TEXT: First Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2024

February 18, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

First Sunday of Lent                                                                   

February 18, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

We have begun the season of Lent.

It is a season that turns us in a particular way

         to focus our minds and hearts

on the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross

and on the fact that it is we and our sins who brought Him there.

Some say 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 the 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.

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.

This is confirmed in St. Luke’s account

as he records Satan asking Jesus if He really is “the Son of God.”

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,

         even amazingly holier than His Mother, Mary,

         who had also confounded Satan with her unique sanctity.

He probably thought Jesus was the Messiah,

         but maybe he didn’t understand that the Messiah

         would also be the “Son of God” and “God the Son.”

He also probably 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.

We mustn’t fall to this temptation.

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, or for the devil,

but to become aware of the temptations we’ve been falling prey to

every day of our ordinary 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.

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.”

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.

So, we don’t understand how Jesus’ could find

         success and purpose in poverty and humiliation.

And 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, gender, and marriage.

So, we struggle to understand

how Jesus could come to be obedient to His Father,

         even to the point of submitting to his Father’s will to accept death on a cross.


Lent is forty 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 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.

We also “give alms”— acts of charity, or love, for those in need,

         just as Jesus did for love of us sinners, so desperately in need of his help.

But above all we pray.

In Lent we have particular ways of praying

         that specifically lead 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 praying the rosary, especially as a family–

maybe the family rosary we pray here in the church.

Or reading Holy Scripture or some other good holy book.

Or joining in Adoration and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament

on Wednesdays or Fridays,

maybe even overnight on Fridays into Saturday mornings.

Or just making short visits to the church

or saying an extra prayer or two every day.

Above all, we have the greatest prayers of the 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 firm resolve to amend our lives,

bear 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 2,000 adults attend Mass and receive Communion in this church,

it is a scandal that in any given week only 50-100 adults

come to 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.

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,

“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven,

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 bathed

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 forty 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.