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Homily for March 6, 2022 – The First Sunday of Lent

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

The First Sunday of Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights, he was tested by the devil. “ He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.” In the desert, God learned to be a hungry man. He learned the craving for food, the faintness, and weakness, the nagging emptiness. He watched the flesh melt away from the bone. And he never forgot that hunger.

But Christ remembered his own hunger in such a way that he never forgot that others are hungry. Even when he was preaching, he fed the four thousand and had the fragments gathered up afterwards. Christ fasted to show us that God never forgets that people are hungry – even though people forget that God is hungry.

Because Christ’s hunger did not come just from a famished body. It was also a hunger of the soul. It was an eternal divine hunger, a hunger for the salvation of humanity. If he had a longing to feed hungry mouths, his desire to satisfy those who hungered and thirsted for the living God was even greater: “I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.” He gave himself to satisfy the hunger in the soul, and he did so under the form of the food of the body.

“One does not live on bread alone” – these are the words of a man who was famished as he spoke them. He knew bodily and spiritual hunger, and he knew which was more important. Bread is not the only food of the human race. And yet before he revealed himself as the living bread he fed the multitude. He was able to feed the body in such a way as to stimulate the true hunger of the soul.

We find the same order in today’s first reading. The Israelite first declares that the Lord “gave us this land flowing with milk and honey”. He then goes on to say, “So here I am. I’ve brought the first fruits of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O Lord”. The Christian, too, should care for the needs of others in such a way that they become more human, more capable of realizing that their needs are not purely material. As St Paul reminds us, they also need to believe with the heart in order to be made righteous and to confess with the mouth in order to be saved.

But Christ is not alone in the desert. The devil is there too. A devil who is apparently concerned about the hungry Christ: “Command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread” – since you’re God’s Son. Whoever heard of a hungry God! What is the use of being a God unless you get something out of it? Or for us, what is the use of religion unless you get something out of it? Because we serve God, do we expect him to serve us? What do we get for leaving all things and following Christ, as all the saints did? What we get is what they got – the joy of having given everything.

The reason you love is in order to give everything, not in order to get anything. If you are able to love utterly and completely you will have given everything: blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are poor with the poor Christ. The devil can fast, but it’s only in order to fill his belly more. Christ fasts in order to become hungry, to give himself.

Not only can the devil fast, but he knows his Bible: “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you”, throw yourself down from the top of the Temple. But abandoning yourself to divine Providence does not mean abandoning the human condition. The Providence of God is concerned with people’s needs, and moving with that Providence means concerning yourself more deeply with the real needs of humanity. The kingdom of God is not going to fall out of the sky but rise from the depths of the earth. God has nothing up his sleeve and we should not behave as if he did: don’t you dare test the Lord your God.

Christ’s choice in this morning’s Gospel reveals what is involved in each decision of ours. We worship either God or the devil by each of our free acts. In the struggle between Good and Evil, there is no neutral territory. “Anyone who is not with me is against me”. Light or darkness, the two are mutually exclusive.

Christ and the devil separate, but it is the devil who retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity. He will return only when God allows him, and even then, although he will crucify Christ, the devil will accomplish nothing but his own destruction. And the devil will keep on tempting the followers of Christ, even though he should know by now that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. We have only to keep on praying, “Deliver us from evil…for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are the Lord’s, now and forever”.