Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
On January 21, in the PhillyVoice, an online publication, an article appeared entitled, ”Exclusive: Sources inside Eagles paint Carson Wentz as ‘selfish,’ ‘uncompromising’ and ‘playing favorites.’” The bi-Line read, “The franchise quarterback ‘complicated’ the offense, sources said, adding he didn’t want to run ‘Foles stuff.’”
On the same day, another article appeared by Marcus Hayes. He is a sports columnist for the Daily News and Inquirer. For more than 20 years, he has covered the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Big Five basketball… you get the picture. In Philly.com, the online version of the Philadelphia Inquirer he wrote an article, “Claims that the Eagles’ Carson Wentz is selfish might not be wrong, but they’re overblown.”
Here’s where it gets interesting. On February 26, 2019 Hayes posted a follow up article, “Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz responded to criticisms like a Christian.” He writes,
Carson Wentz responded to a hit piece exactly how you’d never expect a multimillion-dollar superstar to respond. With Humility. With self-reflection. Seeking self-improvement. Not like a Leader. Not like the Face of the Franchise. Not like a man Protecting his Brand. Carson Wentz responded like a Christian. He’d been called a selfish, petulant bully. And all he did was show the other cheek. “I know what my identity is in Christ first and I’ve got to always keep that in perspective first and foremost,” Wentz said.
That crucial nugget was buried a bit in the middle of a 3,000-word transcript that ran Feb. 4, spurred by a scathing character assassination that ran on PhillyVoice.com on Jan. 21. It’s taken a few weeks to digest the nature of his answers, simply because they are so unusual. So unique. So sincere. But then, apparently, so is he.
Or is he?
Here’s where I found this interesting. In the words of the famous blues singer, Dusty Springfield, the sportswriter Marcus Hayes, is “The Son of a Preacher Man.” Hayes writes,
I’m a cynic, and the son of a preacher, and so, combined, I have zero tolerance for fake Christians. But Wentz has me convinced that his responses were 100 percent real. Still, I sought ecclesiastical affirmation.
I contacted two members of the clergy, each of whom I’ve known for several years. They have no relationship with Wentz; or with his AO1 Foundation; or with Connect Church, the house of worship with which he is affiliated, in Cherry Hill, N.J. They do not know each other and they did not know the other was consulted. Neither had read the transcript. Both requested anonymity.
Each replied within minutes. And each agreed, unequivocally: These were the words of a devout Christian.
Here’s my first point and it’s pretty obvious, I was recently in the Holy Land and saw that desert where Christ was roaming. It’s not like the pictures you see of deserts with rolling and artistic sand dunes. It’s a combination of rocks and boulders, and crags and shallow caverns, gullies and dirt and sand. After that piece, Carson found himself in the desert. He went soul searching. He might still be there.
It’s a gross, harsh place.
The second point comes from Pope Francis. He says that going to the desert helps us hear the voice of God in our lives.
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. …
That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
So going into the desert is tough. You know what I find just as difficult (and this is my third point)? Remembering the times and places when I was NOT in the desert…the times when I was in an oasis. One Scripture commentator says, “Jesus sweeps into the desert, filled with the Holy Spirit, led by a voice that had proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).”
Jesus is coming off of a spiritual high when he felt loved and supported and close to his Heavenly Father. He recalls hearing a voice, not just a thought – an actual voice – concretely expressing that love and support. Author Gerald Darring writes that, “On the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus chose to rely on the care of his Father, to surrender himself as servant to the will and plan of his Father, and to follow God’s will in Jerusalem, even if that meant terrible suffering and shameful death on the cross.”
There is a similar concept inside some North American Native cultures, where it is accepted that, in everyone’s life, there will come a season where he or she will have to spend some time sitting in the ashes. For example, in some tribes, when they used to live communally in long- houses, the fires for heating and warmth were kept in the center of the house so that a partially open roof could function as a chimney. Ashes would, of course, accumulate around the fires and occasionally someone from the community would, for a period of time, simply sit in the ashes, quiet, withdrawn from ordinary activities, and take little food or water. Eventually a day would come when he or she would get up, wash off the ashes, and resume normal activities. Nobody asked why. It was taken for granted that this person was working through something, a depression or crisis of some sort, and needed that space, that quiet, that withdrawal, to trudge through some inner chaos and demons. In short, he or she was seen to need a Lenten season.
Deserts are awful places. But they are places where we meet external demons as well as some of our own. It’s also the place where God resides because God always hangs around crosses. The Native American image actually gives me a sense of comfort. I don’t know what’s going on who, how, God is going to work this out or when. I only know that others have done this and have eventually come to a better place and come out from inside the tent.
We just started Lent. I can’t wait for Easter.