Sunday Sermon for March 10, 2019, the First Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Dt 26:4-10; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13
Having embarked on the discipline of Lent, the Church puts before us several points of counsel to guide us during this time of Grace. Most often when we begin something new, we are very zealous and, therefore, able to carry through with our resolution for a period of time relying on either emotional energy or stubborn determination. If it is the latter, we may persevere a bit longer, but either way, we will most likely falter and slip back into our familiar way of life.
Hopefully you have chosen something for Lent that will make a real difference in your life. Giving up candy for six weeks may have a short-term benefit, but if your plan is to go back to eating candy on Easter, there will be no lasting benefit. If, on the other hand, we decide to take up or augment the prayer life, give up some area of sin, or work on developing a virtue, then when Lent is concluded we will have established a habit that will endure, hopefully, for the rest of our lives.
Regardless of what we are trying to do, we need to look at our motive. For instance, we can give up candy or decide to fast regularly to lose weight. We can try to rid ourselves of lying or stealing because it causes problems at work. These kinds of things are good in themselves, but the motive is lacking.
When we look at the Gospel, Jesus was fasting in preparation for His public ministry. After fasting forty days, the vile creature is there to tempt the Lord. Note the way the evil one works: he looks for weakness and exploits it. After forty days, Jesus would be weak and hungry, so the devil sees an opportunity to attack. The same will happen with us, but most of us will not make it forty days before the temptations begin. In fact, being five days into our penance, we can expect the struggles to begin this week if they have no already commenced.
If our motive for what we are doing is weak, the devil will quickly convince us to give up. So, we learn from Jesus that the motive for undertaking our penance is the love of God. This would be the best motive, but if your spiritual life has not reached that point, doing something for the love of another person is also a strong motive. If we are doing something selfishly, even if it benefits others, we will likely fail because we like what we have been doing too much to let it go. But if our motive is because we love someone more than ourselves or more than the sin, then we will have a greater reason to persevere with our resolution.
If our motive is truly the love of God, then we can learn from the other two readings about what to expect and how God works. In the second reading St. Paul talks about those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths. All of us fall generally into that category. However, God wants our faith and consequently, our confession of faith, to be deeply rooted within us. Anyone can say they believe God exists, but to have faith, trust, and confidence in God is another matter all together.
God desires an unshakable faith in Him; this is why He sent His Son. We know we are saved by Jesus, but God wants us to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. Too many people keep our Lord at the periphery of their lives. St. Paul reminds us that the Word of God (both the written Word and the Word made flesh) is near us, in our mouths and in our hearts. We can call upon Him at any time because He is always with us.
However, we also have to recognize how the Lord works. We see an example in the first reading when the people of Israel were maltreated and oppressed by the Egyptians. They cried to the Lord and He saved them, setting them free from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land.
We all know the story well enough to know it was not that simple. The people were reduced to slavery before the Lord intervened; then, in their disobedience, they wandered in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land. God allowed them to be tested, just as He will allow us to be tested. We cannot rely on our own strength to persevere; we need to keep trusting and calling for help. The devil will attack us in our weakness, but God allows our weakness to help us grow stronger. To ensure a successful Lent: make love your motive, faith your foundation and God your help.