05 March 20171 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent - A Cycle - Matthew 4:1-11

A woman phoned God and bitterly said she didn't understand Him. God replied, "Good, madam. That makes us even." Then He hung up. Monks in the Holy Land fast forty days yearly on the mountain where Jesus fasted.

Is it possible to fast forty days and live to tell the tale? The New York Times says the average person can go for thirty days without eating. Gandhi and the Irish prisoners in British jails in Belfast fasted even longer. Mitch Snyder, the US advocate for the homeless, fasted fifty-one days. Like Jesus, these men took liquids.
Not only Matthew but also Mark and Luke write of the famous temptations. We have reams of raw material to work with.
The only eyewitness to these terrible temptations is Jesus Himself. But why did He tell His followers of them? He told us so little. We know about only one hundred days in His life. About the twelve thousand others, we know almost nothing. What was His purpose in telling us about His chat with Satan? How do we break the code? Tread lightly, for we deal with the autobiography of Christ. This Gospel is heady stuff.

The temptations mark the beginning of His professional life. He was anxious to get in shape and get the fat off His body and spirit. Before He would preach to us, He wanted to prove what He preached He practiced. He entered the forty day retreat. He would not take food. Prayer would provide nourishment. From this fast comes our forty days of Lent.

Dostoyevsky writes that the three Gospel temptations govern human history and underline the contradictions in us. The temptation of the bread speaks of the desire of our bodies to be pampered. The gross term "pigging out" fits comfortably into our language. Each of us likes to be stroked. If others to our dismay will not do it for us, we eagerly volunteer.

The leap from the temple suggests we are anxious to forget our human condition. So, we want to take off and fly. Adults leave the ground with vodka. Their teen children will not be outdone. So, they wrap themselves around a six pack of beer. Kids in the ghettos use drugs to fly over tenement ugliness. Children sail away through daydreaming. The temptation to call the world one's own speaks to our Orwellian Big Brother. We want to dominate those who are weaker. We can pick the weak off miles away. How else does one explain husband baiting, wife beating, and child abuse? (Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the US.) And the biggest power of them all is abortion, capital punishment, and war.

Every mother's child of us has the seeds of these temptations within us. We eat too much, drink too much, and spend too much on ourselves. We want everything even though we have no place to put it. Conversely we give away so little of our money or leisure. We fast seldom. Do I have to tell you we infrequently pray? Is it surprising that God does not understand us? He has given us so much.

Today we open the book on a fresh Lent. For some, it will be our last. Jesus issues everyone a license to hunt. The quarry is our honorable or perhaps dishonorable selves. Remember Plato's great line: the greatest victory in the world is that of self-conquest. That line was written 400 years before Christ. It remains true today.

This then is the ultimate reason why the usually taciturn Nazarene told us of His own temptations. The final score was Christ 3 and Satan 0. Jesus is saying, "As I, so you."

Each one of us should have a Lenten program. Here are some hints. Call someone who's lonely and say, "I'll be over tomorrow to take you to lunch or take you for a walk or run errands." Go to Confession. Smile more. Read the Gospels. Forgive an enemy. Love someone who doesn't deserve it. Quit smoking. Stop drinking. Lose weight. Be kinder than is necessary. Exercise. Live one day at a time; make it a work of art. (Unknown)

When Lent is done, we should be more interesting Christians than we are now. But it would be a pity if on Easter Sunday the police arrest us on the charge of impersonating Christians.

A pilgrim asked Mother Teresa, "What's wrong with the Church?" She replied, "You and I, for we are the Church."

Reflect this Lent that there is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan. While Satan is out of style, he is not out of business. (CS Lewis)
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent: Forty Days of Victory

Forty. Lent is, as you know, forty days. Jesus fasted for forty days. Noah was on the ark while it rained, for forty days. Elijah walked in the desert for forty days. Moses spend forty days on Mt Sinai. The Hebrews who had been delivered by God from Egypt roamed in the desert for forty years. This happened when they refused to trust in God to give them the Promised Land after scouts returned from reconnoitering the land, for forty days.

So what's so special about forty? Forty is a biblical length of time that represents the period of purification before a momentous change. After the forty days of flood, mankind was purified, ready to start anew. Noah looked up into the sky and there was a rainbow, a sign from God that he would never destroy His people again with a flood. After forty days on Mt. Sinai, Moses was purified, ready to receive the holiness code. He descended the mountain with the tablets of the ten commandments and a sure way for the Hebrews to live as God's people. Forty years later, their children and grandchildren would enter the Promised Land as people who had faith in God, not like their parents and grandparents whose faith wavered. After forty days in the desert, Elijah was empowered to renew God's people. After forty days in the desert, Jesus was strengthened to do battle with the Tempter. After forty days of Lent, we are empowered to join the Lord in fighting off evil in our world. And so we begin the forty days of Lent, looking forward to waging war for the Lord.

We do not have to be victims in the battle against evil. We can be victors. We can join Jesus in fighting off the devil. Too many people in the world are convinced that they are victims of immorality. "The devil lives here,” they cry from the gutters of our society. They claim that they are powerless. They say that they cannot fight off evil. They are wrong. It is the same for us. Too many times we convince ourselves that we are victims of immorality. We are tempted and we give in; then we say "the devil made me do it.” This is not true. None of us have lost our free will. None of us have lost our humanity. Yes, we are often tempted. Those temptations promise us a great deal of pleasure. But we are not too weak. We can conquer the temptations. We can conquer temptations because we fight evil with Christ.

"But this is the way I am,” the weak of the world, the weak among us and the weakness within us claims. One person says, "I have a fiery temper. When people push my buttons, they get the full experience. I can't help myself.” Yes he can. We can all be the best version of ourselves. Another person claims, "I work hard and need my break. I get rid of stress in ways the Church says are immoral,” as though the Church created the natural law. That person claims there is nothing he or she can do about that. Yes there is. We can all find healthy ways of relieving stress, ways that don't involve misusing alcohol, drugs or, far worse, other people.

This is not easy. Of course it is not easy. We are engaged in a war against evil, not a minor skirmish. We have to have courage. We have to fight. And if we are knocked down, we have to get up and fight again.

What happened during those forty days that Jesus was in the desert? Through prayer and fasting, Jesus was fortified to do the will of the Father. He was strengthened to wage war against evil. The goals of His forty days were first to obey the Father and do all that was true and good and beautiful and second to bring His People out of darkness into the light. After those forty days in the desert, after defeating the Tempter, Jesus began His public ministry, His public life.

What happens to the determined Christian, to us, during the forty days of Lent? We are fortified to obey God. We are strengthened to join the war against evil. Like Jesus, our goals are first to do the will of God, what is true, and good and beautiful, and second, to bring the world out of darkness in the Light of Christ. You see, Lent is not about us as individuals. Lent is not about the individuals practices we perform. It is not about what we give up or what we do. Lent is about God, loving Him and obeying Him. Lent is about others, the millions of others who are suffering in the darkness, the millions of others on the verge of despair who need us to fan the flicker of hope they cling to into a flame, the millions who need us to bring them, as Pope Francis so eloquently and succinctly stated, the others who need us to bring them the joy of the gospel.

Forty days. Forty days to prepare for the battle of our lives. Forty days to come closer to God. Forty day to be attuned to His guidance. Forty days to grow stronger in our faith. Forty days to get a better control of ourselves. Forty days to join the Lord in the victory of life over death. Forty days to help others realize that they are not victims. Forty days to help others join Jesus as victors. Forty days to prepare to bring the joy of the Gospel to the world.

May we be blessed during these forty days.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
1 Lent
Best Lent Ever: Prayer Changes Everything
(March 5, 2017)

Message: Create a space free of distraction for 10 minutes of silence - communion with god. Ask him what he thinks you should do. Prayer changes everything.
Today we observe the First Sunday of Lent 2017. I invite you to make this The Best Lent Ever. At the end of the homily I will ask you to take your Mass Journal, a notebook, a scrap of paper or even your cell phone and write one thought - from the opening song, Mass prayers, Scripture reading or homily - one thought that will help you become the Best Version of Yourself. You know, people will say, "Mass is boring," but do we really listen? Do we open ourselves to what God wants to say to us? Try to take just one thought.

On Ash Wednesday we heard Matthew Kelly speaking about putting ourselves in the middle of the mess of this world and making a difference, no matter how small. We saw how we can do this by taking a step of prayer, fasting or almsgiving - generosity. Today we focus on prayer. Here's the question from Resisting Happiness:
Prayer changes everything; how has prayer impacted your life?
As Matthew Kelly says, "Nothing changes until we give daily prayer a place in our lives." He continues, "Take ten minutes to sit with God in silence. Present the biggest question you are struggling with at this time; and ask God, 'What do you think I should do?'"

Jesus did that not take ten minutes, but forty days. He had just received John's baptism and needed time alone with his Father before launching his public ministry. We see that the devil throws road blocks in the way. He wants to disturb our prayer - our communication with God. As Matthew Kelly says, "Resistance loves keeping us busy with anything but the one thing that will most help us grow." I've noticed that when I sit down to pray, certain thoughts will flood my mind. I remember what I have in the refrigerator and how good a grilled cheese sandwich would taste. Or I start thinking about some task or maybe remember some put-down and how I could have responded.

Where does all this come from? Resistance hates prayer. Resistance knows that prayer can make all the difference. Ten minutes of silence - listening to God - can make all the difference. Many of you made a commitment to join fellow parishioners in praying at 3 pm - the hour of divine mercy - to pray for our nation and its leaders. If you miss your specific time, do not give up. Pray in the evening or at the moment you can. Notice that Jesus went out to the desert. When we pray we should create a space like a desert - free of distraction. I know that if I were to check email or take a quick look at the news, I would get drawn to a chain of distractions. So, no cell phone or computer in your prayer space. Those messages will wait 10 minutes or 20 or an hour. Now, I know I said you can use phone at the end of the homily to write one way God is telling you how this week you can become the Best Version of Yourself. If you use a phone, transfer your thought to a notebook. Take what you write down and use it during your prayer this week.

I want you to have the Best Lent Ever. We can do this by following Jesus' example of going into the desert. Create a space free of distraction for 10 minutes of silence - communion with god. Ask him what he thinks you should do. Prayer changes everything. In the words of today's Psalm: "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Amen. (Pause) Now, take out your Mass Journal or notebook or even phone and write one idea you heard that will help you this week to become your best self.
Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent, Classic
Matthew 4: 1-11

Gospel Summary
In this brief passage Matthew captures the essence of the trials Jesus would endure and over which he would triumph throughout his life. The tempter urges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Jesus rejects the temptation to reduce his divine mission to satisfying immediate, temporal needs. The tempter then suggests that Jesus prove he is really the Son of God by jumping off the parapet of the temple: God would send his angels to save him. Jesus rejects the temptation to put God to a test. Finally, Jesus rejects the temptation to idolatry, even if that worship would enrich and empower him with all kingdoms of the world. Matthew affirms that Jesus remains faithful to his deepest personal truth, revealed when he came up from the water of baptism and the Spirit of God came upon him: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).

Life Implications
The Letter to the Hebrews can help us discover a crucial life implication of this gospel: Jesus is truly one of us. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (4:15).

JesuJesus, enduring his trial of faith in the Garden of Gethsemane, knew that the three disciples who were with him would soon be tempted to abandon their trust in God. Jesus, in "sorrow and distress,” realized that it was through prayer that he would remain faithful in his trust. That is why, able to sympathize with their weakness and ours, he said to them and says to us now: "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test” (Mt 26:41). With gratitude we welcome the good news that we are not alone in our trial of faith, whatever it may be. Because the Holy Spirit also came upon us when we came out of the water of baptism, each of us is truly beloved son or beloved daughter. Through this divine grace we can live in hope of sharing the faithfulness and triumph of Jesus. "For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.

First Sunday of Lent, Modern
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Gospel: Matthew 4: 1-11

The first reading for this weekend is the second story of creation. God forms man out of the clay of the earth and breathes into him the breath of life. This reminds us of the image in Isaiah of God as the potter, and we as the clay. God personally forms us and breathes life into us. This puts us in a deeply personal relationship with God. One that calls of love and respect, from which obedience naturally flows. However, the enemy of God wishes to rupture these relationships and pull us away from God. This enemy will say and do anything to achieve this, he is known as the prince of lies. This is what happened to our first parents as the enemy, in the form of a serpent, tempts them to do the one thing God had told them not to do. The serpent is very persuasive and our first parents freely made the decision to act against God. With this the beauty and harmony of creation are disrupted and sin has entered the world. Our first parents traded the life that comes from God, for death that comes from sin. The rest of the Bible is God searching for us and calling us back to the life he desires us to have.

In The Gospel we see Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God, preparing for his public ministry after being Baptized in the Jordan by John. He was led into the desert by the Spirit for 40 days of fasting and prayer. At the end of these forty days he was tired and hungry and the devil went to work. Is it not the same in our own lives that our most intense temptations come to us after some deep religious devotion or experience? And don't they seem to strike at us during the most vulnerable times? Jesus is given three temptations. The first is to satisfy his immediate need of physical hunger after forty days of fasting, to turn stones into bread. It was not the time for Jesus to eat, and he resists the temptation. The Second is for Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God. Again, Jesus resists. The third is to prostrate before the devil and worship him. And again Jesus resists.

The temptations of Jesus began with something that seemed so harmless, providing bread for his hunger. Temptations often begin with the simple act that doesn't seem too wrong. The temptations then move to having us questioning our relationship with God. Does God really love me, is God protecting me, why are bad things happening in my life and with my family? The devil plants these doubts that can pull us away from God. The final temptation is to turn away from God and turn toward Satan. Fortunately for us, not only did Jesus resist these temptations, his ultimate victory over sin and death is our victory. We can cling to this and find strength during our own difficult times. On Ash Wednesday we use ashes as a sign of our desire to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel," Lent is a time for us to remember who we are, sons and daughters of God created in his image and likeness. We are called upon these days to fast and pray with the desire to draw closer to God. It moves us to repent of our sins, and to allow God's grace to guide us in living more faithfully so as to be able to truly rejoice in God's faithfulness to us and the ultimate victory of Jesus at Easter of Eternal Life.

Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent
Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the Temptation of Christ in the Desert. The three years of the liturgical cycle each take their accounts from the different perspectives of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This year we have St Matthew's version.

There are some things in common with all these different versions of the same story, one of these is that Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert. It is from these forty days of fasting that the liturgical season of Lent is derived. If you take out the Sundays, Lent is forty days long and equivalent to Jesus' time in the desert.

It is difficult to know what to make of Christ's temptation since I don't suppose many of us would regard the propositions the Evil One presents to Jesus as very tempting at all. Some thinkers have tried to analyse the temptations and have boiled them down to materialism, hedonism and egoism. But I tend to think that such propositions are an example of over-thinking the problem.

According to me, Jesus, being utterly unique, needs to have his own tailor-made set of temptations. The kinds of things which would tempt us wouldn't tempt Jesus and the kinds of things that might be thought to tempt Jesus definitely wouldn't interest us.

I say ‘the things that might be thought to tempt Jesus' very deliberately because I don't really think that Jesus is susceptible to temptation. And if you read the accounts in the Gospels it doesn't sound as though he was actually really tempted by any of the Devil's proposals. To me what Jesus was presented with sound more like challenges or taunts.

We know, of course, that the Devil was on a loser from the very start. How is it even possible that the Son of God could be tempted by anything in the created order? It is simply illogical. Nevertheless, we need to make some sense of this period of testing that is so well attested to in the Gospels.

I suppose the best way of looking at it is to regard it as a sort of spiritual work-out that Jesus went through. This thought is very much in line with his fast of forty days. It is as if his time in the desert was a sort of spiritual going to the gym. It was a period of time at the beginning of his public ministry during which he sort of stretched his spiritual muscles before launching out on the three-year long period of healing and teaching.

In the desert, Jesus engages in a kind of spiritual joust with the Evil One. It is as if they are fencing but using scripture rather than swords; each one quoting from the scriptures in alternate challenge and counter-challenge.

The only witness to what went on in the desert was Jesus himself, and I suppose that the various accounts drawn up after the event were trying to make sense of whatever Jesus had told his disciples about what happened during those forty days. Maybe that is why St Mark's account is so brief; he simply says that Jesus was in the desert and that he was tempted there.

I certainly don't want to dismiss whatever took place in the desert or to trivialise it in any way, but I think that it is much more relevant for us to direct our attention to our own temptations rather than the temptations that Jesus underwent.

It is particularly good to reflect on how to deal with temptation as we begin Lent. This is the time of year when we make worthy resolutions which we are very quickly tempted to jettison. Lent is therefore inevitably a time during which we struggle with temptation. We might think that the temptations we experience at this time are fairly low-grade such as being tempted to eat sweets or drink alcohol which we had resolved to give up during Lent.

However, I think that the lessons we can learn about how to resist these low-grade temptations are not too different from those we need to deal with much greater temptations such as sexual sin or theft or defamation or other more dangerous temptations.

The first golden rule is to flee temptation whenever it is encountered. So, if you are trying to give up sweets then don't have them around, simply don't go anywhere near them. And whenever you come across people offering you sweets then just walk away.

The same goes for other serious things. In the case of the temptation to visit inappropriate sites on the internet then don't put your computer in the bedroom but rather put it in the living room. If you access the computer in a situation where there are other people around then you are far less likely to visit sites you shouldn't.

So, when an occasion of sin presents itself the key word is to flee. This is the best way to deal with temptation at the outset. The second stage is to resist temptation, but this is much more difficult. Because we have by now come very close to the cause of our temptation, what then begins is a battle of wills. In my view the best way to deal with this is to make a decision. It sounds simple but a decision here means something firm and decisive, an absolute decision you might call it.

If we get involved in a struggle with our desires we will find ourselves in a ‘will I, won't I' situation and the battle will go on within us until we yield to the temptation. Remember the Devil is always around and he is generally much wilier than we could ever be. The answer then is to make a decision, to make a clear and strong rule for your life.

People will generally have made many such decisions during their lives, typically they will be in the form of a rule such as ‘I will never tell a lie'. Decisions such as these are good because they keep you safe; once you have made such a decision, if you do it properly, it will not be difficult to keep. The problem a lot of alcoholics and other addicts face is that they find it very difficult to make a real decision.

The important thing in making a decision is to wait till you are in a rational frame of mind and then weigh up the pros and cons of the situation you are considering and then decide what rule you want to make. And time matters; if you can keep such a resolution for a week then you are much more likely to be able to keep it for a year or much longer.

Never underestimate the power of a decision. ‘I will never tell a lie,' ‘I will never have sex outside marriage,' ‘I will never take something that is not mine,' or ‘I will never speak badly of another person,' these are all examples of rules people make which help to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The third way to resist temptation is to pray; and one of the very best prayers for this is the Our Father and particularly the line in it which says, ‘lead us not in to temptation.' Say this prayer every day and really mean it. You will be surprised at the effect it will have.

Take these three things: flee, decide, pray. Make these three ways of dealing with temptation part of your life and you will be going a long way to resisting the kinds of things that tempt us human beings and lead us in a way that is contrary to the Gospel.
These homilies may be copied and adapted for your own use; however, they may not be commercially published without permission of the author.