Due to the impending snow and icy conditions, Religious Education Classes have been canceled for Sunday March 10th. Stay safe.
Looks like everyone cleaned their foreheads from the other day. That day of fasting and being reminded that we are dust, and that same dust awaits our return. But before we arrive back into dust – no time soon, I hope – we need to talk about a few temptations.
The first one, on the surface, is about food. Command stones to turn into bread. What’s the big deal? “I know you’re very hungry right now Jesus. You just spent 40 days not eating, and I know those stones look more like bagels with cream cheese.”
Why is this temptation so horrendous? What’s so bad about telling Jesus to turn rocks into food? Doesn’t the devil want Jesus’ appetite satiated? This is the problem with looking at the surface only. There’s usually a motive, and from the devil there’s always a motive.
Our Lord comes to us, not for any purpose to satisfy his physical needs. Rocks to bread satisfies the physical hunger, leading to more hunger about 5 hours later. Lent leads us to satisfy our spiritual dimension, which is why I highly recommend spiritual reading above and beyond what we may or may not already do. Pick a holy thought from that person’s brain, and make it our own. For example, the day after Lent came this observation from one of our spiritual books: “Only one day after the start of Lent, and already the resolve of yesterday takes a hit from the challenges and chores of day-to-day life …. I need to make a sincere commitment to the practices of Lent – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.” Lent is not about tailgating, or backyard cookouts, or even, dare I say, Wright’s Chicken Farm.
Jesus does away with this seemingly unharmful temptation because, first, the devil doesn’t tell God what to do and succeed. He’s still living in his fantasy world of thinking he’s in control, when the Lord is, always and forever. And second, our Lord’s food must match up with our daily diet, being the food that endures to eternal life. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, works of mercy, Eucharist, God’s word. That’s the daily diet of a Catholic.
Nazareth is in the rearview mirror of Jesus’ life. Meaning, Mary the Mother is not cooking her Son’s meals anymore. The rocks into bread temptation says to Jesus, “Why don’t you go back to Nazareth and be fed by your mother. Just be nice and comfortable there, stay there Jesus, die there too, and I’ll take care of things here on earth.” Jesus responds, “No thanks, Satan. My food is to do the will of my Father.” That’s our everyday food.
The second temptation is much more serious on the surface; the worshipping temptation. Fortunately for us and our redemption, Christ has not even the tiniest desire to share his worship. Even though many adults today – and always – fall for this temptation because of oversized egos and inflated self-praise, Jesus remains firm, and some of us hate it.
What’s hated here is that God doesn’t share with us – or any fallen or non-fallen angels – even a fraction of worship that is transferred to sinful humanity or the angelic world. “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” This temptation more than the other two drives many egomaniacs crazy, because they dare think they’re worthy of being worshipped. And here we have the devil working hard at getting God to transfer all of the worship owed to Christ, and is rightfully his, to this pitiful, wayward angel who made the eternal mistake of rejecting God.
Lent for us is a continual transformation of being rid of any worship of any person, and the devil, and staying centered in Christ. Because the Word is near you, in your mouth in your consuming the Eucharist, and in your heart in the Spirit.
And the third temptation could actually be the most human for many of us; testing God. “Why are you doing things that way, Lord? That’s not my plan, how can it be yours?” The urge to test God and tell Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the temple is symbolic for us controlling God, even to the point if it means his death in our lives. This urge is always before us. The urge we can have that commands the Lord to conform to our weak human wills and desires.
But Christ won’t throw himself off the hanger, allowing ourselves to become the devil. The result would be us making up our own religion, satisfying our ego, and become the boss of our own little world. We can have that if we want, but it isn’t Christian.
Lent, for us, when practiced faithfully with effort and time, this holy season allows us the opportunity to further conform our lives to God’s plan. To see him as he is, and ourselves as we are. The devil in this temptation speaks like he has no chance at being one with his Creator again. Which is true for Satan, but that’s not so for us. The devil is attempting something in temptation number 3 that we must never do ourselves; to create an eternal separation from our Beloved. Some folks do so, may we not be one of them. Our joy is realized in conforming our lives to God’s will, and not putting the Lord, you God, to the test.
Rocks to bread; false personal worship; and diving off parapets. Three spiritual dimensions to avoid, knowing who is at the center of them. Replaced by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, knowing who is at the heart of those. Christ the Lord.
Our Mass schedule for Ash Wednesday will consist of 3 Masses: 7:00 a.m. 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
We all know how some people can talk a mile a minute, and others who are on the rather quiet side. Personalities abound in God’s good creation. It’s the same with nature too. Birds love to chirp, especially in the spring and summer, at times waking us up from our slumber, telling their tales to each other from a distance or close-up. Yet, deer who inhabit the woods are the quietest animals, walking softly, not barking like dogs needing attention, not howling like coyotes. Nature runs the entire spectrum of sound, from quiet to loud, like the neighbor’s dog who never stops barking.
One theme for this week’s readings as we prepare for the upcoming penitential season of Lent, is that of speaking. Knowing when to and when not to, having the wisdom to remain quiet, and the fortitude to speak, and knowing when to do each. But even more, speaking in such ways that produces fruit, or the store of goodness that Jesus calls it, and doing away with the store of evil that produces nothing good.
The first topic in this regard would be that of gossip. Gossip produces evil because it sets us up as the momentary ultimate judge of another person, when God is always the final arbiter. So, if we say, “Hey, that guy over there, that billionaire over there who owns a football team, did you hear that he was caught in a massage parlor doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing?”
I had a priest friend from another unnamed state call me up last week to tell me that story, with a little hint of glee in his voice. He felt I needed to know. “Hey, did you hear that Bob Kraft got caught in a prostitution sting?” He’s lucky I didn’t hang up on him. Gossip is a killer, whether we speak the truth or not. Gossip has nothing – ZERO – to do with truth. It has everything to do with judgment, and even more than everything to do with the wooden beam in our own eye. Because while my priest friend was speaking the actions of the owner of a local football team, he was also, at the same time, producing from his “store of evil.”
So, as Christians, what are we to speak? What words, or actions, speak to the truer reflection of Christ, where the labor of our words are not spoken in vain? I suppose we can always go right to the first importance that touches our lives, that being death is swallowed up in victory, as St. Paul so kindly reminds us.
When’s the last conversation we had with someone where the topic was solely focused on the topic of death, and how the sting of death and the so-called victory of death has been destroyed? If we want a positive conversation, where the Spirit will provide words for our mouths that will bring hope to others and to ourselves, there it is. Death, and how death has been trampled upon by Jesus, crushed by his Cross, flattened by the sandals on his feet, and done away with like a dead mouse.
So, next time you’re sitting next to someone you don’t know in a restaurant or some other setting, say to them, “Hey, have you heard that Jesus destroyed death, and I look forward to seeing you again in heaven?” And they’ll look at you and say in between bites, “Really? That’s pretty cool. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Enjoy your meal.”
The Christian life is a journey toward building up God’s Kingdom through our voices and actions, while at the same time speaking and addressing certain important truths that are taking place in our society under our noses. Truths that are at times wonderful and uplifting, and other times truths that produce the evil Jesus refers to. Such as the truth of the present expansion of abortion bills in states where certain government leaders have created laws that destroy human life even after he or she has been born.
That stuff does not belong in a loving, caring, compassionate society, which is what we’re supposed to be here, are we not? That language on paper, and those actions in medical clinics and hospitals, is from what Jesus calls “the store of evil” in this Gospel. And that revelation on the Church’s part must be spoken, revealed, and seen for what it is.
In the midst of that horrific messiness created by some very sick human souls, we as Christians do not pull back from proclaiming the Good News. The Good News that death is swallowed up in victory, even the death of infants who will die at the hands of a law that belongs only in a barbaric culture. We speak the Good News that the Master has conquered the wooden beam and all the splinters in our eyes. He has conquered the effects of our sinful human weakness.
This is a rightful thought walking into Lent this coming Ash Wednesday, receiving ashes on our foreheads that coldly remind us that we are not long for this world. We’re created for life eternal.
Speak the good things of Christ in our daily vocabulary. Death is destroyed, sin is overcome, blood has been poured out for us, and the God-Man on the Cross is still the King of the Universe.