1 March 20201 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent - A Cycle - Matthew 4:1-11

A woman phoned God and bitterly said she didn't understand Him. God replied, "Good, madam. That makes us even." Then He hung up.

Monks in the Holy Land fast forty days yearly on the mountain where Jesus fasted.

Is it possible to fast forty days and live to tell the tale? The New York Times says the average person can go for thirty days without eating. Gandhi and the Irish prisoners in British jails in Belfast fasted even longer. Mitch Snyder, the US advocate for the homeless, fasted fifty-one days. Like Jesus, these men took liquids.

Not only Matthew but also Mark and Luke write of the famous temptations. We have reams of raw material to work with.

The only eyewitness to these terrible temptations is Jesus Himself. But why did He tell His followers of them? He told us so little. We know about only one hundred days in His life. About the twelve thousand others, we know almost nothing. What was His purpose in telling us about His chat with Satan? How do we break the code? Tread lightly, for we deal with the autobiography of Christ. This Gospel is heady stuff.

The temptations mark the beginning of His professional life. He was anxious to get in shape and get the fat off His body and spirit. Before He would preach to us, He wanted to prove what He preached He practiced. He entered the forty day retreat. He would not take food. Prayer would provide nourishment. From this fast comes our forty days of Lent.

Dostoyevsky writes that the three Gospel temptations govern human history and underline the contradictions in us. The temptation of the bread speaks of the desire of our bodies to be pampered. The gross term "pigging out" fits comfortably into our language. Each of us likes to be stroked. If others to our dismay will not do it for us, we eagerly volunteer.

The leap from the temple suggests we are anxious to forget our human condition. So, we want to take off and fly. Adults leave the ground with vodka. Their teen children will not be outdone. So, they wrap themselves around a six pack of beer. Kids in the ghettos use drugs to fly over tenement ugliness. Children sail away through daydreaming.

The temptation to call the world one's own speaks to our Orwellian Big Brother. We want to dominate those who are weaker. We can pick the weak off miles away. How else does one explain husband baiting, wife beating, and child abuse? (Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the US.) And the biggest power of them all is abortion, capital punishment, and war.

Every mother's child of us has the seeds of these temptations within us. We eat too much, drink too much, and spend too much on ourselves. We want everything even though we have no place to put it. Conversely we give away so little of our money or leisure. We fast seldom. Do I have to tell you we infrequently pray?

Is it surprising that God does not understand us? He has given us so much.

Today we open the book on a fresh Lent. For some, it will be our last. Jesus issues everyone a license to hunt. The quarry is our honorable or perhaps dishonorable selves. Remember Plato's great line: the greatest victory in the world is that of self-conquest. That line was written 400 years before Christ. It remains true today.

This then is the ultimate reason why the usually taciturn Nazarene told us of His own temptations. The final score was Christ 3 and Satan 0. Jesus is saying, "As I, so you."

Each one of us should have a Lenten program. Here are some hints. Call someone who's lonely and say, "I'll be over tomorrow to take you to lunch or take you for a walk or run errands." Go to Confession. Smile more. Read the Gospels. Forgive an enemy. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Quit smoking. Stop drinking. Lose weight. Be kinder than is necessary. Exercise. Live one day at a time; make it a work of art. (Unknown)

When Lent is done, we should be more interesting Christians than we are now. But it would be a pity if on Easter Sunday the police arrest us on the charge of impersonating Christians.

A pilgrim asked Mother Teresa, "What's wrong with the Church?" She replied, "You and I, for we are the Church."

Reflect this Lent that there is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan. While Satan is out of style, he is not out of business. (CS Lewis)

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent: The Fight Against Evil

This Sunday's readings begin with the account of the Fall of Man.  The thought that humankind would be handed over to evil because the First Man and First Woman ate an apple or some sort of fruit certainly seems like an overreaction by God.  However, look carefully at the reading.  Before they turned from God, Adam and Eve were innocent.  They were told that they could eat from the abundance of the Garden of Eden with the exception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Notice the name of the tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In the Bible to know is to experience.  Mary was surprised that the angel said she would have a baby because she did not know man.  Back to Adam and Eve.  God did not want them to experience evil. But he also gave them a free will with the ability to choose good or evil.  They were tempted by the serpent.  The nature of the temptation is so important.  The serpent did not tell them that the fruit tasted better than the fruit of the other trees.  Nor did Adam and Eve eat the fruit because they were hungry.  The serpent told them that if they ate this fruit, they would be like gods.  Then they would not need God.   They ate the fruit as an attempt to push God out of their lives.  Their pride led them to experience evil.  Once they ate the fruit, they were no longer innocent.  They were no longer like that toddler who runs around the house in his or her birthday suit.  They experienced sin, and with it shame.

The essence of evil is a turning from God.  St. Augustine speaks about it as a flight to nothingness.  For God is the source of all that is.  Evil perverts His Creation so that instead of the good things He creates leading us to Him, we use His gifts to run away from Him.

The Genesis story of the Fall is not about fruit.  It is about the temptation we all have to act as though we do not need God.  This is also at the heart of the three temptations the Lord endured in today's Gospel.  Jesus was hungry.  The devil didn't tempt him to pray to His Father to provide food.  He tempted him to turn the rocks into bread, and use the power His Father had given Him for himself.  We are all tempted to selfishness.  We are tempted to hoard for ourselves the gifts the Lord has provided.  The second temptation the Lord endured, throw yourself from the parapet of the Temple and expect your Father to catch you, was a temptation to show superiority to the Father, a temptation to demand that the Father go into action. We do this when we demand something from God.  Sometimes we say that we pray but God does not never hears our prayers.  That is wrong.  God hears our prayers.  Sometimes, though, He says, "No."  There are times and incidents in all our lives when we have to join the old country singer, Garth Brooks, and thank God for unanswered prayers.  The temptation to force God into action is seen even among some well-meaning but ill-informed people who believe that certain prayers will always produce the desired results.  God is God, and we are not God, or gods.

That third temptation the Lord endured is the temptation we all have to accumulate possessions and power as though these gifts from God will make our lives happy.  Jesus did not fall for this lie as He stood on that mountain top and viewed all the Kingdoms of the world, all His if only He worshiped the devil.  Many people in the world worship evil if it increases their fortunes or their status in life.  They even call it the way of the world.  Interesting expression.  The Way of the World is the Way of the Devil.  Think about the dark places in our society, the places of drugs, the places of the sex industry, the places where the powerful plot to destroy the weak, plot to take advantage of those who cannot protect themselves.  Those misusing their positions and their possessions happily choose evil; choose to worship the devil, so that they might increase their own wealth.

At the beginning of Lent we are summoned to take a serious look at the conduct of our lives.  Are we committing the original sin of pushing God aside?  Is He a low priority in our lives and therefore no priority at all?  Lent calls us to examine how we are using His Gifts.  Are we selfish?  Do we take advantage of others?  Or do we recognize our dependence on God and do whatever we can to serve His presence in others?

The number 40 is used throughout the Bible whenever the world is going to experience a major change.  There were 40 days of rain in Noah's time when God gave man a new start.  Moses went onto Mt. Sinai for 40 days and received God's Law for the people.  Elijah traveled for 40 days to that same mountain, in his time called Horeb, and restored the worship of Yahweh.  And Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before beginning the proclamation of the Gospel. We spend 40 days of Lent, not just to complete some tasks, not just to give up things.  We spend 40 days preparing to transform our lives so that we might be an Easter People.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
1 Lent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
1 Lent

The First Reading and the Gospel are all about temptation—an appropriate theme for the First Sunday of Lent. And surely something we all know about!

But these temptations in our readings don't seem very tempting to us. They are not all that interesting and certainly not very exciting. Stealing an apple, as in the account of the Garden of Eden, seems a bit pedestrian for a temptation these days! I don't suppose small boys today even bother stealing apples; they probably find it easier and more profitable to steal mobile phones from even smaller boys!

And being able to throw yourself off the parapet of the Temple seems even less tempting except for those who fancy themselves in the role of Superman.

To people today temptations are perhaps more about lust and money and personal ambition. Temptation is about transgressing accepted behaviour, doing someone else down for personal advantage, or compromising our honesty to gain something we perceive to be to our benefit.

Of course, it is mostly an illusion that what we desire is actually for our own benefit. Usually when we get what we want we aren't truly satisfied and merely go on to lust after something else. We find ourselves chained to a treadmill of unremitting craving for one thing after another. It is an addictive process.

Sometimes we are tempted to tell tales about other people; to gossip about matters that we would be wiser to keep quiet about. Often this is just so we can gain the esteem of others by telling them something salacious that they do not yet know. We think that having 'inside information' makes us more important people. But, of course, it doesn't.

So, what are we to make of these Biblical temptations? Well. actually, I think that they do go to the very heart of what a temptation is about even though they might seem a bit unlikely or even bizarre to us. They go to the heart of the problem because temptation is fundamentally about a distortion of the way things really are.

In the case of Adam and Eve they are tempted by the idea that they could become like God and be able to exercise the same sort of power that he does. They think that if they possessed this secret of the knowledge of good and evil they would be on a par with God. But this could never be, they could never achieve equality with their creator; indeed, it is the height of arrogance for them to think in this way. The root of the temptation is a distortion of the realities of their relationship with God.

If we are to translate this to a modern day setting, we could see a parallel with those who declare they have no need of God. They do not deny him but simply live without him. They ignore him who cannot be ignored! This is a rejection of their true place in relation to God. They are refusing to acknowledge the one who created them and believe they can live without the very one who keeps them in being.

In the case of Jesus in the desert, he is presented with a series of temptations which if yielded to would distort his relationship with the Father. If he were to accept these temptations he would be rejecting his position as the Son of God, and therefore as our Divine Saviour.

Accepting the Devil's suggestions would in some way mean that Jesus was putting the Father to the test and to imply that he distrusted him. This would be in clean contradiction to the closeness and trust that exists within the Trinity and the consequences would be cataclysmic for us.

The compilers of the Lectionary are also making a point when they put these two stories next to each other: Adam yields to temptation, but Christ, the New Adam, does not.

We began Lent on Wednesday with the imposition of ashes as a sign of our mortality and our wish to do penance in recognition of the great mercy shown us by God by means of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

It is always interesting to observe the reaction of the children at the school when they receive the ashes on their foreheads. Most of them had it rubbed off within two minutes, but some are very careful to keep the ashes on their foreheads as long as they possibly can.

But Lent goes beyond Ash Wednesday, it lasts much longer than the few minutes we manage to keep the ashes on our foreheads. In fact, it lasts the best part of six weeks, and it is important to make a decision to do something positive. I don't know about you, but each year when Lent is over I often have to reproach myself for not having done very much in the way of penance.

I often start full of good intentions but before the first week is over I discover that I didn't do anything serious. It is because I easily get distracted by other things and don't make my Lenten penance a real priority. I often feel that a penance, even if self-imposed, is a burden and something irksome. One thing I never seem to take into account is that it is a reflection of my faith.

We undertake penance because we believe. We believe that what Christ did for us on that first Good Friday brought about our salvation from sin and opened up the way to eternal life for all of mankind. Now if we really believed this with every fibre of our being we would want to do some penance every day in recognition of Jesus' sufferings.

In fact, if we really had faith our penances could get out of hand. The Church, in its wisdom down the centuries has recognised this and actually sets limits to our fasting and other penances. Too much would not be good for us. We are meant to enjoy life. But we are also meant to do some moderate penance. Of course, the very best penance is not to be saying all kinds of extra prayers, attending numerous masses or fasting at starvation levels.

No, the best kind of penance is to carry out the will of God as revealed in the Gospel. The best kind of penance is perhaps summed up in that line from the Prophet Mica: Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God. (Mica 6:8)

Perhaps what we should be concentrating on is getting the basics of our faith right and leaving the extras for another day. After all, the height of hypocrisy is to spend hours on religious observances and then go home to kick the dog. I came across an expression recently which sums up this sort of person quite well: 'The man who hugs the altar rails often doesn't hug his own wife!' Let us do penance by all means, but don't let us fall into that trap.
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