1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2: 7 – 9; 3: 1 – 7; Ps 51; Romans 5: 12 – 19; Matthew 4: 1 – 11
In the missalette Give Us This Day I found this reflection: Pope Francis once was asked what should you in encountering a panhandler. He answered: Give something every time, no exceptions, and give with compassion, warmth and eye contact. The Pope then raised the question that quickly comes to mind: “What if they use the money for wine?” His answer became a question: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s OK. Instead ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What happiness do you seek in secret?”
Pope Francis probing questions: “…what do you do on the sly? What happiness do you seek in secret?” is what Lent is about! This holy season is a time to reflect seriously on how I/you live our Baptism, how we really live our personal relationship with God, with others. To think of Lent only in the terms of giving up something for 40 days really defeats its purpose. It is a matter of fasting, of abstaining but in order to grow in what truly matters, faith in God, love, hope. If fasting, abstaining makes you miserable and those you live with, then fast from fasting!!! Don’t become someone else’s penance!
So the important questions: What do I/you do on the sly? What happiness do you/I seek in secret? How are we tempted, moved, enticed? The reading from Genesis and the Gospel give us some teachings on the reality of temptation and in Romans St. Paul reveals the antidote.
The insidiousness of temptation is terribly clear in Jesus’ experience. Even the Son of God in His sacred humanity was not exempt from the wiles of Satan; evil arrogantly and shamelessly approached Jesus after 40 days of fast. Jesus in His humanity was vulnerable and the evil one seized the occasion and notice, was not beyond “taking Jesus” – evil touched Him physically but could never taint Him, infect Him and was dismissed strongly and with vehemence. For us, when temptation comes, perhaps what is lacking is the very clear awareness of how insidious it is, how our good, our well being is never evil’s intent – it is out to destroy, to reduce, to subdue at any cost through infidelity, deceit, lust, greed, selfishness, hatred, etc.
The cunning of evil veiled in enticing language is shown in Genesis. We know the story but we can miss a lesson. The snake drew Eve into a conversation and that’s where she made her big mistake. Temptation comes and we can enter into dialog with it – have a mental conversation and evil has a foot in the door so that one is sucked into the evil. Rather than pray or distract ourselves in some way, temptation can cease to be a passing thought and sin takes over, is actualized, done.
St. Paul tells us in no uncertain terms – we need Jesus Christ as Savior, Redeemer, Lord – we need Him to bring us through life, mine and yours. In becoming like us in all things but sin, our Lord knows the reality, the strength, the enticing nature of sinful temptation. To turn to Him, to seek His redeeming love is to know Him as Lord and to be a Christian in reality. This is to accept my own fragility and above all, His divinity. When temptation comes, we must dialog, converse with the Lord. He can free, lift up, move us into the light.
Of course, due to our human nature, to original sin, we all fail at times – no one makes the journey of life perfectly. Despair can raise its ugly head, hope can be diminished and people do suffer this, perhaps we’ve been there. In preparing a homily it is a great help to have a beginning and definitely an end. In trying to come up with an ending, I was moved, really inspired to ask our departed Fr. John Eudes for some wisdom. And immediately it came. It is something from the Rule of St. Benedict: “Never lose hope in God’s mercy!”
“Never lose hope in God’s mercy.”
It is our strength and it is always His precious gift.
His mercy has no price tag.
Our God freely and graciously embraces us in His mercy.
With this there is no place for despair, no reason to lose hope.