1st Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
So we have begun the season of Lent.
It is a season that turns us in particular way to focus our minds and hearts
on the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross
and on the fact that is we and our sins who brought Him there.
Unfortunately some insist that this is the wrong approach to this season:
they try to downplay the ideas of suffering, sacrifice and crucifixion
and turn our attention straight to the joy of resurrection
—why focus on the negative, when there’s so much positive?
But they are misguided:
they’ve lost sight of who Jesus really is and why He came into the world.
This is nothing new:
it’s the same problem the devil had in today’s Gospel reading:
The devil really seems not to understand who Jesus is.
For example, he says twice: “If you are the Son of God…” [do this or that].
And besides, if he knew that Jesus was really God,
he wouldn’t have even tried to tempt Him,
because he’d know that he’d fail miserably,
and the devil hates to be humiliated.
The devil has angelic powers and knowledge,
but he’s not all-powerful or all-knowing.
He knew Jesus was different than any creature he’d seen,
and he may have recognized Him as the Messiah,
but maybe he didn’t understand that the Messiah
would also be the “Son of God,” and “God the Son.”
Or maybe he just couldn’t accept that
the Creator of the Universe would choose to become
this weak pitiful creature starving in the desert.
Whatever the reason, it seems pretty clear that in the desert
Satan didn’t really understand who Jesus was.
But he does now.
And while he no longer even dreams of tempting Christ,
he still tempts the rest of mankind on earth.
And he tempts us to become like him,
—particularly by helping us to simply not recognize Jesus for who he is.
To forget that he is the God who, out of love for us,
was nailed to the cross by our sins.
But we mustn’t fall to this temptation.
And so in Lent we go out into the desert to face the devil and his temptations
just like Jesus did.
Mind you, we don’t go out looking to find new temptations
—but to become aware of the temptations we’ve been falling prey to
every day of our ordinarily lives.
In the desert the devil tempted Jesus to make bread out of stone
–to satisfy his appetite.
Every day the devil also tempts us to satisfy our appetites,
to seek the meaning of life in pleasure, not in suffering.
And so we don’t understand that Christ came to suffer and die
for the times we embraced the pleasures of the flesh,
trying to “live on bread alone,”
rather than “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
The devil tempted Jesus to have dominion over the kingdoms of the world
–to find his purpose and success in the world.
And the devil tempts us to find our success and purpose in the world
—in money, power and possessions.
And so we don’t understand how Jesus’ could find
success and purpose in poverty and humiliation.
Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to cast Himself from the parapet
and make the angels catch Him
–to prove He was God and had power over the natural order of creation.
And he tempts us to try to act like God,
to usurp God’s authority and manipulate the natural order of God’s creation,
by trying to control and redefine the meaning
of life and death and love,
not to mention sex, marriage and wealth.
And so we can’t understand how Jesus could come to be obedient to His Father,
even to point of submitting to His Father’s will to accept death on a cross.
Lent is 40 days of preparation for celebrating the Resurrection on Easter.
But before the glory of Easter comes the suffering of the Cross on Good Friday.
All of Lent, then, is, in a way,
a meditation on and an attempt to share in the Passion of Jesus,
and to become more worthy of His love.
We do this in various ways.
We make sacrifices, to our show our desire to pay for our own sins,
and to free ourselves from the temptation to be attached
to our appetites, to worldly power
and to trying to manipulate God’s natural order
And we also “give alms”— acts of charity, of love, for those in need,
just as Jesus did for love for us sinners, so desperately in need of his help.
But above all we pray.
In Lent we have particular ways of praying, praying that specifically leads us
to meditating on the love of the Cross.
One way we do this is by praying the Stations of the Cross
—either alone or together, as we do here
every Friday evening with the whole parish.
Other ways include the special Lenten Holy Hours and talks
we’re having every other Thursday during Lent
—I’ll be giving a ½ hour mediation each week on
“the Agony in the Garden.”
But above all, we have the greatest prayers of Church: the sacraments.
In Lent, as we focus on our sins and doing penance for them
the Sacrament of Penance comes to the forefront.
All of our efforts to recognize and confront our sins and temptations
and all the sorrow and all the firm resolve to amend our lives
bears fruit as we then bring them to Christ Himself,
and confess them to the priest standing in place of Christ.
Here the love of Christ pours forth from
from His pierced hands and feet and side
and we receive the grace both of forgiveness and to amend our lives.
And yet, when you consider that on any given Sunday
about 3000 adults attend Mass and receive Communion in this church,
it is a scandal that in any given week only 50 to 100 adults
attend Confession and receive absolution.
Perhaps this is because
we’ve not only forgotten what the Sacrament of Penance is,
but also what the Sacrament of the Eucharist is.
But in Lent the Church reminds us that the Mass is first and foremost
a re-presentation of the very same sacrifice
that Jesus offered on the Cross on Good Friday,
and we really, truly and completely
look upon Him whom we have pierced with our sins.
How can we look on Him, and worse yet,
how can we say that we love Him and receive Him in communion,
when we have failed to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness
in the manner He specifically gave us,
when He told the apostles:
“who’s sins you forgive are forgive,
whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”
Some will say, but Father,
the sacrament of penance is only necessary for mortal sins,
and only mortal sins make me unworthy to receive communion.
True, but there’s more to Confession than that!
How many of you are willing to stay seated during Communion today
denying yourself the chance to be one with Christ in this most sacred way under the logic, that well, I received last week, or last month or last year,
so I really don’t have to receive today.
And yet so many will tell themselves this week
I went to confession last month, or last year,
I don’t really have to receive the grace of Christ’s forgiveness today,
I don’t want to take time to think about how my sins
have pierced the hands and feet of my Savior,
and I don’t really need to bathe
in the love poured out from His wounded side.
No. I don’t want that, I don’t need that.
It’s so very easy to be tempted into misunderstanding who Jesus is,
and why He did what He did for love of us,
and how we do not do what we do out of love for Him.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
This Lent, don’t listen to those who would confuse you about Jesus.
Do not seek Him in pleasure, but in sacrifice.
Not in works that lead to distraction or amusement,
but in works that lead to meditation and reflection.
Not in the world, but in His Church, His word, and His sacraments.
For these 40 days in the desert, focus your mind and heart
on the love of Christ poured out on the Cross,
and on the repentance of your sins that nailed Him there.