1st Sunday of Lent
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006
First Reading - Genesis 9:8-15
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading - 1 Peter 3:18-22
Gospel - Mark 1:12-15
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beats, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God": "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Our Lord's temptation in the desert brings to mind several key points.
The Mount of Temptation
First, if you plan to make this Lent meaningful, watch out! Be prepared for spiritual warfare! The devil does not want you to have a fruitful Lent - he wants you to be satisfied with a mediocre and relatively fruitless Lent. Unfortunately, there are those who think that having a good Lent means only three things: getting ashes on Ash Wednesday; giving something up; going to Mass on Easter Sunday. That's it - no more, no less, no other. If that is going to be the extent of your Lent, forget about it now. Persons who think that this makes for a good Lent have no regard for making a good examination of conscience and sacramental confession or Sunday Mass attendance EVERY Sunday or an increase in prayer or almsgiving or observing the Lenten disciplines of fasting and abstinence. So, the temptation here is to delude ourselves into minimizing our Lenten experience into merely getting Ashes, giving something up and making it to Mass on Easter Sunday.
Second, the fact that our Lord was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit means that we ought not to take temptation very lightly. Our Lord did not need to endure temptation but we believe that everything He did was done for our instruction, edification and advantage. The physical feat of not eating for 40 days and 40 nights is itself vastly impressive. And yet, the greater lesson over and above the physical toughness that our Lord endures is the sense that we must have - that we ought not to put ourselves into situations where we can be tempted at all.
How often do we pray the Lord's Prayer and say "and lead us not into temptation" and then gladly put ourselves in a near occasion of sin? How often do we hear of a young person who gets into drugs or the drinking crowd or promiscuous behavior? Look who their friends are! Look who their parents allow them to spend time with? We ought not to wonder at some of the things we see. How often do we hear or know of situations where a married person has professional relationships that turn into more than just that? Infidelity has to begin somewhere. How often do we find persons trapped in the sin of pornography and yet won't cancel their cable subscription or guard their internet usage?
Third and lastly, we ought to consider the mandate our Lord gives at the conclusion of our Gospel passage today: repent and believe in the Gospel. Authentic repentance occurs in several distinct phases: admission of sin; sorrow for sin; confession of sin; firm purpose of amendment not to sin again. The problem that we have experienced in the Church over the last several generations is the gradual loss of a sense of sin. Fulton J. Sheen used to lament that even in his day, the confession lines had grown so short but the communion lines had grown so long. Week after week, many individuals come to communion with mortal sin on their souls. In order to have committed a mortal sin, they have rationalized that so long as they didn't kill or assault anyone during the week, they hadn't committed a mortal sin. How faulty an understanding of what grave matter really means! There is usually little debate as to whether the penitent had sufficient reflection or intended the act. The debate is over whether or not the action itself was grave matter - serious business.
One easy example of how this plays out in everyday living among married persons is the issue of contraception. It is a commonly believed statistic that over 90 percent of Catholic couples use some form of contraception in their marriage. Assuming that the couple has given this choice sufficient reflection, we can assume that they intend their use of contraceptives - it doesn't "just happen." By its nature, the use of a contraceptive is already grave matter and yet year after year, couples trapped in this sin continue to come forward for communion, unrepentant of their sin.
If we are to take the words of Jesus seriously - to repent and believe in the Gospel, then a good and thorough examination of conscience followed by a solid and honest Confession must be a part of our Lenten experience this year. If it isn't, all of our penances and prayers will amount to nothing more than window dressing on a relatively empty interior life that remains obstinate in sin. I am convinced that the reason why more people don't come to confession is NOT because of a "bad experience" with a tough confessor. Rather, more people don't come to Confession because they simply don't want to change; don't see the need to; and have made peace with their sins.
We do well to pray that we will actually heed Christ's clear and bold invitation to turn away from sin with humility, giving thanks that He endured suffering and temptation for our sake.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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