Sunday Sermon for March 5, 2017, the First Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11
In the readings today we hear about Adam and Jesus. In the second reading St. Paul compares the two of them, recognizing that by one sin many became sinners and by one righteous act many became righteous. So, we have the correlation of the first Adam and the second Adam: the first brings sin and death to humanity; the second brings acquittal and life to humanity.
While the actions of the two can be placed side by side as St. Paul does, a major difference exists in the effects of these actions. Every human person (except our Lady) is affected by Adam’s sin because it is passed on by inheritance. There is no choice on our part as to whether or not we want to be affected by Adam’s disobedience. On the other hand, the effects of the righteous act of our Lord are offered to everyone but it requires our free choice to receive the fruits of His obedience.
One other aspect of these corollary actions that must also be addressed, not because it changes the actions or their effects, but because it becomes part of our struggle to make the ongoing choices of obedience or disobedience. This aspect, as we see in both the first reading and the Gospel, is the wily manipulation of the enemy of our souls. We see that Satan is present in the Garden lying, causing confusion, and ultimately, inciting our first parents to sin. He is present again in the desert attempting to work his same vile nonsense with our Lord.
We live in a time where the vile creature is dismissed as a myth. “There is no such thing as the devil; that is just a medieval myth made up by superstitious people who did not understand the science behind all of the things that happen on earth. But we are enlightened; we live in a time where science and technology have solved so many mysteries that we can now dismiss such myths because we know better.”
There is one person who is loving every minute of such thinking: Satan. What more could he ask than for people to believe he does not exist. After all, if the devil and demons do not exist, then there is no way anything can be attributed to them. While we do not want to blame everything on the devil, we do have to acknowledge that he is real and that he is the most subtle creature that God created. This simply means he is the highest and most intelligent of all the angels. When he fell, he did not lose any of his intelligence.
We have all heard many times that “the devil made me do it.” This is also false. As we see in the readings, he can tell us many lies; he can twist the truth and try to confuse us, but he cannot force us to do anything. God has created us with free will which we use to make the choices that result in our actions, good or bad. So, while we cannot blame the devil for what we choose, we still have to admit his presence and his cunning.
This means that as we begin our Lenten penances, we will have to fight against our own weaknesses and against the devil’s temptations. As we see in the readings, the way he tends to work, as we see in the readings, is to sew doubt or confusion. Perhaps it is the suggestion that just this once will not be much of a problem, knowing that if he can get us to fall once, we will be more susceptible to his future attacks. Perhaps it is to convince us that we cannot do what we have set out to do, hoping we will just give up. Maybe it the assertion that what we are doing is worthless, so why not go back to the way we were before.
You see what he is trying to do: he is attempting to thwart any forward movement in virtue or in the spiritual life. If we manage to remain firm in our resolution, relying on the help of prayer, grace, and our Guardian Angel, then he will change his tactics. If what you are trying to overcome is an habitual sin, he will try to cause chaos around you so that you will turn to the source of consolation you have always sought, i.e., the area of sin you are trying to give up.
Our recourse is the Lord. When we are fully convinced of our own weakness and our need for God’s assistance we will follow our Lord’s instruction to worship the Lord our God and to serve Him alone. Then we will reject the devil’s temptations and say with Jesus: “Get away, Satan!”
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.