A. First, let me say how pleased I am to return to St. Mary’s to offer Holy Mass with and for you as we begin the Season of Lent. Once again, I want to express my thanks to Father Collin Poston & Fr. Larry Adamczyk for thier devoted pastoral leadership of your parish!
B. We’ve gathered on a brisk winter’s evening to listen to the voice of Christ in Scripture and to derive strength for our Lenten journey from the Eucharist in which we receive Christ’s true body and blood. As with every Lent, we begin by listening to a Gospel account of the temptations which Satan hurled against Jesus. Let me invite you to take a second look at those temptations and to ask how Jesus’ experience of being tempted applies to us.
II. The Temptations of Jesus
A. Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, yet he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). In the Gospel we find Jesus in the desert, praying to God the Father as he prepares for his public ministry of preaching, healing, and saving us from sin. While in the desert, Satan, the father of lies, visits Jesus and presents him with three severe temptations.
B. Jesus was fasting, so Satan reminded him that he was hungry. The devil didn’t just tempt Jesus to get something to eat, to break his fast, but rather to use his power as God’s Son to turn stones into bread. He wanted Jesus to use his miraculous powers for himself and not for his mission.
C. To save us from our sins, Jesus emptied himself of divine glory & became one of us, so Satan tempted him with worldly power & glory on an unprecedented scale. But it wasn’t an ordinary temptation to win fame, fortune, or influence. No, Satan was trying to get Jesus to give up on his mission to suffer and die in order to save us from our sins.
D. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus to jump off the top of the temple as a way of testing God the Father’s love for him… Satan didn’t care if the angels would catch the Savior of the world in their wings. He wanted to cause a rift between the Son of God and the Eternal Father. He wanted Jesus to doubt his Father’s love and put it to the test.
E. Three different temptations: to self-satisfaction; to power and glory; and to doubt. What do these three temptations have in common? It’s this: Satan was tempting Jesus to dis-believe in God the Father’s love for him & for us. Just as Jesus was preparing to show us how much God really does love us, Satan said to him, “No! Don’t do that! Don’t do what the Father in heaven wants!” Instead, he was saying to Jesus, in effect, “Use your miraculous powers for yourself and for your own purposes. Set yourself up as a rival god to your Father in heaven.”
III. Jesus’ Temptations and Us
A. Jesus would have none of it, of course, and quickly dismissed Satan. He did this to teach us how to overcome Satan and give us the strength to do so. To be sure, since Jesus was God’s Incarnate Son and Savior of the world, his temptations were a lot more spectacular than ours. Yet, if we reflect on how Jesus was tempted, we’ll see that Satan tempts us in surprisingly similar ways.
B. For example, Satan tempted Jesus while he was hungry. How often Satan tempts us with respect to our bodily appetites! Even more so, he tempts us to come at life with a sense of entitlement: we feel we deserve more than our share of food and other bodily pleasures. And while we cannot change stones into bread, we use all the means at our disposal to get what we want when we want it.
C. Take another example, Satan’s tempting Jesus with earthly power and glory. Satan surely isn’t offering you and me all the kingdoms of the world but he does tempt us to desire undue power and influence in our daily lives. In our families and workplaces, we often feel entitled to our opinions and seek to impose our opinions on other people. We may “know better” than all those around us, including our spouses & co-workers. How often this sense of entitlement strains marriages, relationships with children, and causes friction at work – all because it’s our way or the highway, as they say.
D. And there is a third example of how we’re tempted like Jesus. When Jesus was told by Satan that he should throw himself off the temple, he wanted Jesus, the God made man, to doubt the Father’s love. Well, it’s pretty easy to see how we can be tempted to doubt God’s love, especially in time of illness, economic hardship, unemployment, or a host of other worries that make us feel like we feel like we’re on a high wire without a safety net. That’s when Satan moves in and says, “And you thought God loves you!”
A. Well, we’re tempted in these ways all year long but especially in Lent when we really start taking our spiritual life seriously. That’s why we read the story of Christ’s temptations at the beginning of Lent. When we start eating less and praying more, amassing less and giving more of ourselves and our possessions to the poor – just when we start doing those things, the temptations will become more serious. We’ll be tempted to treat our Lenten resolutions like our New Year’s resolutions and we know how well those usually go.
B. So here are my few suggestions for beginning Lent well: First, start out by making a good confession of your sins. When we confess our sins with heartfelt contrition and receive God’s mercy with heartfelt gratitude, we are strengthened by the grace of that sacrament in our struggle against sin. Second, don’t think of Lenten penance as drudgery but rather think of it as spring training or as spring house cleaning. It’s not meant to make us miserable but to open us more widely to God’s love. Third, if you spend a little time each day in private prayer, maybe reading a passage or two from Scripture or praying the Rosary, and really open your heart to the Lord, you’ll find God’s love not in spite of your troubles but right within them. As a priest I’ve seen it happen so often that people find the depth of God’s love in the depth of their pain and suffering. And finally, as long as you are reaching out to others in self-giving love, especially to the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable, the temptations to self-centered love and self-pity tend to vanish in thin air. Truly, in giving we receive.
A. If we resist Satan and all his deceptions during this holy season, then, when Lent has run its course and we celebrate the feast of Easter, we will take joy in renouncing Satan and in professing our faith with freedom, purity of heart, and joy.
B. May God bless us and keep us always in his love.