Scenes of troops invading another country that most had relegated to something that we would just see at the movies… The heart-wrenching images of death and destruction from Ukraine… The innocent citizens on both sides of these borders and the greater worldwide community that sees the illusion of how sophisticated and evolved we had told ourselves we had become as a society evaporate as we watch this awful situation deteriorate seemingly incapable of doing anything about it… This after two years of non-stop headlines that kept refreshing the use of “historic” and “unprecedented” and not for anything good.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT – March 6, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
Understandably the fear, the confusion, the tension from crisis after crisis has taken a toll on people. Even in this post-Christian and ever-growing secular world we live in, you don’t have to search hard for people asking “Why does God allow such things to happen?” What’s interesting is the tone behind that question though. Some ask it from a place of unbelief as an accusation against those of us who dare to believe in God. But even us as believers who are depressed, or scared living in this same seemingly spinning out of control world may be a bit tongue-tied in trying to respond to that question or find ourselves asking it as well.
While I empathize with everyone who’s feeling frightened and powerless as they take in these and countless other disturbing daily headlines, I find myself feeling a little less tongue-tied though.
Because my first thought when people ask that question “why does God allow?” is do they really want to know? Or do they really not know? Objectively speaking, does this world look like it is in any way honoring the Lord God? Do we have leaders who are demonstrating that they are actively striving for holiness? Do we see countries, communities that honor and attempt to follow the Lord’s commandments? After the obvious answers to those questions are made, even further, What is the concept and image of God that people are holding onto? Because by the way people talk about Him, treat Him – it seems like they like to pin all the awful stuff on Him as if He somehow dropped the ball or something eliminating the actions of their fellow human beings. It’s almost like they see God like a garbage man – someone they don’t even know his name or anything about him… they just notice that the trash wasn’t picked up one week. He didn’t do his job, now we have a mess and so we complain.
That’s not God. And no I’m not being defensive here in saying all of this isn’t God’s fault (even though it isn’t God’s fault) That’s being truthful, not defensive. It’s offensive that a world that is continually turning its backs on Him does whatever it wants to do (which is played out every day beneath the surface of every tragic headline) and then treating Him like He’s their cosmic employee that we can gripe about as having failed us. We’re living in some grossly arrogant times.
Just to be clear, none of this is God’s divine punishment on the world. “Why does God allow???” All of this we’re doing to ourselves. The world should be thankful that it isn’t His punishment. The world should be thankful that each of us, each day that we’re here, we’re still being given a chance to get ourselves right with the Lord God. That God allows us time to hear His voice. That God allows us time to have a stirring in our hearts to the conversion of our hearts. That God allows Himself to be vulnerable by allowing us to utilize the most precious gift to be the most abused of gifts – the gift of freedom.
That’s a hard truth. But as people of faith who find ourselves here today… As people of faith become a growing minority in a world of people who don’t know God, forgotten who He is, or worse, hate Him – we need to remember hard truths. We need to remember the truth about who God is and who we are if we want a way out of every mess, every crisis, every trial. Because it’s not complicated. We have to recognize the enemy that is Satan. We have to reject evil in every one of its forms. And that begins when we utilize this precious, most abused of gifts of freedom ourselves by first and foremost rooting out sin in our own lives.
When we gathered just a few days ago to receive ashes on our heads – one of the first words from scripture came from the Old Testament prophet Joel whose voice thousands of years later echo Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mouning, Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord your God. This was an invitation to a rebellious people who had tried to go their own way, do their own thing, and found war, poverty, abuse, widespread disorder as a result. Not because God was in a huff and decided if you don’t do it my way I’ll make you pay for it. But because He had given us the instruction manual on how to live. His commandments are commands meant for our happiness. When our ancestors had rejected that, they had made a mess. And even then, He made away and called out to them to return.
Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart… We began this season of Lent with those words… those memories becoming alive in our hearing them anew. Because God knows us. He knows that for people to break the cycle of sin it has to start with our memory – in Remembering the truth. That’s what we hear and see in all of today’s scriptures.
The first reading from Deuteronomy is such a gift. In 6 short verses, we get the ultimate “cliffs notes” of the story of God saving His people in the great event of our Jewish ancestors – the exodus. It recounted all the oppression, the bondage that had enslaved His chosen people – and how God had called them out of it, and when they responded, how they were freed… which we responded by recounting that truth in singing the words of the Psalm – Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble. Those words have been sung not as wishful thinking or a nominal thought and prayer. Throughout history, they have been sung as a way of summoning up memories of how many times, and in how many ways God has been with His people, saved them from trouble.
But that comes from being in a relationship with Him. We can only remember those things, we can only be confident in Him answering those cries amidst a confusing, oftentimes chaotic, and disordered world when we as St. Paul wrote to the Romans in that second reading “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” That’s our cliffs notes of the “new exodus” we as Christians celebrate with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. That’s the whole point of Lent and Easter is our remembering that core, central truth. The only truth that ultimately matters. And that’s invitational too. We have a choice. God allows us to choose Him and follow Him or not.
That we are here is a good sign and a good step. We as Catholic Christians profess every week that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life. (Not “a way, a truth, a life as if He’s one viable option among many other possibilities – but Jesus is The Way, The Truth, The Life). One of the amazing things for us to remember is His tremendous love for us. God Himself sees throughout history how difficult it is for His people to choose Him, choose to follow Him or not. How easily distracted and tempted His people were way before there were ever smartphones. The people of God being freed from Egyptian slavery after plagues, after the parting of the red sea… being fed with manna and quail as they are led to their promised land would complain “manna again – quail again?” They would let their restless hearts be corrupted to the point of thinking “maybe we were better off in slavery where we would got free fish, cucumbers and onions.” (seriously, that was one of their complaints, Numbers chapter 11)
This is why in the fullness of time God incarnate steps into Human History. Jesus is born and lives as one of us so that He is ever more intimately tied as one with us. And in today’s Gospel, we get another glimpse of the depths Jesus goes to, to emphasize that point. He goes into the desert, He fasts for 40 days. And not our “one meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals not to equal that one meal” that we’re asked to follow on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. He fasted for 40 days. So that He could intimately know the depths of hunger. By then He was physically weakened. So much so that the devil has the audacity to come and tempt Him. It is often said the devil is not creative or unique. Which is also true. He tempts Jesus the same way He did Eve in the Garden of Eden in three ways- lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. When Eve was tempted to eat of the fruit it was said to be good for food (lust of the flesh) a delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes) and would result in them being gods themselves (pride of life). Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread to address his physical hunger (lust of the flesh) rejecting that knowing that our spiritual hungers are more essential one does not live on bread alone. Jesus is then tempted for power and glory being offered all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant (lust of the eyes) rejecting that and saying that all power and glory belong to God. Finally, he’s tempted to do a miraculous feat that will surely catch people’s attention (pride of life) rejecting that saying not to put the Lord, your God, to the test.
The audacity of it is meant to strike us. The devil tries to tempt Jesus. God himself. Is He that dumb? Or that arrogant? Probably both. When we’ve embraced sin when we’re living a life of evil we’re not rational.
We recount all this because those same temptations are the same ones the devil continues to present to us – whether we’re the leader of a country or the seemingly most anonymous individual of the world. The devil doesn’t think we’re too small a target that he doesn’t attempt to come at us with temptations that appeal to lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride. He simply wants souls that turn away from God.
But the truth is that God loves us even more… Jesus loves us more than the devil hates us. So much that it is said that “If you were the only person alive…Jesus would have died for you.” We do this annual campaign of 40 days of Lent to focus on the depth of that truth. As we look at all the things that disturb us in the world as it seems to spin out of control, the things that frighten us closer to home, we need to remember that truth – not just refresh our brain on some theological knowledge – but to be changed by that truth… as we heard on Ash Wednesday “return to me with your whole heart.” We do that by following Jesus’ example of fasting and prayer, and sacrificial giving.
If we want to ask the question “Why does God allow?” we’re best served by asking that personally. Why does God allow us time to change, time to repent, time to return to Him? We’re simply confronted with the mystery of Love. His love for us. A love that continues to make Himself vulnerable to being hurt by our rejection, our sins. But a love that takes the risk because that’s what love does. Knowing that it is the most powerful force is the only sure-fire way to conquer war, hatred, evil in all its forms the devil pursues – even death itself.