Hi everyone – here’s my homily for the FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – MARCH 13, 2011. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/031311.shtml . Thanks for reading and your feedback. God Bless, Fr Jim
-Friday morning a friend of mine from high school who I really haven’t spoken to in years emailed me. Her 7 and a half year old son who’s going to receive his first communion this year, loves going to CCD class – just a sensitive little guy had a question that she was having difficulty answering that she hoped I could help with. Why would God let the Tsunami hit Japan killing thousands of people?
-The day prior, a friend of mine from Pennsylvania emailed me with links to a slew of stories outlining once again the shocking clergy sex-abuse scandal that has devastated parishioners in Philadelphia, if not the entire universal Church which has to mourn such depravity. Here is a devout, faithful friend who’s simply voicing her understandable disgust at the whole thing, using words such as betrayed, shock, disbelief…
-A student leader and a young man who works in Campus Ministry with me are both struggling with the realities that their mother’s are battling deadly forms of cancer. Not surprisingly, they’re at a loss even to express what they’re feeling or thinking. Here they are both in their 20’s and are facing something that very few of their peers could even imagine, let alone relate to.
-This coming Tuesday – 16 Firefighters and 8 Police Officers from the town where I serve as Fire Department Chaplain will be laid off. In just a five minute conversation, they move from anger, to fear, to disbelief.
If anyone were to doubt the existence, the reality, the extent of evil in the world, which is able to manifest itself in all kinds of ways, well then you have to wonder are they paying attention at all? Taken separately, any one of these things can be earthshattering for people. But the combination of so many of them for so many people at once has set up an environment… a feeling that is palpable. An overwhelming sense that many are losing hope… That some are giving up on God. That they are going to give into temptation… the temptation to despair. You’re here. Thankfully, all of you are here… And in that, something in your hearts hasn’t given into that temptation to despair – as real as it might be… Hope remains alive here – for some that Hope might be burning brightly, and others that light might be as slight as a flickering little birthday candle…What does Jesus Christ want to say to us? How does he want to speak to us struggling with the temptation to despair.
Well for one thing, he knows what we’re going through. Here on this first Sunday of Lent we hear about Jesus’ time in the desert. We meet Christ as He fasts and prays for 40 days as he prepares to announce His Good News of Great Joy to all the World of the tremendous love our Heavenly Father has for each and every one of us. As He’s preparing to share this important message, we find the evil one is lurking right there. Brazenly attempting to tempt the Son of God. We can’t underestimate how challenging or difficult this confrontation was for Jesus. The fact that it’s recounted in three of the Gospels, that it’s identified as a temptation, means, well that it was tempting… In some way, the devil had to make Jesus think or consider:
You’re hungry – you’ve fulfilled your obligation, your fast… you’re a good Son… What’s wrong, really, with turning some stones into bread for yourself? You have the ability – why not use it for yourself?
You’re going back to deal with all those thick headed people – how are you going to communicate this message to them… How are you going to make them trust God, know that God loves them – You want their attention? You need something big, something that will grab their attention – throw yourself from this height. The Scripture says that His angels will be there to catch you – You want attention, that will do it. Who wouldn’t listen to you after something like that?
Surely there’s got to be an easier way to become the ruler over all these people. What’s that whole bizarre thing that you’re Father’s been talking to you about – to die on a Cross? Why should you suffer punishment for things you never did? I’m the author of death, let’s work together, simply bow down to me.. and I’ll relent and all of these kingdoms will be yours.
That’s the thing with any temptation, there’s an element within it that resonates with us that makes it seem logical and reasonable. That’s why it’s easy to understand that with so many challenges that so many of us are going through right now, the great temptation to despair has become more and more real. Affecting every age group from young people who were suspect and doubting to begin with to those who’ve weathered some pretty horrific trials and tribulations to remember yet have this reaction, even if for a moment “That’s it I can’t take it anymore.”
Every temptation becomes a pivotal moment. These are always crucial decisions we’re confronted with. The evil one will continue to come at us in global and personal ways over and over to try to throw anything to separate us from God. He’s been doing it since the day our first parents wandered the Lord’s Garden in innocence and were tempted to believe that the power to be God’s equal was in their grasp and theirs for the taking, all the way through to the trials we face today.
The scriptures which have spoken to thousands of generations before confronted by the same tempter proposing lies to that same goal of separating us from God, speak to us here and now. And Jesus gives us the reason for our hope. That God is not some distant, remote, disinterested being who wants to mess with us to see just how far he can push us in some bizarre challenge making this life of ours some twisted game. St. Leo the Great put it like this Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. We have a God so intimately close, so desiring to be one with us, so deeply in love with us – that the Creator of the Universe becomes one of us – one with us.
He endures the temptations, only a foretaste of the final battle with Satan that we will celebrate at the end of Lent. There is no humiliation he will not endure, there is no trial he’s unwilling to face, there is no length that he will not go to for you and I. In the face of some incredibly trying things, the challenge we’re faced with is to renew ourselves not simply in a belief of something – but in our relationship with someone – in our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why at the start of this season of Lent, we always hear one of the accounts of Jesus’ first victories over Satan. So that we’re not intimidated by the humbling reminder we experienced on Ash Wednesday, that were God to withhold that breath of life (that we heard about in the first reading from Genesis) as he breathed into Adam’s nostrils – we would be nothing more than the ashes that marked our foreheads a few days ago. Yet the beauty of the Adam and Eve story is that in the midst of their disobedience, succumbing to the temptations they endured, God didn’t do that – He didn’t remove that breath of life. So “taken” with us, this creation that somehow constantly thinks it knows better than the creator – God continued and continues to reach out.
And as we renew ourselves in our relationship with Jesus Christ – stripping away all the other things that promise us the answers to our desires and wants, breeding insatiable appetites where we are tempted in even greater ways than ever before – and just be one with Him, we come to realize how much our God still hopes in us… He still believes in us. He still trusts that just as His Son overcame every temptation and become even more committed to the mission He was sent to accomplish – that we will not give into the temptation to despair, but come out even more committed. Recognizing His activity in ways that might not seem immediately obvious. Experiencing His love that sustains us when we are ready to give in completely. Yes, there’s still way too many things that weigh down our hearts that tempt us to despair – to forget those things. God still hopes in us, hasn’t given up on us… now it’s our move.