Reflections on the Teaching of Vatican II Through the Magisterium of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Self-Gift: Initiation Into the Consciousness of God
Bishop Robert Barron
Ash Wednesday (2016)
Into the Desert
In so many of the great figures of salvation history—Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, etc.—a period of testing or trial is required before they can commence their work. We see the same thing in the initiation rituals of primal peoples, and you can see it in Luke Skywalker’s initiation in Star Wars.
The goal of the Biblical initiation rituals is to convey this simple truth: your life is not about you. It is about God and God’s purposes for you.
This was the purpose of Jesus's forty-day sojourn in the desert, which we model during Lent. The desert represents a stripping away of our attachments, so as to make the fundamental things appear. In the desert, there are no distractions or diversions or secondary matters. Everything is basic, necessary, and simple. Either one survives or one doesn’t. One finds in the desert strengths and weaknesses he never knew he had.
So are you ready to visit your desert? Are you prepared to deal with your particular temptations to pleasure, power, money, and honor? Even if, in the past, you have not succeeded in the ways you wanted, remember that our God is a God of second chances. It’s never too late to start again.
On this Ash Wednesday, let's recommit ourselves and together journey into the desert.
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Only the non-dual, contemplative mind can hold both sides of everything, including both death and resurrection. In my work with initiation, this was key. Such “wisdom seeing” allows you to hold the full promise of the Real Life, which is big enough to even include death. Death and life are in an eternal embrace. We cannot have one without the other. This is the one common theme at the bottom of every initiation rite I have studied.
Briefly put, initiation rites have long been necessary to initiate men in particular into their True Self, into the flow of reality, into the great patterns that are always true, into the life of God. Classic initiation rites brilliantly succeeded in preparing men for both stages of their life: training young men for the necessary discipline and effort required in the ascent of the first half of life, and preparing them ahead of time for the necessary descent and letting go of the second half of life.
The entire process that we call initiation somehow made it possible for a man to experience these five difficult truths:
Life is hard.
You are not that important.
Your life is not about you.
You are not in control.
You are going to die.
Basically, they were taught to die before they died. By the end of the initiation process (and optimally for every life somewhere between the first and second halves of life), the necessary deaths led to an inevitable and shared resurrection, which I call “the common wonderful.” This week we will contrast these five difficult messages with their positive and wonderful counterparts which make it possible to hear them in the first place.