06 Mar First Sunday in Lent
March 5th, 2017
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.
Every first Sunday of Lent we read the gospel of Christ being tempted in the Desert. Lent commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his years of preaching, which culminated in the Cross and in the triumph of Easter. Forty days of prayer, fasting and penance…and at the end of them Jesus is tempted. It is important to note that it is Jesus who is tempted. Jesus is fully God and fully man, a man like us in all things but sin. Thus to experience temptation is not sinful in and of itself.
The gospel says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted…the 40 days are preparation for this event…this temptation is expected…Jesus prepared for it…Why would Jesus submit himself to this?…It strengthened Him…strengthened Him in His trust of the Father…and it highlighted for us that we will all be tempted…that we need to be prepared for temptation…to expect it…and like Jesus know temptation will strengthen us when we resist it…It will deepen our dependence on and trust of the Father. If we are not prepared to meet the temptations that we encounter in our every day life, we open the door to a great enemy — to discouragement, gloominess and lack of hope. We build our hope in resisting temptations!
Temptations are opportunities. Opportunities to choose to stand under the banner of Christ or to stand under the banner of the evil one. Temptations are opportunities to choose to grow in virtue or to choose to give in and sin.
At the point of temptation nothing good nor evil has taken place. At the point of temptation it is a spiritual challenge. As in today’s gospel, God the Father is allowing temptation to strengthen us, to deepen our trust, to deepen our love and reliance on Him. Thus, we have an opportunity to choose to resist temptation and grow in virtue or we can choose to give in to the temptation and commit sin.
In dealing with temptations there are three steps. First we must Be Aware of what is going on, then understand it and thirdly act on it.
When anger, pride, temptations to sexual impurity, lack of forgiveness, impatience, frustration, envy, irritability, first appear on our hearts they are not sinful at that moment. They are temptations. They are part of who we are as fallen human beings. At the point of recognition, being aware we must recognize the temptation and then act on it, by resisting it and we do that with prayer…a quick “Come Holy Spirit” or a full “Our Father” if it is intense. The other alternative is to give in to the temptation and let the person have it. If we resist it we grow in strength and the next time it comes along it will be easier and eventually becomes a habit. If we give in to it every time then we build no resistance and we succumb to it every single time. Temptation is an opportunity…. an opportunity to make a choice: either to resist it and grow in virtue…or to give in to it and sin. It is an opportunity.
The devil tempts us precisely by taking advantage of the needs and weaknesses of our human nature. In his humanity Jesus must have been very weak that day. Having just spent forty days fasting in the wilderness; He must have been very hungry. This is the moment the tempter chooses to come forward and propose that He should turn the stones into bread. But Jesus is prepared…prepared by his 40 days of prayer and fasting and he resists the temptation. Likewise. we must be extra vigilant when we are worn out at the end of the day, when we are frustrated, or sick or stressed, or when something has gone wrong…we need to expect temptations then…. the enemy attacks when we are weak. The tempter`s voice in our head will say: “After the day I’ve had I deserve this…and then we will reach for the glass, or for that favourite comfort food, for the channel converter, or start surfing the net, have less patience with those we love…” He attacks when we are weak and where we are weak…especially at the point of our loneliness, our fears and insecurities. We must expect it and always be on our guard. Like the Lord, our life of prayer and fasting builds our strength, prepares us to resist the evil one.
Jesus declines the food. He could have changed the stones into bread but he knows he will be strengthened against the enemy by resisting the temptation. How does he resist? He fights it by quoting Scripture. “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) We need to have quotes of Scripture at hand… ready in our minds…when the temptation comes…I bet everyone who for their Lenten penance has given up food in some way… maybe desserts…or eating between meals…or a favourite…perhaps chocolate…I bet you have thought more about that food these past few days than you usually do…the tempter gets inside our heads…. and dwells there if we let him…we need prayer…specifically lines from Scripture to battle these…One of my favourites is St. Paul in His Letters to the Philippians in chapter 4 when he states: “I can do all things in Him who gives me strength.” (4:14) meaning…in prayer, and in the sacraments we receive all the grace we need, all the strength we need to resist temptation.
Or when encountering temptations like spending excessive time surfing the internet or being just one click from going where one should not go…praying “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.” (Psalm 26:1)…These would be great Lenten screen savers to resist temptation. Or better yet, if the computer is a particular problem, stick a note on your screen with a scriptural quote on it that you pray every time you turn the computer on. And of course the Our Father, the prayer Jesus gave us, or the Hail Mary, are both quoting Scripture and therefore are the most traditional and best prayers to use when feeling tempted. Attack the tempter with Scripture. Don`t stop praying the Scripture until the temptation goes away. With prayer and removing yourself from the situation, what we call the occasion of sin, that temptation will stop. The devil doesn’t want you praying. But like in today`s gospel, he doesn’t stop tempting you. The enemy will simply resort to another tactic. So you must expect that and not let your guard down.
Satan is a Hebrew word that directly translates as accuser. He says to Jesus: “IF you are the son of Man.” He tries to place doubts in each of our minds, second guessing the good we might do. His voice: “Why bother” “It’s too much energy” “what good will it do.” These are from the accuser. Sometimes we join in with him: ‘I’m not worthy” “I’m no good.” Such thoughts are never from God. We must be aware and understand that these thoughts are not from God and act, resist the temptation. Thus we grow in virtue.
The enemy is very clever. In the second temptation he takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, declaring: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will give his angels charge of you, and in their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” It seems a very cunning temptation: if Jesus refused, He would demonstrate that he does not trust God completely, if Jesus accepts, He obliges the Father to send His angels to save Him…to His own personal advantage. Here, Jesus is tempted to vanity, to pride, to pointless ostentation. But he is prepared. His forty days of prayer and penance in the desert have strengthened him in the ways of God. He is prepared. He remains strong, unperturbed with the temptation. And replies with Scripture. “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.“ (Deuteronomy 6:16)
In the last temptation the devil offers Jesus all the glory and earthly power that anyone could ever wish for… `all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.“ The devil is a liar, the father of lies ( John 8:44)…he is always promising more than he can give. He is always promising happiness. But happiness is not His to give. Every temptation is always a miserable deception…we know that the minute we give in to it.
In this temptation the devil tempts Jesus in the area of ambition. The enemy always tempts us in some form of our ambition. The enemy`s voice in our heads shouts the temptation for self-focus: see me, recognise me, take note of how good I am, or how smart I am or how successful I am. Often his voice in our heads compares our qualities to others and makes us feel superior: See me over him…recognise my gifts…they are better than hers…I`m much smarter than he is…I`m good…they aren`t…Sometimes we want to succeed at all costs. Sometimes our own self can often be the worst of all idols. We raise ourselves by putting others down.
The enemy’s voice in our heads provides all kinds of false reasons why we should do something or why not…why should I let that hurt go, why should I forgive that person…they are the ones who hurt me…I will hurt them by not forgiving them…this is false reasoning… and we only hurt ourselves. Like Adam and Eve…we find it very easy to lay blame elsewhere…Adam blamed Eve, Eve blames the serpent…We point away from ourselves.
A key way to fight temptations when that voice is inside our head…is to ask the key spiritual question: “Is this thought from God?” And it usually is very clear whether it is or not. If it is something good then accept it and give thanks to God for it. If it is obviously not from God, if it will harm you or someone else…reject it immediately and don’t let the conversation or movie in your head develop any further.
Temptations are like emotions. In and of themselves we don’t choose them. They just pop into our heads. Thus in and of themselves they are not sinful. It’s what we do with them that they could become sinful. Don’t let that conversation or movie in your mind develop any further. Catch as quickly as it appears on your heart and dismiss it.
Finally, the devil promises the world. To Jesus and to us. We should not fall down to worship material things, making of them false gods which will ultimately enslave us. Material goods are not bad in and of themselves. They cease to be good if they turn our hearts from God and from our neighbour.
Notice Jesus` response to this temptation. Again he cites scripture. And it is directed at us every bit as much as at the enemy. `You shall worship the Lord your God and Him ALONE shall you serve.“ (Dueteronomy 6:13) We all know, that at the core of our being that alone is what will make us truly happy.
A great Lenten question is: “Am I serving anything or anyone ahead of God?” Are my choices, big or small, leading me away from God or closer to Him?
Today`s readings describe a struggle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.
It is key to always remember. God is always with us. Whenever we are confronted with temptation Jesus says to us, just as he said to the disciples as he was preparing for the crucifixion… in the last line of chapter 16 of John’s gospel, `Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.“ (John 16:33) Today`s readings call us to trust that absolutely and to live out of that strength. When severely tempted…remind yourself…I have received all the grace, all the strength of God, I need in my baptism and the other sacraments, to overcome any temptation. We need to trust that grace and the strength of our prayer so that we do not choose to give in to them.
Like St. Paul we must remember: “I can do all things in Him who gives me strength.” Easier said than done but, when taken seriously and strengthened by prayer, fasting and penance. It is true…“I CAN do all things in Him who gives me strength.