I’ve never quite known what to do with today’s gospel. Jesus goes out into the desert, doesn’t eat for 40 days, and is tempted three times by the desert. It’s often struck me as a really dramatic version of Lent and not super-helpful for my own thinking about what to abstain from or do in special awareness of this season. I didn’t really want to do such a good job at Lent that the devil took me to the top of a building asked me to jump off.
But this morning I went to Mass at a Benedictine monastery near my house. The sister who gave the homiletic reflection gave me some new frames for thinking about Jesus’ scripturally-inspired conversations with the devil. She pointed out that the devil’s temptations (which she rephrased as “tests”) of Jesus really offer him three different ways of being the Messiah, but none of them were the “authentic” way he was to be the Son of God. One of several challenges the sister offered was to think about what it means to live authentically, during Lent and, I think, always.
Growing up Catholic, no one really suggests to you theological ambiguities like, maybe Jesus wasn’t always 100% sure of his divinity. Or maybe, as Sr. Sandra Schneiders recently wrote in her National Catholic Reporter articles, maybe Jesus’ path was not always as clear to him as it looks like to us, so many years later. Or maybe, just maybe, Jesus was really tempted in the desert–and did, indeed, need to discern how to most authentically live his life.
The challenge of authentic living is a real one. I spent the better part of yesterday reading through some of the national commentary on the currently-underway Apostolic Visitation of women’s religious communities. One of the most commented on (and, I think, thoughtful) reactions has been Sandra Schneider, IHM’s five-part article in the National Catholic Reporter this January. She uses the model of Jesus’ ministry in the New Testament to think through the ways women religious have been and are similarly called to prophetic ministerial lives. She urges that women religious simultaneously treat the visitors as “unwelcome house guests,” but to also:
Religious to pray their way, personally and corporately, into a peaceful and courageous acceptance that the tension between institutional authority and prophetic ministry is and will always be part of the life of the Body of Christ, the journey of the People of God through history, because it was structurally intrinsic to Jesus’ own prophetic life and ministry.
In this way, women religious, I think Schneiders might be saying, will continue to discern the most authentic ways to be women religious in the 21st century.
And I think this is a challenge to which we are all called. At least, I hope to be so courageous as to try.