Saturday, March 5, 2022

HOMILY – First Sunday of Lent – Temptation


          Fr. Bryan's and my preaching theme this Lent is: Choosing the road that leads up to Calvary. The only real high road. 

Life is hard. Sometimes we prefer the easiest path – one without suffering or pain or sorrow. But Jesus tells us we all must carry our crosses if we are to follow him.

You’ve heard it said, there is no resurrection without the cross.

This week Jesus is being tempted by the devil in the desert, seduced by three temptations (the three-p’s): pleasure, power, and prestige.

Jesus is tested -- all the way up to Calvary and the cross.

And, as we know, he always takes the high road. And he always passes the test.

         This week we also are looking at our response to temptation.

How do we deal with temptation? How do we deal with evil? How do we deal with the devil?

We hear in the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.”

How does God “lead” us into temptation? It is a question some may ask.

God doesn’t lead us into temptation.  The Evil one does.

And we need God’s protection to battle the snares of the devil.

First, the antidotes to the devil’s temptations of pleasure, power and prestige are the three pillars of our Lenten journey: fasting, prayer and almsgiving, the first fruits of our relationship with God.     

Fasting helps us to conquer the sin of pleasure.

           Prayer for God’s will in our lives helps us to conquer the sin of desiring power or control.

Almsgiving (without anyone noticing) helps us to conquer the sin of prestige.

Lent is a time to call us back to these disciplines as we enter our own deserts.

In Luke’s Gospel we see a bunch of scenes of Satan trying to regain control of the world by taking away the word of God from people’s hearts.

Jesus is fasting and praying as he walks in the desert, facing the devil’s temptations, and all the while he is discerning a new way of living – a way totally focused on serving to the poor and marginalized, the outcast and outlaw, the despised and disposed. 

Jesus is about to build a community on a foundation of love and mercy.

This is the way of Jesus.

Luke's Gospel ties nicely to today's first reading from Deuteronomy.

Each of Jesus’ temptations was faced by the Hebrew people during their 40-year Exodus in the desert.  

They were tempted to believe that God had abandoned them or that they were being punished by God. 

Do we sometimes feel that way as we wander through our own personal deserts

          The devil continually whispers false things about God into our ears, turning God into something small and controllable in our eyes. Making God into an idol; a genie we can ask to grant our every wish.

Our faith life must always be one of continual idol-busting. Because God is not some puppet or creature under our control. God is always bigger than we can imagine.

We are not called to a one-sided objectification of God, but instead each of us is called into authentic relationship with God, a personal relationship with Jesus.

Do you have an intimate relationship with Christ?

Then there’s the devil. Yes, the devil is real and continually tempting us.

Truth is some people feel uncomfortable talking about the devil. The concept smacks of ancient superstition for many.  But whether or not we believe in the devil, we can all agree evil is real. 

          We need only look at the events in Ukraine to see a human example of evil rearing its ugly head in the world.

God is found in the brave actions of the men and women of Ukraine defending their nation by laying down their bodies in front of tanks. God is found in the brave leadership of a young President who believes he might die leading his country. God is found in our prayers for Ukraine, our almsgiving to the peoples there, and our fasting for peace on Ash Wednesday as Pope Francis asked us to do.

Evil is found in the bombing of civilian (not military) targets to grow an oppressor's empire. Evil is found in Russian missiles terrorizing old people, mothers with children and young men who have never experienced war. Evil is found in the lies told to Russian soldiers about how they will be received in Ukraine.

Take for instance the last text message found on the cell phone of teenage Russian soldier moments after his death.

          The text was read by Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations during an open session this week. Here’s the full transcript of the text message sent by a teenage Russian conscript to his mom:

“Mom, I’m in Ukraine. There’s a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all the cities together even targeting civilians. We were told that they would welcome us. And they are falling under our armored vehicles. They’re throwing themselves under the wheels and not allowing us to pass. They call us Fascists. Momma, this is so hard.”

Moments after sending this text to his mother the young soldier was killed.

          Everything he was told about the mission into Ukraine was a lie. This Russian teenager spent his time in the desert and was led to his death by the lies of the devil.  

Compare that to a viral video showing the humanity of Ukrainians feeding a hungry captured Russian soldier and letting him call home to his mother on a video chat. 

As we walk through the desert on our own 40-day Lenten journey, we will face temptations, too. The temptation to look away from the misery and suffering. The temptation to be ambivalent to the struggles of people in faraway lands.  The temptation to demonize young Russian soldiers instead of understanding they were lied to by their leaders.

Temptations supplant God with idol worship of our own making. It lulls us into thinking what’s bad is good and what’s good is bad. It warps our souls and brings about death and destruction.

          My prayer for us all is that we will open our eyes to the evils that surround us, and do as Jesus did: stand up to evil and say “no.”

We do this through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These Lenten practices are the path to salvation, and antidotes to the temptations of pleasure, power, and prestige.

Christ shows us today how to effectively rebuke the devil and turn away from his evil ways.

Jesus shows us his way, the only way – to choose the road that leads up to Calvary. The only real high road. 

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