10 March 20191 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent, Year C

We are now in the liturgical season of Lent, preparing for Easter, at this time three things are traditionally recommended to us: Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving. Lent is a time of sober reflection, reassessment and rededication of our lives to God. We review our lives, seek forgiveness, do penance and recommit ourselves to Christ. This is all done within the context of the Passion of the Lord, which we are constantly reminded of during Lent as we build up to the solemn re-enactment of the passion and resurrection of Christ at Easter. It could be askedówhy are we so sorry for our sins during Lent particularly, surely this should be the case all the time? Yes, but perhaps it is because during Lent we are made specially aware of the sufferings of Christ, particularly through such devotions as the Stations of the Cross. We quickly see the connection between our sins and Christís sufferings and we are sorry and seek to make amends.

This is a very natural and human thing to do; but we realise that nothing will be sufficient to make up for our sinsóyet we do feel a strong need to do something to make amends and so we do penance even if we realise that this is a mere drop in the ocean. We do penance because we are sorry for our sins, sorry for the pain they have inflicted on Christ and on others, even though we know it is only token and can't ever make up for it. But because we do penance which is an ecclesial and sacramental activity it unites us with Christ himself in his passion. It becomes not a merely individual activity but something of cosmic proportions, it makes us part of Christís redemptive work. But what about prayer fasting and almsgiving, the three ways the Church has given us for penance particularly during Lent. These three things almost sound trite after what I've been saying about participating in the passion and being part of something of cosmic proportions. Surely this can't be brought about by merely rattling off a Hail Mary, giving up sugar or putting a few coppers in the poor box.

If we are really serious about Lent and are prepared to undertake the task of re-conversion to Christ, of becoming more and more conformed to his image and living out in our lives the implications of his passion, then we will also take seriously the means the Church gives us. We will want to get below the surface and find out what they really mean. Now I'm sorry if I disappoint you but I am only going to give you one way of looking at these three forms of penance; but perhaps it will be of some help and may get us beneath the surface, St John tells us that God is love and he who lives in love, lives God and God lives in him. Love then is God's basic attitude towards us and love, as you know, always requires a responseóeven being ignored is a response, albeit a negative one. So if what we are dealing with is a relationship then I'd like to look at prayer, fasting and almsgiving as aspects of our relationship with God. Under the heading of prayer I mean my personal attitude to God. What are the channels of communication between us like? Are they open?

If they are open, just what state are they in? Is it just a one-way link, me telling God what he should do, or is it like the so-called 'hot-line' between the super-powers, only for emergencies? Or is it like my grandmother with the telephone, she knew quite well how to work it but didn't ever use it because she was afraid of it? I'm sure there's an analogy to fit your own particular situation. The point I want to make is that prayer is the actual content of your relationship with God. And what the church is saying is: get those channels of communication open and in frequent use, don't allow anything to obstruct them. And if you don't seem to be getting much response don't worry because in a way this too is a response, hang on in there and wait for God; make your prayer a listening and not a telling. So prayer focuses on our direct relationship with God and not merely on the saying of prayers. During Lent then we don't just pray more we think about the whole pattern of prayer in our life. And we ask what does it mean? Where is it going? Have we developed or are we still at the primary school stage? Is our prayer just an example of obsessive activity? Or is it a major stimulus like a high-powered fertilizer forcing us to grow as persons, forcing us to be more fully human and therefore closer to God?

As regards fasting, I see this as shifting the focus to self. It is about me and how I see myself as a human being situated in the material world. It is about my priorities and the value I place on material things, how I occupy myself and how I measure my worth. For example, how can I be a God-centred person and yet judge my success in life by the standards of the consumer society? By the simple heading of fasting the Church is trying to indicate a whole attitude towards life, an attitude towards self and material things. The values and attitudes of someone who sees the need for fasting and actually does fast are worth acquiring and they ultimately lead one to God. Yes, the material world and material pleasures are good and wonderful in themselves, but they are created things and in ultimate terms the creator is much more important than what he creates. To absorb ourselves then, merely with material things and to see no need for sacrifice is to devalue ourselves. We who are made in the image of God cannot ultimately be satisfied with anything less than God himself.

Lent is for reviewing, let us then review our lives and ask the question, how does a redeemed child of God actually live in the world of material things? And having answered the question for ourselves then make a serious attempt to swing the balance a bit, and maybe we will see the need for something a little extreme like a real fast with the idea that the pendulum will swing back to a position of right relationship with the world. Not rejecting it in favour of some pious nirvana where we exist on communion hosts and holy water, but neither wallowing in ostentatious wealth like some twentieth century Dives. Just as I have done with the other two Lenten priorities I'd like to broaden almsgiving out a bit and not restrict it to charitable handouts. I see almsgiving as a symbol of our relationship with other people and the key word here is giving. Becoming a 'giving' person. I have related prayer as a symbol of our relationship with God and fasting as a symbol of our relationship with the material world, the other part of the equation is other people and I think that this is at the root of almsgiving. I think it is all summed up in the use and misuse of the word 'charity'.

Charity means 'love', but society has misused it and it now means money doled out by those trying to salve their consciences. No wonder no one wants charity! Love then is the keynote and in our Lenten review of life we ask ourselves whether love is in fact what characterises our relationships? Are we turned in on ourselves or turned out to others seeing in them other Christís, each in the process of dying on their own cross? If that's how we did see others then we certainly would be moved. Which one of us doesn't have the cross in his or her own life, which one of us doesn't expect other people to make allowances for us? If this is so then why are we so hard hearted? Almsgiving isnít doling out money to the vagrant sitting in a Broadmead shopping street with dreadlocks, a can of cider and a big dog. Almsgiving is giving our whole lives to others in the name of the man who died to redeem the whole world. And yes, it will involve putting our hand in our pockets now and again, but it will never be out of distain or disgust or merely out from duty or embarrassment. We will be keen to maintain other peoples self respect and be willing to put up with other peopleís idiosyncrasies in the knowledge that its surely much harder for them to put up with us. These have just been a few thoughts on the subject; itís been a bit long but there is, after all, an awful lot to be said ...or rather an awful lot to be done.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent: Selfishness, Power,
Pride and the Journey of Our Lives

This Sunday's gospel presents us with the temptations of the Lord as related in the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke differs in the order of the temptations from the order found in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew the final temptation is when the devil led Jesus to the mountain and offered Him all the Kingdoms of the world if He worshiped him. In Luke, this temptation is placed second, the final temptation in Luke is the temptation from the parapet of the Temple in Jerusalem. Luke does this because beneath his relating of the teachings and miracles of the Lord, Luke has the theme of the journey: Jesus' journey to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the fulfillment of the will of the Father. This journey is continued in the next book that St. Luke wrote, the Acts of the Apostles. Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends in Rome, the center of the then known world. Deeper than this, Luke is stating that we Christians are called to walk with the Lord throughout the journey of our lives, the journey to complete the will of the Father. The forty days of Lent reminds us of this journey and invite us to examine how well we are traveling. I would like to consider the temptations presented in today's gospel and relate them to our lives. The first temptation was for the Lord to use his powers to take care of himself: You are hungry.

Command this stone to be turned into bread. This is the temptation we all have to use God's gifts in a selfish manner. We give in to this temptation when we put self-gratification before love. Consider this from God's perspective. He has given us so much and merely asks us to use His gifts to draw closer to Him. Instead, we often hoard His gifts for ourselves, without any consideration of the Divine Giver or His Presence in others. We have all suffered from others who have given in to this temptation. The worst hurt that any of us have received in our lives came from those who refused to return our love for them. Some of the most horrible actions of our lives have been motivated by our own decisions to take care of number one, to make bread for ourselves instead of love for others. In the second temptation of the Lord, Jesus is brought to a mountain top and shown all the kingdoms of the world. They would all be His if He worshiped the devil. This is the Temptation of Power. In the sad history of the world, those in power often use their authority to hurt others. Sometimes they do this to protect themselves. Sometimes they use their power simply because they can. The world is full of bullies, and not just in the schools. Many men use their power over women only because most men are physically stronger.

So often we hear about a sports figure brutalizing his wife, fiancé or girlfriend. Our society has an abuse crisis that is affecting a large portion of our women as well as our children. How can this happen? It happens because many people feel that might makes right, that the one who can hurt the other has a right to do so. The temptation to use power over others is sick. The temptation to do everything we can to acquire power over others is sad. Those who make power the goal of their lives end up worshiping the devil. We all have to look within ourselves. All of us have a certain power over others, wives and husbands over each other, parents over children, siblings over their younger, weaker siblings, Teens and children over some of their classmates. None of us have the right to use this power to hurt. God gave us strength to pick others up, not to knock them down. The way of the world is the way of might makes right. Jesus showed a power greater than the power of the world. He showed us the Power of the Cross. He let himself be crucified to restore God's love to the world. We show our greatest power when we act out of love, even if we have been unjustly attacked.

The final temptation of the devil was the one from the Parapet of the Temple. This parapet was the extension of the roof of the Temple over its wall. It must have been a scary place to stand, even if you are not afraid of heights. The Lord may have had the feeling most of us have when we are at the observation window of a skyscraper, or the edge of a steep cliff. He might have been afraid that he might fall. Scary. On the parapet, the devil told Jesus to throw himself down and see if His Father will save Him. The devil even quoted scripture saying that God would send His angels to save him. The devil tempted the Lord to force His Father to go into action. Doing this would show that he was more powerful than the Father. None of us stand on parapets and tempt God to save us. Or do we? We often are tempted that if we do something terrible and fall, God will save us. Well, He very well might catch us. Or He might pick up our pieces after we are splattered on the ground. For example, a person may be living a very sinful life when he or she receives a grace to turn from sin and turn to the Lord. That is God catching us. Or the person might be living a sinful life and then bottom out, having destroyed himself and all the others around him. Many prisoners turn to the Lord with the faith that He will put them back together again.

That is God picking up the pieces of the prisoner's life. At the end of today's Gospel we hear that the devil left Jesus to return at a more opportune time. He returned when Jesus was facing the crisis we call the Agony in the Garden. The devil remained present throughout the crucifixion tempting the Lord to bring it all to a quick end. Jesus withstood. The devil's temptations in our lives are particularly difficult when we are in crisis, when we are in turmoil, when we or a loved one are sick or die. Our Christian community strengthens us as we are exposed to people who at the moment of crisis seize their faith with both hands and trust God to get them through. And He will. He will get all of us through whatever crises come in our lives. He cares for us when we need him the most because he loves us so much. He loves us so much that he sent His Son to suffer and die for us. Today we are warned about selfishness, power and pride. We call upon the Mercy of God to forgive us for the times we have given in to these temptations. We ask God to help us fight evil. And we trust God to walk with us on the beautiful journey, the beautiful journey not only of Lent, but of our Christian lives. May you have a wonderful Lent.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
1 Lent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
1 Lent
First Sunday of Lent

The Gospel we are given for our consideration on the First Sunday of Lent is always an account of the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert. This year we are presented with St Luke's version of this important incident in the life of Christ. Mark's version of the story is, as we would expect, very brief while the accounts given by Matthew and Luke are more extended and broadly similar but with slight differences in the order of the three temptations. One thing that all three of the Evangelists stress is that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit. In fact, Mark puts it even stronger because he says that the Spirit 'drove' Jesus into the desert which sounds as if Jesus was unwilling. We might wonder what the Spirit was doing when he led Jesus into temptation, because it is not something that we would think to be particularly logical knowing as much as we do the nature of God. Of course, any temptation is a testing and remembering that Jesus was at the same time both fully human and fully divine we can conjecture that it was the human aspect of his nature that was being tested. There is absolutely no doubt about the outcome. Jesus was never going to yield to the blandishments of the devil; there was never any danger that he would weaken and give in to the temptations of the Devil.

The actual nature of the three temptations are rather interesting because they are not the sorts of things that would tempt us. Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread, presumably to assuage his hunger after a severe fast. He is then tempted to worship Satan and offered power over the world in exchange. And the last of the temptations is to prove his divinity by throwing himself off the Temple parapet. The things that tempt us are far more mundane: greed, selfishness, lust and so on. I think that we are offered this account of the Temptation very early in Christ's public ministry to emphasise that his whole life was a struggle against the powers of sin and evil. And the fact that he is able to resist the Temptations is a sign that in the Pascal Mystery he will ultimately overcome sin and death. You will, no doubt, be aware that there is no mention of the Temptation in the Gospel of John which differs from the other Gospels in many particular respects. However, scholars tell us that St John must have been familiar with the story of the Temptation in the Desert since there are some references to the three temptations in various places in his text even though they are not actually located in the desert.

Jesus rejects each one of the Temptations with a scripture text: 'Man does not live on bread alone', 'You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone', and 'You must not put the Lord your God to the test.' We are very familiar with these quotations and the truth of them shines out from the pages of scripture. Wily though the Devil is he cannot overcome the Son of God either through trickery or clever argument. The struggle between them both is over before it has even started; there is never any doubt as to who the winner will be in this confrontation. We are very prosaically told that during his forty days in the desert Jesus 'ate nothing and at the end was hungry.' Well, anyone would be hungry after all that fasting, if not actually dead. Apparently depending on whether a person is properly hydrated it is actually possible to fast for forty days, but I suspect that most of us would have succumbed after several days of severe fasting. Lent is most specifically a season of fasting and we are told that the forty days of Lent are in imitation of Christ's forty days in the desert. Interestingly the day on which Lent begins is Ash Wednesday and it is always held precisely forty-six days before Easter.

That is the forty days plus the six Sundays. If you want to be technical about it, we can see that the Sundays are not actually intended to be fast days even though most people do keep them as such. Many Christians do not take Lent seriously, unlike Moslems who during Ramadan are not permitted to eat anything at all during the hours of daylight. We might not decide to be so rigorous but we really ought to do something serious during Lent in recognition of what Jesus endured in the desert and for all the other things that he has done on our behalf. We are told by the Church that our three Lenten promises ought to be an increase in prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each of these is a spiritual value and by assiduously keeping these resolutions as well as we are able we will certainly be deepening our spiritual and moral life. This season of Lent is a time during which we deepen our faith and come closer to God. We become more aware of all that Christ did on our behalf and we more fully embrace his Gospel of Love and attempt to come ever closer to him.

Sometimes we wake up towards the end of Lent and realise that we haven't really done anything particularly special to mark this most holy season, and then comes the temptation give up on the whole thing and do nothing at all. In order to avoid this problem perhaps today as we mark the First Sunday of Lent we ought to make some definite and realisable resolutions. Then we should stick to them and make them a real sign of our fidelity to Christ. It is up to each person to decide for themselves what they can do during Lent. It could be giving up some favourite food or foregoing certain meals. It could be deciding to attend daily mass or to make the Stations of the Cross once a week. It could be helping our elderly neighbours or spending extra time in prayer. We might want to restrict our use of the internet. Or maybe we decide to do something specific to help the poor. Many people decide to abstain from alcohol or meat on certain days. There are lots of different things we can do. The important thing, though, is that we actually do something and stick to it. 

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