Saturday, March 8, 2014

Homily – First Sunday of Lent - Will we pass the test?

Genesis 2:7-9;3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

I have a reoccurring dream.  I’m back in school and it’s test day.  But I am not ready.  I failed to study.  I’m unprepared. 

Panic.  Distress.  Terror.  All these feelings overwhelm me.

To add insult to injury -- and I apologize in advance for planting this image in your brain-- but I’ve showed up for my test wearing only my underwear.  No clothes at all. 

And I’m trying desperately to hide before anyone notices a fellow student traipsing around clad only in his skivvies.

Now, my feelings are amplified with embarrassment and shame.

I am always so relieved when I wake up from this horrible, horrible nightmare. 

I’ve been told by many they’ve had similar anxiety dreams. 

Not sure what it all means. It’d probably take some serious couch time with a psychologist for me to understand its origins.

Maybe it comes from a deep, dark place in our collective memory. Maybe it’s rooted in humanity’s subconscious; planted there by our experiences in the garden with our creator and our shame for failing the test.

We are all on our Lenten journey.

On Ash Wednesday, we were reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We were asked to repent and believe in the Gospel.

In essence, we are being told to WAKE UP!

Wake up to what we’re doing wrong in our lives.  Wake up to our own sinfulness.  Wake up to the things that distance us from God, the things we do we don’t want God to see, the things we do in our lives that bring us shame.

Shame is such a strong emotion. When we let down God, when we sin, we experience shame, regret, embarrassment and sorrow.

Sometimes, to escape these feelings, we like to convince ourselves a sin is not a sin.  It’s a game we play with ourselves. 

We try to be smarter than God. 

We are tempted and fail the test, over and over again.  After all, we’re only human.

Thank God for the Lenten season. Thank God for these 40 days to focus on getting it right in God’s eyes.

20th Century Catholic mystic and writer Thomas Merton once said, “Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts, but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before.  The light of Lent is given us to help us with this realization.”

Pope Francis calls Lent a time to “shed lazy, un-Christian habits and snap out of (our) apathy” as we prepare for the joy of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter.

The Pope says, “All of us need to improve.  Lent helps us… get out of our tired routine and the lazy addiction to evil that tempts us.”

Lent is a personal journey. And like Christ, we should be making this journey alone with our Creator.

Jesus shows us today a perfect example how to love God with all our heart, with all our mind.  This is one half of the Greatest Commandment.

The devil dangles self-reliance, wealth and power, and fame before the Son of God and he doesn’t blink.  Jesus aces the test. 

As Pope Francis recently said , “The world tells us to seek success, power and money;  God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”  Jesus in a nutshell, right?

When we face the same tests, the same temptations, do we pass? Or fail?

Let me ask a question, do we strive to be wealthy; to be abundantly financially secure by the work of our hands?  To build up fortunes for ourselves and our family?

Or do we realize it’s all a gift from God designed to be shared abundantly with others?  And do we share enough with our brothers and sisters in need by offering up alms?  

Do we hunger for power?  How many of us try to control people and situations in our lives?  How many of us fail to let the Holy Spirit take control and instead try to take matters into our own hands; in our families, in our work setting, in our Church?

Do we hunger for fame?  Is it always about “me” or others?

Do we fast to break through our hungers?  Do we feed ourselves sufficiently with the word of God and the body of Christ to know ourselves better?

Do we pray enough?

St. Paul in his letter to the Romans today wants us to focus on the Big Picture:  Jesus remained obedient to God throughout his entire life, all the way to the cross. Jesus turned humanity’s disobedience to God’s will in the garden into obedience in the desert when tested by the devil.

Sadly, we humans fall short time and time again.  We fail the test.

That’s why we need Lent.  That’s why we must make our own personal journey into the desert every year, take a long, hard look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable to God. 

In Matthew’s Gospel today, we see Jesus tested by the devil.  We see him dispatch the devil with these simple words, “Get away, Satan.”

If only we remember to do the same every time we are led into temptation.

Thankfully, we Catholics have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to seek God’s tender mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness when we mess up.

As a Catholic who struggled for years with a misunderstanding of the Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation, my eyes are now open to a need to confess my sins.

None of us is perfect. But all of us have the ability to ask God for forgiveness when we stumble and fall.   All of us can open ourselves up to the light of God’s love.

As we enter our Lenten journey, my prayer is for each of us is to feel the freedom and the release only found in the confessional.

During Lent, we Catholics also usually give up something as a reminder of our focus on penance and prayer. Perhaps it’s chocolate or Starbuck’s lattes or Facebook or some other little habit.

As we look for something to give up for Lent, I recommend we:

-          Give up resentment and become more forgiving

-          Give up hatred and return good for evil

-          Give up complaining and be more grateful

-          Give up pessimism and become more hopeful

-          Give up worry and become more trusting

-          Give up anger and become more patient

-          Give up pettiness and gossip and become more noble

-          Give up gloom and become more joyful

-          Give up doubt and turn to God

May the peace of Christ invade our very being this Lenten season.  May we WAKE UP and get to work on our relationship with God so when the time comes to stand naked before our creator we may pass the test.