Bishop Hying

Questions to ponder as we enter into the forty days of Lent

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on February 7, 2016   


       The liturgy for the First Sunday of Lent always proclaims the Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. While spending forty days in the desert, fasting and praying at the beginning of his ministry, the Lord is tempted by Satan to use his divine powers for himself instead of the service and salvation of others. We hear Jesus emphatically say “No” three times to the tempter, as he says “Yes” to the will of the Father.

       Every day, each of us is faced with hundreds of decisions to which we must either say “Yes” or “No.” Sometimes, the choice is clear if not necessarily easy; we know what is good and what is bad for us and other people. Should I eat fast food or cook a healthy meal? Other times, the decision is ambiguous because it is a choice between two goods. Should I help out at the parish fish fry or spend time with my grandchildren? We are invited to contribute to so many causes, volunteer for another great event and help just one more person. We live in a world of infinite opportunity and need but only have limited time, energy and resources. 

       Recently I attended a bishops’ leadership training entitled, “Balancing the demands of ministry and living your vocation,” sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Institute. Practical and concrete, the seminar taught me the importance of setting priorities, managing time and schedules and the need to say “No” to many things in order to ensure time and energy for the essential tasks. 

       Like many of you, I want to say “Yes” to everything that people ask me to do, to be present, responsive and helpful when I can, but when we acquiesce to everything, we will soon feel overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted.

       During the seminar, we watched a video presentation by Bishop George Niederauer, the Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco, who spoke very powerfully about all the times Jesus said “No” to legitimate and reasonable requests in order to give a fuller “Yes” to the Father’s will. I quote it at length because it is so helpful to look at Jesus’ ministry in this way.

       “Jesus did say ‘no’ and not only to Satan three times in the desert. Jesus said ‘no’ or its equivalent when a ‘yes’ did not fit in with his ‘yes’ to the Father. The instances are many…let me bury my father before I follow you: NO. (Matthew 8); tell my sister to help me with the housework: NO (Luke 10); tell my brother to be fair with me about our inheritance: NO (Luke 10); stay in our town a little longer: NO (Luke 4); to the cured Gerasene demoniac let me follow you: NO (Mark 5).

       Close, loving friends, with apparently the strongest personal claims on him, also asked favors: give my sons a special privileged place next to you: NO (Mark 10); stop talking about your death like that: NO (Mark 8); tell us when the last things will occur: NO (Acts 1); call down fire from heaven to destroy those that reject you: NO (Luke 9).

       Also, there were demands of the crowds: work a sign for us right here and now: NO (Matthew 12); do here in your own town the things we have heard you did in Capernaum: NO (Luke 4); give us again today the bread you gave us yesterday: NO (John 6).

       Finally, Jesus received many common sense kinds of requests: send the crowds away, they’re getting hungry: NO (Luke 9); keep this crowd quiet: NO (Luke 19); make your followers fast like those of John the Baptizer: NO (Mark 2); surely you have some answer to these accusations against you: NO (Mark 15).  Jesus said “no” whenever he had to do so in order to continue his lifelong “yes’ to his Father’s loving, saving will.

       In many ways, we are programmed as Christians to say “yes” to everything that people ask us to do, and may feel guilty when we say “no” but we know deep-down that a constant “yes”  is impossible to sustain. So, the challenge is to discern God’s will in our lives by looking at our relationships and responsibilities, to listen to the voice of God in our prayer, to respond as generously as we can to new and unexpected situations of need and service but not at the expense of our fundamental commitments and priorities. 

       For example, it would be wrong to spend so much time volunteering at the parish that I am never home with my family or to spend so much time working that I never have time to pray or rest. Learning to balance competing goods is a difficult but necessary skill for the Christian disciple as it was for Jesus.

       This Lent, I want to become more aware of what I say “yes” and “no” to. Where am I dissipating my time and energy that keeps me scattered and unfocused? What activities do I need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to more prayer, reflection and rest?  What negative attitudes or thoughts do I need to reject in order to more fully embrace the joy, peace and love of the Lord? What do I need to discard and give away in order to live with more focus, simplicity and energy?  What inner cravings for attention, control and comfort need to be put aside so that there is more room for the action of the Holy Spirit? 

       These questions must be the ones that Jesus wrestled with in the wilderness, fresh from his baptism, poised to begin his public ministry. They are worthy questions for us as well as we enter into the desert for the next forty days with the Lord at our side.


      + Donald J. Hying


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