Father John Paul Mary's homily for the First Sunday of Lent
We are all on a journey toward eternal life. Lent is a small-scale journey compared to that big journey of eternal life, in comparison to that lifelong journey for most people.
Lent is a special time during the Liturgical Year where we prepare for the solemn celebration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is our forty day preparation for what we will do at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday. And what is that? Each of us will renew or baptismal promises.
We began Lent last year, and a few weeks into Lent last year churches began to close. It seemed like the whole world began to close; to shut down. Many of you were not able to enter into Lent, that is, enter into Lent going to Mass, and then for that journey toward Easter where we celebrate the Easter joy of the Resurrection.
So, for many, people Lent has become perpetual. We have not had that break where we celebrate Easter together. Easter was celebrated, Holy Week, Easter, the Octave, and the weeks going forward, at home, for many people. And still, for many people, in some places they are still locked down, throughout the world. That is sad in many places. It is sad for the Mystical Body of Christ to be somehow separated from the celebration of the Sacraments.
For those of you who may be at home still and not celebrating Mass in your churches, your parishes, you are united with us at this altar. And it may be an encouragement to you to go to Mass. Maybe you’re finding yourself a little afraid to go back. We are praying for you that you make that decision. I can guarantee you that most churches are spotless just like our church and clean just like our church. So come back to Mass. Receive the sacraments.
Years ago, probably when we were newborns, our parents brought us to the Church, and they were asked a few questions on your behalf, for what they desire for you. So they were asked the question, by the priest, your parents, what do you desire for Brandon? That used to be his name. Brother John. Jim. Or Jim’s daughter, or Colette. Mary Ann. Everybody here were asked that question by name by the priest. What do you desire for this child? And there are several answers to the question. Baptism, faith, eternal life, entrance into the Church. Probably the most common response is baptism, they say.
The three other responses happen as a result of baptism. Through baptism we are given the three theological virtues of faith. Through baptism, God dwells in our soul, we call that ‘sanctifying grace’. And through baptism we are made members of Christ’s church. Members of His mystical body. The Church grafted onto Christ as if it is a vine. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. Without the vine we cannot survive. Branches cannot survive apart from the vine. Baptism is also the doorway into the entire Sacramental life of the Church. Participation in the sacraments of the Church. Receiving the holy Eucharist. Receiving the sacrament of confirmation. And when we have fallen short, receiving the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Receiving the sacrament of matrimony. Many marriages have been put on hold because of the lock down because of the covid virus.
It is very sad for marriages to be put on hold. Marriage is a very joyful thing. Next weekend I have the joy of celebrating a marriage for an employee of EWTN. It will be a very joyful occasion just to see this couple preparing for marriage, to see the joy they are about to celebrate together. That joy does not simply come from themselves, it comes from God; it is given to us by God.
Each year, the Church gives us the opportunity to renew our baptismal promises. To renounce sin. To renounce Satan. And to profess the Faith of the Church. The Church takes this very seriously. It is a chance for us to renew what was professed so solemnly by our parents and our godparents at our baptism. Do you reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? I do. Do you reject Satan? I do. Do you believe in God the father almighty creator of heaven and earth? You answer back, “I do, solemnly”.
This preparation, this time of preparation, a journey to be disciples and witnesses of Christ is taken very seriously. These 40 days are a reminder of the Israelites escaping the slavery of the Egyptians and wandering in the desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land.
I encourage you to read the book of Numbers. It is not an easy book to get through. This was not a straight trip from Egypt to the Promised Land–for sure–40 years. It should of taken a lot less time than 40 years. But, because of their stubbornness, because of disobedience, because of the hardness of heart, it took 40 years. And perhaps that’s our journey too; that journey of struggle against disobedience, falling into stubbornness of heart. They were kept from entering the promised land by means of purification that was sent from God. And they needed that purification; we all need that time of purification. Again, Lent is that small microcosm of purification. Before we enter into the solemn celebration of Easter.
Lent is also reminder of the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted and doing battle with Satan, the father and prince of all lies. And perhaps we may think about it this way. Jesus was not only tempted by Satan, that Satan would show him as the Gospel of Matthew says, all the kingdoms of the earth if he would just bow down before him, that I will give Him the kingdoms of the earth. But in a very real way, spiritual writers and commentators would say, that Jesus, because He is God, he sees each one of us, his children; all of those for whom he came to redeem: all of mankind. So he saw your temptation in the desert, He saw your struggles, He saw your own agony. And that’s what moved Him forward.
The solemn celebration of 40 days of Jesus in the desert, our preparation for what He will do next and that is what? Preaching, teaching, healing, also being rejected, scorned, mocked, beaten, and led to Calvary. These are very solemn days; forty days entering into the desert with the Lord.
The Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert, Scripture says. Images of the desert that come to mind may be a very hot, arid and perhaps lonely place. We are invited to be driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert these 40 days with Jesus.
Very early in formation, I remember one of our priests preaching on the same Gospel during the First Sunday of Lent and he would give the analogy of the Holy Spirit as being our retreat master during these 40 days, and the Holy Spirit being like a sickle; one of the instruments that farmers use that go out and is very long and sharp; to go out and to cut away the dross; to cut away that which is not needed; to cut away dead grass.
That is a very painful image isn’t it? You get the image of the Holy Spirit being within our hearts and cutting away that which is not wanted by God, or an obstacle to God. Sometimes the Holy Spirit can work very gently. I think, usually, the way God prompts us, the everyday promptings that we get from the Lord, are very gentle, like a still small voice.
But sometimes they are not so gentle are they? The everyday struggles of life. God weaning us off of sin, off of things harmful to our souls.
The desert is not known for having fertile soil. It is sometimes rocky and hard. In some places the majority of the landscape of the desert is sand. It is not exactly the best place to cultivate food. And sand: not the best soil. This can be the disposition of our soul with the Lord.
What is the disposition of our soul? That is a good question to ask this Lent. Have you ever had a serious conversation with the Lord about the condition of your soul? Many times when we come to prayer, we come with petitions of supplication asking the Lord for things we need; asking the Lord, begging the Lord for petitions of other people that are in pain and struggling. But do we ever sit down and have a serious conversation with the Lord about my own soul? My own salvation? Where am I at with you God? How do you see me? Many of us waste so much time in useless and & nonproductive conversation. I am not saying conversation, any conversation with the Lord is unproductive. I think when we come before the Lord in conversation, most conversation, even though it be very base conversation, it is always productive. But do we get right down to it? Do we get right down to this conversation that the Lord wants to have with each one of us?
Lent is the time of year to let the Holy Spirit dig deep. Not just surface level either, but to dig very deep. It is time to come face-to-face with Jesus. He has a face that is gentle; a face that is not harsh.
I encourage you to come if you have a chance, to go to adoration. We have adoration in this chapel. Thanks be to God, we started adoration again after about a month and half respite. But during the time of the lockdown, we had adoration about seven days a week in this chapel and many people found themselves in this chapel coming before the Lord in the most Blessed Sacrament and having that conversation with Him, asking ourselves questions like this.
Again, what does my life look like? In all sincerity and all honesty, asking that raw question to Jesus: what does my life look like? If someone were to look at my life from the outside, would it resemble the life of Jesus Christ?
Some good things to measure our life up against are the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Take the Beatitudes, Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 1 through 10, and read the Beatitudes and look at your life up against the Beatitudes.
What does my life look like from the outside?
Am I imaging the life of Christ?
If you were to honestly assess your soul, where are you? These can be frightening questions.
What obstacles are in the way that may be preventing me from embracing the Lord?
What weeds are in my garden that need to be pruned, or taken out, or cut away, again, with that sickle?
The image of the sickle in our heart cutting away that which does not belong, and repentance is necessary. Repentance is not optional for the Christian. It is a necessary ingredient for the Christian life. It takes grace: the grace of God.
It takes His life within us. Repentance is recognizing our weakness, our frailty and crying out to Jesus, the savior of all mankind. Simply put. repentance is recognizing that there is a God, and I am not Him. That there is a Creator. That I am the creature. That without the Creator, a creature vanishes. We need the creator of all. We need to rely on Him.
St. Francis would put it in this way: into questions. St. Francis would ask, who are you Lord God and who am I? This was the dialogue that Francis would always have with the Lord in prayer. Who are you Lord God and who am I in relation to you? St. Francis’ answer is “a useless worm of a servant.” He recognized his absolute need and dependence on God for everything.
That is what the season of Lent is about: recognizing our absolute and unconditional need for God. We need God for all things. Do we recognize that without God in our lives we are spiritually bankrupt? We may have all the money in the world, we may have all the creature comforts in the world, but without God in our life, we are bankrupt, we are dry; our souls are dried up. We need the life of God.
Some of the happiest people that I have seen in my life, that I have encountered in my life, are people who do not have very much, but they have God. They have the peace of Christ in their souls.
Repentance is recognizing our need, our thirst for God. Even before we thirst for God, however, repentance is recognizing that Christ thirsts for us. God thirst for our love. His love created us and sustains us and His love continually sanctifies us. We must do everything possible to avoid sin and the near occasion of sin. We must cultivate the attitude of hatred for sin; total repugnance for sin and everything that sin stands for; all the obstacles that keep us from God. We want to totally abhor anything that keeps us away from God, and to be very honest with this when we come before God. Lord what is in my life that is keeping me away from you? To ask the Lord these questions.
What are we reading or watching on television or on the internet and also social media? Is it cultivating a life of charity and holiness in our lives? Or is it driving us away from God? Is it garbage? There is an old saying, garbage in, garbage out. If we put garbage in to our senses, through our eyes, through our ears, or even eating garbage; it’s going to be garbage out. But if we put good things into our soul, it is going to produce the life of charity and holiness.
Are we forming our consciences in truth or are we deforming our consciences by the newest trends of the culture? Whatever comes by? A huge danger is not keeping a close eye or guard on what we watch in the media. The media has a tendency to desensitize us to what reality is.
Sometimes when we are involved so much in social media, social media becomes our reality: we cannot get past that reality. We were talking the other day at dinner, and we were talking about people perhaps in the 20s and 30s seeing us now. My first thought was, somebody would probably say why is everybody looking at their hands? Why is everybody looking down at their hands all of the time? I am guilty of the same thing. A falling into that. Of walking past people checking my messages. It’s horrible. I should be ashamed of myself. Do we recognize reality right in front of us? Or are we being formed by the media? The media again has this ability to desensitize us to what reality is. It can darken our intellect and cloud our judgment. We have become so desensitized as a culture that anything goes. And when we do not have the Gospel first, there is no moral compass or standard any longer. That’s why we need to read the words of the Sacred Scripture; that needs to be our compass: God’s holy word. Not the daily news that we listen to on TV or social forms of media, but we need to let God’s word guide us.
Sin is the only obstacle that keeps us from perceiving the truth. It’s like a fog that keeps us from seeing reality; from seeing the truth, even right in front of us. Christians throughout the ages have given witness to this. Repentance paves the way for faith. Faith is believing without seeing; adherence to God without seeing: obedience.
St. Teresa of Avila would assert that every time we pray and enter into dialogue with the Lord, that we should first ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of repentance. That’s what I would like to leave you with today, is that thought from St. Teresa of Avila, is that every time we come to pray, whether that be at Holy Mass or praying the Rosary or whether that be praying in your home and during this time if you can’t get to Mass, whether that be reading the Holy Scriptures. Any time we come to pray we should ask God for the grace of Repentance that we might clearly see; that we might be able to perceive him.
I seriously doubt that any time we turn on the TV or we go into social media that we are asking for the grace of repentance. But when we read God’s Holy Word, most of all, we should ask for the ability to see what God wants us to perceive; not just what we want to perceive but what God wants us to perceive.
God wants us to be free. God wants us to perceive Him. He wants us to love Him back in return, and in loving Him in return, to love our neighbors; all those who might be around us in our lives.
Ask the Holy Spirit, again like that sickle, coming in to our lives to cut away all the dross and obstacle in our life that may be preventing you from seeing, hearing and perceiving God in your life.
During this Lent we prepare for the solemn celebration of Easter. May almighty God bless you and all of His angels be with you.
Transcript provided by WQPH