1st Sunday in Lent

February 14th, 2015
Father Shawn Hughes

Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.

God bless you.
Father Shawn

The season of Lent has begun. The sanctuary is draped in penitential purple. Already in the Liturgy we have fasted from the Gloria … which we won’t hear it again on Sundays until the Easter Vigil. The Alleluia has also been put away until our hearts are prepared to sing it anew at Easter.

The purpose of the Lenten journey is to prepare us for the great celebration of the Triduum of Holy Week, the three High Holy Days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the summit of our Lenten Journey, the Great Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, where after our Lenten journey those preparing for baptism will be baptised and those of us who are baptised will be asked to renew our baptismal promises. All the preparations of Lent focus us on our baptismal promises:

At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday morning Archbishop O’Brien will ask you: Do you renounce Satan? And after a Lent lived well through more intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving you will be able to respond in a more profound way: I do. You will be asked: Do you reject all Satan’s works? And you will respond I do. You will be asked: Do you reject all Satan’s empty promises? And you will respond « I do. »

Once we have rejected evil we will then be asked:
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
V. Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
R. I do.

Lent is a six week retreat that the Church gives us. It is kinda a short concise course on how to be a Christian. It begins and ends with our renouncing of Satan and all his works.

On the First Sunday of Lent we always read the gospel where Jesus is tempted by the devil in the desert before the beginning of His public ministry…where ultimately Jesus renounces Satan and all his Temptations. Temptations are always about the devil. Many today really don’t believe in the devil. He’s kind of been spiritualized by many of us as kind of a symbolic representation of the selfishness and evil in human beings’ hearts. The Church has always taught that temptation is not so much a feeling that gets us into trouble as it is a ploy on the part of the devil to tempt us to substitute God’s plan for his plan in our lives. The devil tempts us with alternatives to the gospel and convinces us that they are true; that they will make us happy. In today’s gospel Jesus overcomes the devil. And Jesus’ victory, according to the scriptures is like a regime change, a change of power for the world.

The way the Scriptures present it, the devil, before Jesus’ death and resurrection was in charge. When Jesus died and rose from the dead God effected a regime change in the world. And Lent is the time for us to be busy effecting a regime change in our hearts and in whatever aspect of our lives where the deception of the devil has replaced the truth of the gospel.

The three temptations that Jesus experiences in the gospel are the human temptations that you and I face in the struggle to be true Christian disciples..

In the first temptation Jesus is tempted to use his divine power for himself. To turn the stones into bread to feed his hunger. So many of our temptations are like that. They are temptations to self centredness, to ego, to self-sufficiency, to please ourselves. And the whole business of the gospel is to change our minds and our hearts so instead of primarily pleasing ourselves we live lives focused on pleasing God and others. In response to this temptation Jesus says: quoting Scripture counters: “It is written Man does not live by bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
Lent is about following God’s word, in Scripture, more closely in our daily lives.

The second temptation: Jesus is shown the kingdoms of the world. And the devil says to him if you fall down and worship me I will give you all these possessions and all this power. It looks like this is a temptation to power but it is really a temptation to false worship. Because the devil uses those things to entice Jesus to worship him rather than to worship God. Jesus rebukes him saying: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” (Deuteronomy 6:13). So the question we ask ourselves as we enter into the Lenten season is : “Who or what are my false gods? Who or what in my life am I worshipping? God alone is worthy of worship.

Finally the last temptation in today’s gospel Jesus is taken to the highest point of the temple. Jesus was tempted by the devil to throw himself off and the devil says the angels will protect you and you won’t dash your foot against the stone. The devil is quoting Scripture here. If you remember the psalm we just sang, Psalm 91. The devil is quoting from today’s psalm. So not everyone who quotes Scripture to you is from God. The devil can quote Scripture. Quoting Scripture isn’t the point. Submitting ourselves to Scripture is the point. Being obedient to it. Not quoting it. Don’t get me wrong it is good to be able to quote Scripture, but not just quote it. It is far better to be obedient to it and live it.

And Jesus says to him in response: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) What does that mean ‘to put God to the test’? The Jews of Jesus time did it often and we do it too. It means we don’t really believe. We want God to prove himself to us. It is actually using God for our benefit rather than giving ourselves in obedience and faithfulness to God. You know, those of us who only pray to get things are doing that. We are putting God to the test. We are not loving God. We are using him. We are praying to make ourselves feel better or to get our own way. Jesus rejects this temptation and tells us it is only the Lord our God that we should give ourselves to faithfully.

So we ask the Lord Jesus who overcame temptation to help us overcome the same in our life.

The devil can only tempt us when we depend on something other than God to fulfill us.

There is a wonderful prayer written by St. Nicholas of Flue that summarises this:
“Almighty God and Father, take all things from me which keep me from you.
Almighty God and Father, grant all things to me that draw me to you.
Almighty God and Father, take me from myself, and give my all to you. Amen. (St. Nicholas of Flüe; cf. Mt 5:29-30; 16:24-26.)

This gospel of the temptations of Jesus is about trusting that God is true to the promises we received in our baptism at all times, even in adversity, even in temptation….. One of the key results of the Son of God becoming man in Jesus Christ is that we have a God who understands our trials, our sufferings …… because he entered into suffering and death. He experienced them Himself. He is with us in them. And in so doing he conquered the devil and death; and in his resurrection gave us the strength to live for Eternal life. We receive that strength in the Sacraments, foundationally in Baptism and especially in the Eucharist and Confession. The strength to say no to temptations. The strength to say yes to God. Our task is to trust enough to rely on that strength.

There is a wonderful quote, I think very helpful at the beginning of Lent, from the late Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Ber-na-din, who died in 1996, in his book « Gift of Peace », written while dying, very much in the public eye, from cancer. He said: “God speaks very gently to us when he invites us to make more room for him in our lives. The tension that arises comes not from him but from me as I struggle to find out how to offer him fuller hospitality and then do it wholeheartedly . . . He wants me to focus on the essentials of his message and way of life rather than on the accidentals that needlessly occupy so much of our time and efforts. One can easily distinguish essentials from peripherals in the spiritual life: essentials ask us to give true witness and to love others more. Nonessentials close us in on ourselves.” – (The Gift of Peace Loyola Press, 1997)

Lent is responding to God’s invitation to make more room for Him in our lives. Lent is about the struggle to find out how we can offer Him fuller hospitality and to do it wholeheartedly. Lent is about focusing on the essentials of Christ’s message and way of life. Lent is about growing from being closed in on ourselves to being true disciples, giving true witness and growing in love for others.

I encourage you to take it seriously. Don’t let the opportunity of this wonderful season slip by!

Lent could very well be summarized by one verse from the Letter of James: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you!”(James 4:8)