1st Sunday of Lent 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.
This week we began 40 days and nights of Lent, in imitation of Christ
who, as we read in today.s Gospel, began his road to the cross
by going out into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.
But why did Jesus do this in the first place—why did he go out into the desert?
It may surprise us to find that Scripture tells us:
“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
Why did Jesus choose to be tempted?
Today.s 2nd reading reminds us that:
“just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
So we remember that Jesus came to reverse the sin of Adam and Eve.
And to do that he sets himself up to do the exact opposite of what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning.
So we go back to today.s 1st reading from the beginning of Genesis,
where we recall that original sin.
There we see the clear contrast between what Adam and Eve
did in the beginning,
and what Jesus did in the desert.
For example, first, Eve is tempted by the devil and gives in,
whereas Jesus is tempted and refuses to give in.
Second, Eve is living in perfect paradise that God created for man,
whereas Jesus is in the desert:
symbolic of the desolation that sin created for man.
And third, we see the obvious but often unspoken:
Eve is a female, and Christ is a male.
Now, before you start getting all defensive….I.m not going to pick on Eve.
Think of this: where is Adam when Eve is being tempted?
In the beginning Adam doesn.t defend his wife against the devil,
but Jesus comes to rid his bride, God.s people, of the attacks of the devil,
and will never abandon his bride to his temptations.
And even as Adam freely chooses to follow his wife into sin,
Jesus refuses to join his bride in sin,
but rather comes to save her from sins.
And so it can be said, as St. Paul does today:
“through …one man the many were made sinners,
so, through … one, the many will be made righteous.”
We.ll talk about more of these parallels later, but the point is,
Christ came into the world to undo everything Adam, with Eve did that day.
The victory was completed on the Cross on Good Friday,
but the battle was begun in the desert, where
like David his ancestor who went out to meet Goliath in battle,
Jesus also goes out to meet the devil in the battle to end all battles.
So as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter Sunday,
we begin by not only
joining Jesus in his 40 days and nights of praying and fasting,
but also joining him in all out war with our sins and temptations.
But what exactly is temptation?
It.s very simple, actually.
Temptation is when something bad appears to us to be good.
Think about it: we never do bad things because we think of them as bad
—we do them because they seem at the time to be good.
For example, when a diabetic gives in and eats a piece of chocolate cake,
he doesn.t do it because he says to himself,
“O goodie, if I eat this I.ll feel really bad”;
he eats it because he says to himself, “If eat this it will taste good!”
Or when that person cuts you off in traffic,
you don.t think
“I really want to do an evil thing right now”;
no, you think: “it would really feel good to yell at him!”
We see this in today.s 1st reading:
the devil doesn.t point out the terrible consequences of disobeying God.
No, he tells Eve:
“You certainly will not die!
No…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods”!!
He manipulates the truth, making the evil seem to be good.
This is temptation, but there are also 2 basic sources of temptation:
internal temptation and external—temptation from within and from without.
Again, we see both of these in the 1st reading.
For example, we see the external temptation of the devil
—notice how it.s the devil who initiates the conversation—it says:
“The serpent asked the woman.”
But the temptation of the devil isn.t the only kind of external temptation:
external temptation also comes from other human beings.
And so Scripture tells us:
“[Eve] also gave some [of the fruit] to her husband, …and he ate it.”
Sometimes this kind of temptation is willful and intended,
but sometimes you don.t even know your tempting someone.
Eve might have talked Adam into it,
or he might just have followed her bad example.
Still, the fact is, Adam was tempted by Eve—from the outside.
And we also see internal temptation in this reading, but a bit more subtly.
Scripture tells us that before they sin everything is perfect in paradise,
but after the sin everything falls apart.
Before they sin they.re happy and share themselves completely with each other
—Scripture tells us:
“they bec[a]me one flesh. [they] were both naked,
and were not ashamed.”
But after the sin the harmony is gone, as we read:
“they realized that they were naked…
and made loincloths for themselves.”
It.s as if now they couldn.t decide, “is this good, or bad?”
So, while before the original sin Adam and Eve
are only tempted from the outside, by the devil,
after they.ve sinned the confusion also starts to come
from inside themselves.
Traditionally we call this internal confusion between good and evil
–caused by the original sin–
All of us have this internal temptation because of the first sin,
and so St. Paul tells us today:
“through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.”
Only Adam and Eve began life without this internal source of temptation.
that is, until Jesus—and his Mother Mary—came along.
So notice how Jesus—who is without concupiscence, just like Eve was at first—
is only tempted from the outside, just like Eve was before her sin.
And so Jesus comes, to begin everything new,
in the same moral place as Adam and Eve,
so that he can resist the temptation of the devil as they failed to do,
and reverse the sin that they committed.
Nowadays, some people say there is no devil,
or that there may be an evil force in the world,
but there is no personal evil, no person who is the devil.
But for Catholics, and for all Christians, this shouldn.t be a problem:
the Bible is very clear: there is a real live devil.
And he.s not alone—Scripture tells us that the chief devil,
called “Satan” or “Lucifer”,
is Lord over legions of other demons.
So it would be foolish to deny or ignore his existence.
Jesus didn.t: he knew him personally and went out to meet him and fight him.
And the devil hated Jesus and he hates us.
He tempted Jesus, and he still tempts us.
But he is not all-powerful: only God is all powerful.
And so Jesus beat the devil in the desert and he conquered him on the cross.
So when we face the fact of the devils temptations
and join Jesus in the desert this Lent and at the cross this Good Friday,
Jesus can and will save us from the devil.s temptation,
and protect us from the evil he tries to spread in our lives.
As I said, many people deny the existence of the devil, much to their sorrow,
because then they deny his temptations.
But not many deny the fact that people often tempt each other.
The problem is we usually don.t take it very seriously.
So during Lent we need to consider carefully the extent this kind of temptation
is present in our lives.
First, we have to consider how other people tempt us
—whether they mean to or not.
Consider the friends we have, and perhaps the bad influence they have on us.
Or consider the heroes we have, or the examples we follow:
—why someone like Lady Gaga,
is more important to our kids than someone like
Mother Theresa, or Maria Goretti, or Elizabeth Ann Seton?
For that matter, why do grown men place more importance
on reading an interview with Ben Roethlisberger
than a book written by Benedict XVI?
And while we have to consider carefully how others tempt us,
we also have to consider how we tempt others.
For example: do we gossip at work, and lead others into gossip.
Do parents fight in front of their children,
teaching their children to fight and bicker with each other?
What about tempting others in impurity—again, even unintentionally.
Now, eyes front!—no casting of judgmental eyes at your neighbors.
Think about the way you dress:
for example: ladies, do you realize that guys really do think differently
about the female body than you do?
That.s external temptation.
Then there is the internal temptation.
While baptism is like a medicine
that washes and heals the open wound of original sin,
concupiscence remains behind like a scar on our hearts.
And it confuses our own internal desires, we, in effect, battle ourselves.
That that more often than not, that little voice telling you,
“go ahead, no one will know,”
it.s not the devil talking,
but you confusing good and evil all by yourself.
I don.t know about you, but I don.t need anyone to tempt me
to eat chocolate cake,
no one needs to tell me “it.s good for you”
—I can do that all by myself.
Lent is a battle with all these temptations—internal and external.
And like any enemy, temptations come at us from all different angles
and try to turn our weaknesses against us.
Again, we see this as the devil tries to attack Jesus by appealing
to 4 common human weaknesses
—where concupiscence is particular prevalent.
First, he attacks the senses and the appetites:
— the Gospel tells us that Jesus “was hungry.”
and so the devil tempts him to
“command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
This Lent then, do something to mortify and discipline the senses and appetites.
For example, sacrifice a favorite food, or a favorite television show.
Second, the devil preys on our weakness to presume God.s mercy.
And so he tempts Jesus:
“throw yourself down.
For it is written:
„He will command his angels …
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone..”
How many sins do we commit every day thinking,
“well, it.s okay, God will forgive me.”
So during Lent, we make it a point to go to confession
to admit our sins to God, to the priest and to ourselves.
Or, how many times we sin on Friday night saying
“I.m going to confession tomorrow, so what the heck?”
So during Lent we make special sacrifices on Friday to remind us that
we should never presume to manipulate God.s love for us like that.
Then the devil appeals to our desire to possess things
—to our greed, avarice and lust.
“showed [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world …
and said to him, „All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me..”
And so in lent we work on not wanting to posses things by
sacrificing things we like and giving our things to the poor
and by controlling where our eyes rove and what they watch on TV.
Finally, the devil preys on our greatest weakness: pride.
And so he badgers Jesus saying:
“If you are the Son of God.”
But as St. Paul writes:
“Jesus…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped at,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
And so in Lent, we practice humility,
trying to imitate God by become servants to each other,
performing good works and accepting the humiliation that life brings.
Today as we continue to imitate Christ.s 40 days and nights in the desert
we have to remember why he did all this:
that he went out “into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
–to face the same temptation that Adam and Eve had,
and to conquer it.
So this Lent,
let.s also go out with Jesus to do battle with our own temptations
—whether from the devil, from our neighbors, or from ourselves.
Not thinking we can defeat them on our own,
but remembering that Christ has gone before us
and is still with us today
giving us his mighty grace
to wage and win the battle.
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”