|March 8-9, 2014 First Sunday in Lent, Cycle A|
Who knows the reason we have this season of Lent? Most people respond with something like, "It is when we get ready for Easter." While that is true it is not the whole story. It was when we get ready for a very specific aspect of Easter. Back in the early Church, once a year at the Easter Vigil, the new Christians were baptized into the Christian community. Most of us were baptized as young babies so we have never experienced initiation as an adult. Back then, it was very apparent that becoming a Christian meant living a different lifestyle from what they had lived before. The process of becoming initiated into the Christian community consisted primarily of learning how to live like a Christian. This process could take a year or more. Today, in the Catholic Church, adults who want to be part of our community go through a process called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA. This process can also take a year or more. Our parish is blessed this year with just such a person. At the end of 10:30 Mass this weekend, we will officially send Amy Alexander off to the Cathedral where at 4PM she will join hundreds of other Catechumens whose names will be recorded in the Book of the Elect.
If our Christian community expects Amy to live out her Christian call in the midst of our community then we must live out our Christian calls as well. And that is what Lent is all about. It is a forty day retreat that prepares us as a community to inspire, and nurture, and support our initiate in her new life style. Why do we need a retreat? Today’s readings remind us why: because life is full of temptation. And for the most part, giving in to those temptations diminishes our attempts to live as Christians. The tempter has not changed his message; he has simply updated it so that it stays appealing to us in every age. Someone once said that at the heart of every sin was anger that we are not God. Isn’t that the temptation the serpent offers in the Genesis story? You can be God. God just wants to keep you suppressed, keep you under his thumb. When we hear it stated so plainly, it is easy to resist. But the tempter is not that stupid. He is a very clever marketer, isn’t he. But what do turning stones into bread, jumping off the temple, and worshiping the tempter have to do with you and me?
The first temptation, asking Jesus turn the stones into bread, is a temptation I face almost every day. It is the temptation to use my own powers to solve things my way rather than trust in God's providence. Everything depends on me, so I can't give up control of the situation to anyone or anything else. I want to play God, to be in control. Of course, it's a lie. I can never be in control. But the devil is a great marketeer and from the looks of things, I'm not the only one who buys that story. From day one, when Adam and Eve think they can replace their need for God by becoming as knowledgeable as God, human beings have bought the devil's line. But Jesus shows us that the only way to true happiness is to depend on the word of God rather than that of the devil.
The second temptation is also one that I wrestle with. Not that I stand on the roofs of high buildings trying to decide whether to jump and let the angels bear me up. But by saying if you loved me God, then you would fix this problem. And fix it with some kind of spectacular miracle. Don't make me work this through using the human resources that you have given me because that's hard work. And I can even make it more reasonable by praying: God if you loved that person, you would cure their illness or stop their addiction or change their rotten attitude. How can that be bad? I am not even asking for anything for myself. Jesus was not to be spared the hard work of three years of earthly ministry, the rejection by his own townspeople, the agony and death on the cross. His true salvation was only to be achieved by human effort, and human pain. We should expect nothing different. I put my God to the test far too often because I succumb to this second temptation.
And the temptation to gain power and glory by worshiping someone or something other than the one true God is an all too familiar one. If I just had more power, or money, or influence, think of what I could do. We can even rationalize this one, can't we. I want the better job to take care of my family better, or if I just could win the lottery I could give more money to the Catholic Appeal. But at what cost do we run after this power, or money, or fame? What really determines my day to day actions and attitudes? Because whatever or whoever that is, had become my God. This goes deeper than just committing a sin, who we worship determines who we are.
Lent is our time to renew our resistance to the serpent’s temptations. We need to become the community that Amy thinks she is joining. That’s not easy. It requires time and energy and work. That’s why the tempter’s words are so convincing to us. He offers us the easy way out. But is it that easy? Who here thinks they have achieved all peace and happiness that can be had by following the tempter’s path? Or does the Genesis story tells the truth: buying into the tempter’s story brings pain and misery.
We are called by our baptism to be a holy priesthood, a consecrated nation, a community who live our lives in such a way that people around us see what is true, and show that the tempter’s story is a lie. Don’t let this Lent slip by us without changing us. Let's not just give up candy or TV or extra helpings of dessert. We can do that without it making a change in us once Lent is over. How about spending 15 minutes a day praying together as a family. How about reading the Bible for the same amount of time we would normally watch TV at night, and if we have kids, read them from a children's version, one story a night. Jonah, or Esther, or Judith, or the Woman at the Well or the Man Born Blind, the prodigal son? How about making a conscious effort each day to forgive someone for something you normally would get mad about. How about trying to find one person each of the six weeks that you can help with some of the gifts that you have been blessed with? You get the idea. Why don’t we use this Lenten retreat to become more the community that Amy has been working so hard to be part of. Or would you rather buy what he tempter is selling? We know that never turns out well for anyone.