
At this year’s meeting of diocesan vocation directors from around the US, I attended a conference on teaching young men to discern whether they have a vocation to the priesthood. The speaker was a priest I know very well, with many years of experience leading seminarians and priests to a deeper prayer life. Of course, I was excited. Discerning what God wants from me in my life is hard enough, so teaching other people how to pray and discover God’s call in their lives takes the challenge to the next level.
I’m not sure precisely what I was expecting— “just ask them these questions, and you’ll kick their prayer life into overdrive,” or “here’s an an-easy-to-grasp technique”—but it wasn’t what I heard.
Instead, the speaker’s insight was that in order to discern anything in our lives, crack the code of our calling, and follow the vocation God has in store for us, we must first know our most fundamental relationship with God. Before anything else begins, we must realize we are beloved children of a loving Father. Without seeing himself as a child of God, a discerner will neither be able to discern priesthood well nor effectively serve the People of God in priestly ministry. Thinking about the priesthood, marriage, religious life, or any other calling is pointless until you have a handle on this basic and primary relationship. Once that comes, everything else follows.
This is what Adam and Eve reject in the story of the Fall today. The story of Adam and Eve isn’t as much a history of events from the past as it is a history of the human experience. It is a history of how and when we make our mistakes. Adam and Eve begin in the Garden of Eden, where they have a perfect relationship with God, an ideal relationship of giving and receiving from the Lord. But they turn away from that. They reach for the apple because they don’t want to depend on God for anything. They don’t want to be in a relationship; they want it all for themselves.
What happens to Adam and Eve is the same thing that happens to each of us when we make that choice for ourselves; we become isolated, alone. Once isolated, with no one to turn to with their problems, concerns, or worries, Adam and Eve fall into shame and despair, the necessary result of their isolated conscience. What follows in the next few chapters of the book of Genesis is what happens when humanity rejects a relationship with God; it poisons our relationships with one another. We become isolated and begin to see other people as things that can do something for us rather than people with whom we enter relationship.
That same temptation is at the core of the devil’s goading of Jesus in the Gospel, where one of his early lines is pivotal. The devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God.” He calls Jesus’ identity and his primary relationship with the Father into question. Jesus, of course, doesn’t bite. He realizes there can be no Son of God without the Father and no Father without the Son. He realizes that his relationship with the Father is who He is and that rejecting that would deny everything.
We, too, are children of God, adopted sons and daughters of the Father. It is this relationship that defines who we are. Our giving of prayer to God and receiving from God the gift of grace forms the very core of our identity. It is our relationship with God that makes all the other relationships we have possible, showing us that our identity is to give and receive in relationship. To reject this is to bring the whole thing crumbling down, just as it did when Adam and Eve rejected it.
During Lent, we ask for the grace to recognize that our relationship with God forms our identity. We realize that without relationship, we become isolated and alone, so instead, we embrace our identity first as sons and daughters of God. We ask for the grace to depend on God and others, and to allow them to depend on us, because it is in our relationships that we find our identity and discover our calling in life.
Image credit: Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash
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Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.