Fr. McNeeley’s Homily – 1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent – Fr. Bill McNeeley
March 9 – 5:00pm and March 10 – 11:00am

Audio Recording

(Right-click this link to download the audio file)

Job one for the Catholic Church is the sanctification of the faithful. Sanctification is what baptism is all about as it washes away our sins. Confession does the same thing for it cleanses us from sin if and when we transgress after baptism and of course, the Eucharist nurtures and nourishes our spirit and fortifies that spirit to resist temptation and receive the other graces necessary for our divine life in Christ. The other Sacraments as well in their own way have their part in our sanctification in Christ Jesus.

Beyond that, we can say that Jesus became man so that we might become divine. The divine life is the deepest longing in all human hearts whether we are aware of it or not. That is what animates all of us all that we desire, all that we hold dear and all that we would ever want to accomplish in this life has at its very heart is a longing to be with God and to share in his divine life. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are always restless oh Lord until they rest with thee.”

Today’s gospel contains the familiar story of Jesus being driven out into the desert to be tempted. We think of deserts as Wastelands of trackless sand like one imagines in the Sahara desert. The desert around Israel I’m more like the Badlands of the Dakota’s where there are tracks of sand to be sure, but they are punctuated with rock formations and scrub brush across the landscape. These lands are wild bleak and desolate populated by wild animals and sometimes dangerous people. In Jesus’s time that would include outcasts like fugitives and rebels. Back when I was in high school the folk-rock group called America had a Grammy-winning hit called “A Horse with No Name.” One refrain throughout the song was “in the desert, you can’t remember your name.” A place without congenial creature comforts and distractions provide the perfect ambiance for rethinking and exploring who we are. It’s appropriate that our Lenten observance begins with a story about the desert. We may not have a physical desert place to which we can withdraw, but we do have the season of Lent which serves as a desert of time rather than a place. If we want to “remember our name” strongly enough, we will make a place.

What we see in the story is that the conditions that create a suitable atmosphere for an encounter with God also create an opening for our demons to visit us as well. They come in as many varieties as there are individuals and we ignore them at our own peril even though we may have become skilled and pretending that they aren’t there or worse yet that they don’t matter. Our demons may have been with us for a long time – a weakness of the flesh, a habit of following the path of least resistance, a tendency to serve our interests at the expense of others. Perhaps we have an unresolved resentment that still eats away at us, or maybe it’s feelings of guilt that lies to us and said God is angry with you and he always will be. These are the kinds of demons which can torment us but for which Jesus gave himself as an offering and a sacrifice. Jesus died to save us from those sins as surely as he did in the others. There is nothing as terrifying as confronting one’s self, but that is precisely the purpose of a Lenten desert: confronting reality. As St. Francis de Sales advises, “Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections.”

In this gospel, Jesus faced three Temptations which represent challenges and struggles Jesus had to face throughout his entire ministry. These tests are aimed at getting Jesus to manifest through some kind of proof that he actually is the son of God. The first is to turn stones into bread. The devil says if you are the son of God turn the stones into bread. The implication is that Jesus is not who he claims to be. The temptation is not to do something evil or in moral but merely to turn the stone into bread. Jesus refused to comply because that is not part of God’s plan for his mission and ministry. The second temptation focuses on the devil offering Jesus power and glory over all the world. Who among us does not want to be well thought of by others?

The favor of others and the desire for their praises can easily lead us astray. But again Jesus will not compromise to secure a legitimate end through illegitimate means. The allure of such a proposal is considerable, but Jesus chooses to serve God and not the devil. Lastly, Jesus finds himself on the Parapet of the Temple. The tempter proposes that Jesus fling himself off and survive unharmed. If he is indeed the Son of God, this will provide the proof the devil seeks. Jesus will not do anything to prove his Messiahship. Such action suits only pervert it. Recognizing Jesus is the son of God can only be achieved through faith and never by demonstration or proof. The devil appears to have lost this round, but he will return at what other gospels call “an opportune time,” that is in the person of Judas.

Only by entering the desert of Lent can we come face to face with who we are, who God wants us to be and how we can get from here to there. We cannot do it on our own. Only through the divine son-ship of Jesus can we be lead from this material world to the divine life that lies ahead. Our deepest longing is nothing less than to share in the divine life that is God. He is our life, our hope, and our salvation. Jesus is the divine life which we all seek. He is our eternal reward.