Homily for the First Sunday of Lent – 18 February 2018
St. Mary Immaculate Church – Plainfield, IL
Gn. 9:8-15; 1 Pt. 3:18-22; Mk. 1:12-15
First, a reminder to participate in our Project Passion initiative for Lent.
This is a great online resource to aid your prayer during Lent,
and is available in English, Spanish, and Polish
either online or the parish app.
There are cards in the pews with more info,
or just ask a member of staff.
I have told a lot of stories to you in the last year
about my trip to the Holy Land last year.
For those who don’t know,
or weren’t listening,
from January to March 2017
I was in Israel and Palestine
to study, pray, buy new eyeglasses,
and prepare myself for priesthood
by following in the footsteps of
Christ, the High Priest,
of Jesus, the boy from Nazareth.
As you might imagine,
send 42 20-something classmates to the Middle East,
and plenty of adventurous fun is bound to ensue.
At the same time,
being face to face with
the real places where Jesus lived,
and seeing what his life was like,
is intense and emotionally overwhelming.
One of the hardest days for me
came about a month into the trip,
on February 3
when we visited the Jordan River and the Mount of Temptations.
The place where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River
is an incredible place.
Earlier in his gospel,
Mark tells us that as John baptized Jesus,
the Lord came up out of the water
and a dove descended upon him
and a voice was heard from heaven:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We believe that this happens to every person,
man or woman,
who dies with Christ in the waters of baptism;
they rise from those waters reborn as a new creation,
claimed and adopted by the Father
as his beloved son or daughter.
This serves as the foundational identity of the Christian;
we are not defined by our sins, failures, weaknesses, or shortcomings,
but by sonship or daughtership to God;
we are adopted, chosen freely by him.
St. John Paul II said it best:
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures,
but of the Father’s love for us.”
We believe that on the day we are made new in the waters of baptism,
we become children of God,
and that the good and merciful Father makes the promise never to abandon us,
to love us and forgive us,
and that, whenever the time comes,
to give us a share of his kingdom.
Needless to say, sitting there next to the Jordan River,
and being able to walk around in its waters,
I felt a surge of love from God to me and from me to him.
It really was something remarkable.
At a time when I was coming up to my ordination as a deacon,
and was in the middle of a pretty difficult situation with a close friend,
this surge of love was powerful, and very, very welcome.
The time came for us to leave this sacred place,
and we traveled from there to a town called Jericho,
which boasts of being the oldest continually occupied city on earth,
having been settled first over 10,000 years ago.
High above the city of Jericho is a Greek Orthodox monastery
built into the side of the mountain
we heard about in the gospel today
where Jesus spent forty days being tempted in the desert.
This is where things took an interesting turn.
Sitting in the choir stalls inside the monastery’s church,
I began to mediate on Matthew’s much more descriptive account
of Jesus’s temptation.
The devil tries to get the best of Jesus;
“If you are the Son of God…tell these stones to become bread…
If you are the Son of God…throw yourself off this mountain and tell your angels to catch you
I will give you everything if only you bow down and worship me
But Jesus does not give in to these temptations, and instead says,
“Away from me, Satan!”
There I was,
mere months away from promising to give my life to Christ and his Church,
riding high on feelings of love from the Jordan,
suddenly convicted –
it was like an arrow going straight through me –
suddenly convicted of how little love I was showing to the Lord.
How much had I received from God, my Father!
How full I was of gratitude for his work in me and for me and around me and through me!
How selfish I had been!
How often I had given into temptation left and right!
How quick I was to forget him, right in the times I needed him most!
How soft I had gone on my promises, made over and over again in confession,
to “resolve to sin no more and to avoid what leads me to sin.”
How far I was from being the man, the brother, the son I wanted to be,
and pretended I was.
That might sound like a harsh self-condemnation,
a direct contradiction to what St. Paul wrote
in his letter to the Romans,
that “there is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That’s true, and God of course is not out to condemn us,
but sometimes, as many of you are used to doing with your children,
or perhaps used to experiencing from your parents,
the Father at times chastises us,
reminds us whose we are,
and of our dignity that we inherited
at the moment of our baptism.
These reminders, while kind of harsh,
happen every now and then in the life of the disciple,
and they are truly acts of mercy
because they often come in the form a
“divine knock upside the head.”
That day on the Mount of Temptation
was a painful day for me,
but, in hindsight,
it was a major turning point.
At a time when I was actually
the unhappiest I maybe have ever been,
when my battle with anxiety was at its worst
and I was afraid of pretty much everything
– I don’t say that as an exaggeration,
I say it because it’s true –
at a time like that,
I was searching for literally anything
to make me happy,
and to take pain away.
If that meant sin,
if that meant stupid decisions,
if that meant vanity, pride, lust, gluttony,
envy, greed, laziness, anger,
So be it!
At a time when I was in the midst of my own season of temptation,
like Jesus was at that mountain in the gospel,
Jesus reached directly into that moment with his call:
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,
repent and believe in the gospel.”
Repent and believe in the gospel.
Repent; the greek word “metanoia”,
Literally it means “a transformative change of heart or mind”;
What I learned as a result of that day on the mountain
is something that I want to share with all of you
as we begin another Lent:
Repent and believe in the gospel.
What is at the heart of the Christian gospel,
of the good news of Christ?
That pain does end,
that sin is dumb and is a waste of time,
and that no matter what is going on,
there is always a way out.
Believe in him, believe in the gospel,
find in him the reassurance,
the happiness that you seek.
Again, from St. John Paul II:
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness;
He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you;
He is the beauty to which you are so attracted;
it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life;
it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices,
the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives,
the will to follow an ideal,
the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity,
the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently
to improving yourselves and society,
making the world more human and more fraternal.”
It is Jesus that you seek,
whether you know it or not;
when you dream of happiness,
and of an end to confusion and temptation,
it is Jesus and his promise of resurrection,
of the newness and fulness of life in him
that we all are seeking.
And this is the truly good news:
he is here, he is risen, he is alive;
He lives in you, and in me;
but more than anything he lives for us
as the bread of life,
available to you for free
from this altar.
As you come forward to receive him
in Holy Communion this morning,
realize that the one you seek,
the one you desire,
the one each one of us truly needs
to come and speak words of love, encouragement, and freedom,
In my pain in the Holy Land,
and still even today,
it is Jesus that I seek;
In the distress and difficulty,
in the joy and success of your life,
it is Jesus that you seek.
He is here.
Live the life you’ve promised him you’d live,
as, on the cross, he gives you the life he promised you he’d give.
Repent and believe.