Dt 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2, 10-15; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
March 6, 2022
Today after Communion we will take up the annual special collection for the Black and Indian Missions in the U.S. A certain amount of this money finds its way back to our little corner of the world where several Native Tribes still inhabit the land. Please be your usual generous selves.
Today’s homily draws substantially from an outline suggested by the commentary of Fr. Stephen Porter of the Diocese of San Bernardino. The written on-line version is more developed and multi-dimensional than the oral version presented at Sunday Mass.
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Today’s four Scriptural passages (above) could be summarized as:
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Fr. Stephen Porter, in his commentary on today’s gospel suggested that the three temptations experienced by Jesus in the desert could be described as: personal satisfaction; presumption of God; and personal pride and glory. These could all provide very helpful reflections for the Lenten season.
1st Temptation: Personal satisfaction. We will consider more closely in a moment.
2nd Temptation: Presumption – Presuming that God will respond to all our requests simply by calling on Him, regardless of how outrageous and self-centered our ambitions. Presumption is sometimes considered one of the two unforgivable sins. The other is despair. Deep despair claims that now, not even God can help us. We in effect block out God’s help, hence we are cut off from life. Presumption… presumes… that we are good people and God is just too nice to condemn anyone, especially us, to hell, so why worry. Possibly a little time in purgatory, and then heaven is ours for the taking. Notice that this is the devil’s second tactic. I suspect that most people in the congregation today haven’t spent much time worrying about or discussing ‘hell’ during the past few weeks. Why should we? We’re pretty much “IN”, right? We’re good people. —- Let’s take a closer look at what St. Paul says in the second reading today in his letter to the Romans 8: “Brothers and sisters: What does Scripture say?
The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart
—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
On the surface that sounds simple enough, perhaps. But let’s look at how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the ‘heart’. (CCC Paragraphs 2562-2663). This is from the section on Prayer; the fourth pillar of the Catechism.
Prayer as covenant
2562 Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.
2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.
Even if we did actually believe at this level of the heart, we still need to preach it; confess it with a real reference to our own experience. Have we had any discussions about this level of prayer and relationship over the past few weeks? Why would we? We’re “IN”, right? I mean, we pray. We’re good people… Presumption.
3rd Temptation: Personal pride and glory. This might be a particularly American temptation. We are sometimes called a ‘meritocracy’. We are as good as our last success. This might include our last college degree, our last promotion, our last big ticket purchase, our last number of ‘likes’ on social media, our last Super Bowl, …… and on and on. It’s almost in our DNA. Lots and lots of places to get lost in this temptation: personal pride and glory.
HOWEVER, In light of world events and the general sense of our growing confusion about the future, perhaps the first element of personal satisfaction might be the best point to emphasize. Jesus went into the desert to fast and listen to the Spirit. His life was going to change dramatically as He began His public ministry. His world and everybody else’s was about to change dramatically. How and when and how fast was a big question mark, and Jesus would have most assuredly drawn heavily from the words of today’s psalm (91), “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble”
(He would have very likely also kept in mind the words of Moses from today’s first reading from Deuteronomy as they prepared to launch a new era of salvation history. As the chosen people were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses harkens back to their foundation, their very beginnings 6 or 7 centuries earlier with Abraham their Father, a wandering Aramean. A peasant people with no land of their own…. As they enter the big unknown with all the battles with the peoples of Caanan and all the internal strife that comes with trying to organize a large and increasingly diverse people, the challenges of regulating victory as well as defeat, prosperity as well as poverty, they would need to draw from the experiences of those who went before them. A lesson also to us….. How do we draw on the many lessons of our lives as they relate to the larger story of Salvation History? How have we shared our insights with the younger people in our lives?)
Jesus went to the desert to fast. Fasting is ultimately about emptying ourselves of our own desires and satisfactions. As the Ash Wednesday service reminded us, ‘we are dust and unto dust we shall return.’ We are mortal. We are NOT God. Hence, our own plans and goals and appetites are very often far removed from God’s plan for our lives. We distract ourselves and often each other with all of our own plans and priorities; missing God’s fuller, more personal presence. The tragic outcome is that we are always lacking in satisfaction and train ourselves to settle for so much less than God intends for us.
Our sanctuary display shows the rocks which the devil tempted Jesus to turn to bread. We also feature in our display the bread which He avoided. Despite the severe craving He must have had after 40 days of fasting, he trusted that the Father in Heaven had in mind something much more powerful and satisfying than mere basic human food. In uncertain times especially, we are reminded to hold fast to the Word and guidance of God for all our future plans and expectations. Are we going for the ‘bread’ or trusting in God?
Fasting is also a way of staying in solidarity with all the hungry people throughout the world: Those who are physically starving, those starving for peace and safety, those starving for meaning and purpose. During Lent we should make room for God’s plan for our lives, especially in the different ways we are called to feed the most desperate people in the world.
Homily Reflection Questions
How do we know we are really open to God’s plan (for the world) in our lives?
What might we be using as a distraction from God’s desires? With what are we filling our time and attention? How well does it satisfy?