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1st Sunday in Lent - March 13 Readings: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7, Psalm 51: 3-6, 12-14, 17, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

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EXT Sunday is the first Sunday in Lent; it is a bit late this year, so for once you may even have been waiting impatiently for it. As always on this first Sunday, the readings invite us to face (and not run away from) the mystery of sin in our lives. The first reading recounts in dramatic style the first sin of our parents. You know the story, for you were brought up on it in your childhood: the cunning serpent, the gullible woman and her gullible husband, the attractive fruit, and the disobedience, followed by the discovery that they were naked, and the consequent need to make loin-cloths out of fig-leaves. But there is a bit more to it than that. It may be worth noting that the Hebrew word for “cunning”, describing the serpent, comes from the same root as the word for “naked”; so eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil leads to an unwelcome discovery, one that makes them ashamed. Deeper still, we should notice the very first line of our reading: “The Lord God fashioned Adam out of dust from the soil.” Here we should observe that the Hebrew word for “Adam” is connected with the word for “soil”, as we shall hear on Ash Wednesday: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” And then the next line: “And he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and

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Our Lenten journey begins Nicholas King SJ Sunday Reflections Adam became a living being.” And the line after: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the East, and planted Adam there.” So the mystery of sin is not a matter of meaningless over-regulation by an oppressive divine bureaucrat; instead, it is a matter of our deliberately choosing to ignore the blueprint offered by the one who so generously created us, and placed us into this wonderful world. If we ignore what God advises, then things will go horribly wrong. That is the tone of the psalm for next Sunday, one that we shall be singing several times in the course of our Lenten journey. It is the Miserere, often attributed to David when he repented of his appalling behaviour, combining adultery with murder. He says what we must all say when we recognise our ungenerous response to God’s generosity: “Have mercy on me, O God, in accordance with your steadfast love; in accordance with your immense compassion blot out my transgression.” Twice he uses the word “pure”: “Make me pure from my sins” and “create a

pure heart for me”. That sense of being clean and uncomplicated is what he longs for (as do we in our journey to Easter). The singer has a very strong sense of this mystery of sin. In the second reading, Paul, in a very difficult and much-discussed passage, meditates on that first example of the mystery of sin: he sees it as the entry into the world of those hostile powers, sin and death, all because the first humans ignored the blueprint that they had been given. But (and here is the importance of the reading) the mystery of sin does not mean that God has given up on us, for “God’s free gift and generosity in the grace of the one man Jesus Christ has overflowed to the many.” Jesus’ obedience is the answer to the mystery of sin, and because of God’s unfailing generosity it enormously outdoes the evil that sin causes. The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent is always the narrative of Jesus’ temptation; the invitation is for us to watch Jesus generously coping with the seductive invitations of the devil, one by one. The three temptations taken together show the arsenal of weapons that sin’s mystery uses to entrap us. The first one is to use his talents to do some magic: “Turn these stones into loaves of bread.” Jesus’ reply is taken from the book of Deuteronomy, Israel’s “mission-statement”: “Humanity doesn’t just live by bread, but on every word that comes

The art of brevity T

HE digital age has vastly improved global communication. For instance, grandparents in South Africa are able to talk at very little cost to their children and grandchildren all over the world and see them at the same time on Skype. But the by-product of all this wonderful hightechnology is a chronic decline in the written word. Indeed, people of all ages are able to communicate by e-mail and SMS as well as on Facebook and Twitter, but the immediacy of the medium has, in many cases, reduced languages to abbreviations and technospeak. So much so that many people over the age of 50 can’t understand messages youngsters send each other these days when they use language such as “gr8 2 C u” and “#u2concertinjozi”. On one hand, I suppose one has to keep up with the times and just accept that languages are prone to change and have to move on. On the other hand, I must admit that it irks me to see the Oxford English Dictionary adding the most extraordinary words to the English language every year— words that no-one had ever heard of only a few months before and that suddenly achieved global notoriety because some drug-crazed celebrity famous for nothing other than having rich parents decided to invent a new word for a feeling of wellbeing or re-defining the extreme, materialistic version of that basic pursuit of

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Chris Moerdyk The Last Word mankind called shopping. It is at times like these that I have to remember that even the great William Shakespeare added dozens of words to the English language, and in his day there were probably people like me getting very steamed up about his new-fangled expressions. Something else that seems to have disappeared is the art of brevity in writing. I must admit to being a culprit who cannot avoid going on and on about something. I am in awe of people who can write or say something in just a few words. Such as this young fellow called Leroy who, in talking to his mother and in his letters to God was a model of brevity. Little Leroy came into the kitchen where his mother was making dinner. His birthday was coming up and he thought this was a good time to tell his mother what he wanted. “Mom, I want a bike for my birthday...” Little Leroy was a bit of a delinquent, it must be said. He had regularly been in trouble at school and at home. So Leroy’s mother asked him if he thought he deserved to get a bike for his birthday. Lit-

tle Leroy, of course, thought he did. Leroy’s mother, being a Christian woman, wanted him to reflect on his behaviour over the past year and write a letter to God telling him why he deserved a bike for his birthday. Little Leroy stomped up the steps to his room and sat down to write God a letter. Letter 1: Dear God, I have been a very good boy this year and I would like a bike for my birthday. I want a red one. Your friend, Leroy. Leroy knew this wasn’t true. He had not been a very good boy this year, so he tore up the letter and started again. Letter 2: Dear God, This is your friend Leroy. I have been a pretty good boy this year, and I would like a red bike for my birthday. Thank you, Leroy. Leroy knew this wasn’t true either. He tore up the letter and had another shot at it. Letter 3: Dear God, I have been an OK boy this year and I would really like a red bike for my birthday. Leroy. Leroy knew he could not send this letter to God either. Leroy was very upset. He went downstairs and told his mother he wanted to go to church. Leroy’s mother thought her plan had worked because Leroy looked very sad. “Just be home in time for dinner,” she said. Leroy walked down the street to the church and up to the altar. He looked around to see if anyone was there. He picked up a small statue of the Virgin Mary, slipped it under his shirt and ran out of the church, down the street, into his house and up to his room. He shut the door to his room and sat down with a piece of paper and a pen. Leroy began to write his letter to God. Letter 4: I’ve got your mother. If you want to see her again, send the bike. Signed: you know who. Hopefully those of us who just can’t seem to manage short sentences, will learn something from young Leroy. I have. Look ! It’s easy. I think.

forth from God’s mouth.” That takes us back to the beginning of our first reading, and the discovery that “God fashioned humanity from the dust”. The second temptation (in Matthew, anyway; Luke has a different order) takes place on the pinnacle of the Temple: “Fling yourself down”; and this time the devil quotes scripture (a psalm, on this occasion) as back-up. Jesus responds by returning to Deuteronomy: “You are not to tempt the Lord your God.” Finally, and of course this would have been fatal to Jesus’ mission, Jesus is taken to a “very high mountain” and shown “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory thereof”. Then he is told: “I’m going to give you all of this. All you have to do is fall down and worship me.” Once again, Jesus knows who he is and what he is to do: “Go away, Satan. For it is written, ‘The Lord your God you shall worship, and God alone are you to adore’. ” That marks the end of the temptations for Jesus; “the devil left him, and look! The angels came and served him”. But what of you? How is your life at the moment involved in the mystery of sin? How will you listen to God over the next six weeks, in order to make your life what it could be, in the eyes of the one who created it?

Southern Crossword #434

ACROSS 3. One predestined to hell (9) 8. A method to be at a distance (4) 9. Sail angel to find Jesus’ countrymen (9) 10. Chemical element in salt of the earth (6) 11. They were scattered (Mt 13) (5) 14. Gold country (1 Kg 9) (5) 15. Pals come around to strike (4) 16. Widow’s share (5) 18. Garden tool (4) 20. Saul's army commander (1 Sam 14) (5) 21. Senior churchman? (5) 24. Repulse (6) 25. Church having bishops (9) 26. Her name is in silver and gold (4) 27. Like true doctrine, unchanging (9)

DOWN 1. They head for church on Sundays (4-5) 2. You may give and get it at Mass (9) 4. Short test (4) 5. In her conversion on a long river (5) 6. They are needed for the Consecration (6) 7. Hue (4) 9. Keeper who is watchful (5) 11. He went forth with the seed (5) 12. Defamed (9) 13. It’s not material (9) 17. Tangle with French composer (5) 19. He took Elijah’s cloak (2 Kg 2) (6) 22. A wood that’s heavy and dark (5) 23. Bridge pans out (4) 24. It came down on Noah’s ark (4) Answers on page 11

CHURCH CHUCKLE

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ttending a wedding for the first time, a little girl whispered to her mother: “Why is the bride dressed in white?” “Because white is the colour of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life,” her mother tried to explain, keeping it simple. The child thought for a moment, and then said, “So why is the groom wearing black?” Send us your favourite Catholic joke, preferably clean and brief, to The Southern Cross, Church Chuckle, PO Box 2372, Cape Town, 8000. 

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