First Sunday of Lent Homily, Lectionary Year A

the-fall

Once every three years, we read the account of the Fall of Man at Sunday Mass.  To begin Lent.  We remember that somewhere in the murky past, we human beings had at least one moment of purity, when we enjoyed a better life–a life without all the struggles we now have.

We weren’t always this way.  We did not always lurch through our experiences in such a Homer-Simpson-like manner.  Our hearts did not always start fluttering whenever we see a frozen yogurt machine or a chocolate-chip cookie.  We did not always have such a hard time concentrating on God’s Word, while meanwhile having such an easy time concentrating on why so-and-so should have spoken to me before speaking to that other person—how dare she snub me!

We would still live in that paradise, in that peaceful Garden of a bigger life—if only we human beings did not have such a hopeless penchant for false pride.

“Oh, okay, Mr. Serpent!  You’re saying we human beings actually know better than God?  Really?  Well, we wouldn’t necessarily have thought that…  But if you say so.”

False pride.  True pride would have said to the serpent:  “Wait a minute.  God made us.  He loves us.  He has the best plan.  Maybe we don’t understand His rules perfectly.  But we will understand, in the end.  All will come clear in God’s time.  Meanwhile, we trust our heavenly Father!”

But:  We human beings tend to confuse ourselves with God.  Satan preyed on this.  He tricked us into doubting the heavenly Father’s Providence.  And we fell.

televisionA question:  We know from experience what it’s like to live now after the Fall of Man.  But how could we possibly know anything about what human life would have been like before the Fall?  How can we say what kind of life Adam and Eve had, before they ate the fateful apple?

Anybody know the answer?  In the fullness of time, the un-fallen Eve and the un-fallen Adam gave us a window into what our life was originally meant to be like.  Who brought the Garden of Eden back to the earth?  The Blessed Mother and her Son. Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin enjoyed perfect intimacy with the Creator. That intimacy teaches us about what life was like in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, it teaches us about heaven, too.

Question 2Death.  We fell from grace in the garden, and our mortal nature kicked-in. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return.  Did God punish us by allowing this?

Well, our First Parents succumbed to false pride.  Therefore, all their children inherit human flesh bearing the humiliating mark of inevitable death.  Sounds like punishment.

But maybe death came as a remedy for the Fall?  We lost the peace of perfect friendship with the Creator, and so this pilgrimage comes with daily doubts and struggles.  Death means the end of all this confusion and strife, the human agony that the Fall has caused.  Death means that our “fallen-ness” doesn’t last forever.  Death means the Lord has opened up a doorway that leads to something else, something other than just a life of tv, and failed diets, and paying bills, and never quite getting everything right.

The intimacy of Jesus with the Father.  The hungry man Who feeds on God’s truth says to the tempting devil, “Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  The perfectly free, perfectly self-possessed man, united with the Creator, says to the tempter, “We owe our service to God alone, and we must not put His Providence to the test.”

christ-fastingNow, God may test us.  He may give us an unusually hard Lent.  A terribly frustrating Lent.  A Lent of good intentions that limp along lamely, well short of the mark.  If such be the Lent that the Lord has a mind to give us, so be it.  We will trust in His love and His mercy.  We will try to die to our own false pride.

If the Lord uses this Lent to draw us into a dark night of the soul, and we don’t feel His presence, and any good and hopeful future seems a long way off—we will praise and bless Him for it.  Nothing draws us closer to God than when He demands that we live by pure faith, without any consolations in this world.

Each of us has his or her own particular problems.  But we all have one problem in common:  We are members of the fallen human race.  And the Lord offers us all a common solution to our problem:  Faith.  Faith in Jesus Christ and faith in the heavenly Father Who, out of pure love, sent His eternally begotten Son to live a human life, so that we sinful human beings could get to heaven.

We want the intimacy with our Creator that we lost when our First Parents fell, the intimacy that we hope to have in the heaven that Jesus won for us. Indeed, we do have that intimacy even now—when the Spirit leads us stumblingly out into the desert, into the dark cloud of pure Christian faith.

The Fall, the Hope, and Lent

adam-eveOnce every three years, we read the account of the Fall of Man at Sunday Mass. Good way to begin Lent. Good reminder that somewhere in the murky past, we human beings had at least a moment during which we enjoyed a better life, a life without all the struggles we now have.

We weren’t always this way. We did not always lurch through our experiences in such a Homer-Simpson-like manner. Our hearts did not always start fluttering whenever we see a frozen yogurt machine or a chocolate-chip cookie. We did not always have such a hard time concentrating on lessons worth learning, while meanwhile having such an easy time concentrating on why so-and-so should have spoken to me before speaking to that other person—how dare he snub me! We did not always pay so much attention to what other people see, while ignoring the Lord Who sees everything.

We would still live in that paradise, in that peaceful Garden of a bigger, better life—if only we human beings did not have such a hopeless penchant for letting our false pride get flattered.

“Oh, okay, Mr. Serpent. You’re saying we human beings actually know better than God? Really? Well, we wouldn’t necessarily have thought so. But if you say so…”

homerFalse pride. True pride would have said to the serpent: “Wait a minute. God made us. He loves us. He has the best plan. Maybe we don’t understand His rules perfectly. But we will. All will come clear in the end. In the meantime, we trust our heavenly Father to provide.”

But: Since we human beings occupy such an exalted state in the material cosmos, we have the tendency to confuse ourselves with God. Satan preyed on this tendency of ours. He tricked us into doubting the heavenly Father’s Providence. And we fell.

A question: We know from experience what it’s like to live now, after the Fall of Man. But how could we possibly know anything about what human life would have been like before the Fall? How can we say what kind of life Adam and Eve had, before they ate the fateful apple?

Continue reading “The Fall, the Hope, and Lent”

Two Temptations

Today the Church commemorates two occasions when the devil came to tempt somebody.

In the first, Satan came to tempt two people, Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden. They had everything they could ever have wanted without having to work for it. They never got sick. They were destined to live forever and go to heaven without dying. Perhaps most unimaginable for us, Adam and Eve were married to each other, and yet there was nothing that would cause them to have any difficulties in getting along: no bad habits, neither of them were messy, or crabby, or lazy.

In the second instance, the devil came to tempt the Lord Jesus. The situation was completely different. The Lord was not in a garden; He was in the desert. He did not have everything He wanted to eat and drink; He had nothing to eat and drink. The Lord Jesus was not in a state of leisure and ease. Rather, He was desperately hungry, struggling physically in every way, because He had been fasting for forty days. And our Lord did not have a human companion. He was completely alone.

The devil came into both of these two very different situations in order to lure his victims into disobedience.

In the garden of Eden, God had expressed His will very clearly. He told Adam and Eve: Do not eat from this particular tree. There were countless other trees, heavy with delicious fruit. Just don’t eat from this one. The devil came to trick them into eating it from it anyway.

When Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation, it was not a matter of human weakness. Before the Fall, human nature was not weak. When they sinned, it was not because their weak flesh faltered. They just willfully disobeyed.

What happened? How did Satan pull it off? The devil suggested to Adam and Eve that God is not to be trusted. God had demanded obedience to one simple law. The Devil put the idea into our First Parents’ minds that this was an infringement on their proper rights. God was making them His slaves. Previously they thought that they had everything. The Devil then tricked them into thinking that they would not have everything until they had total independence and got out from under the law of God.

Christ also lived under a law. The Father had not openly spoken a law to His incarnate Son. But in the depths of His human mind, Christ knew the will of the Father. We know this because Christ had said early on: “The Son of man must be rejected, and suffer, and die, and on the third day rise again.”

In the desert, the Lord Jesus was hungry and He was lonely, but the devil did not temp Him to gluttony or vanity. If Jesus had eaten some bread, it would not have been gluttony. If He had gone to Jerusalem and let Himself be admired and served by everyone there, that would not have been vanity: He is the King of kings and Lord of lords Whom everyone is bound to admire and serve.

Perhaps the difference between the two episodes of temptation—the garden and the desert; our First Parents and Christ—the difference lies in understanding what obedience to God is. Adam and Eve had everything, but they let themselves be deceived into thinking that they didn’t have everything since they had to obey God. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus had nothing—nothing except what He called “the food that sustains me:” namely, doing the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus knew that if He had this food of obedience, He in fact had everything. He didn’t need anything else at all—not food, not glory, not even His bodily life.

Satan is very intelligent and very wily, but Christ turned the tables on him. Long ago the devil had reduced the human race to slavery, so he naturally thought that he had come to tempt one of his slaves. But in fact, the devil came to tempt the new, incorruptible Adam, who was filled with the infinite strength of the Holy Spirit. Satan did not find a slave in the desert. He found the omnipotent One Who is absolutely free.

This is the special grace of Lent: Christ gives us a share in His immeasurable strength and His perfect freedom. He beckons us out for forty days in the desert with Him. In the desert, He teaches us the joy of His obedience.

Scripture sings of the sequel to these days of training:

Who is coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in travail with you.
There she who bore you was in travail.
(Song of Solomon 8:5)

Christ’s Holy Cross takes us back to the Garden of Eden. Beneath the Tree of Life, where our human nature fell into weakness and suffering because of disobedience, we find our obedient Beloved. We can lean on Him forever.

You my Glance Seeks (Psalm 27)

A deep, terrifying darkness enveloped Abraham. (Genesis 15:12)

The Lord had called Abraham to come to the Promised Land. God instituted a covenant with Abraham. He made promises to Abraham. Then the Lord enveloped Abraham in a “deep, terrifying darkness.”

Many centuries later, the Lord Himself walked the earth. He took His closest Apostles up to the top of a towering mountain. He revealed His divinity to them. Then He enveloped them in a cloud that cast a shadow over them. Peter, James, and John became frightened.

Continue reading “You my Glance Seeks (Psalm 27)”

The Food of Truth

Just as man needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent)

Tomorrow we begin our little forty-day journey to Easter.

Lent is our chance to re-initiate ourselves as Christians.

We started off well, when we emerged from the baptismal font. But time takes a toll. We get distracted. We get lazy. We do things shabbily. We do not pray like we should.

We can do better. For forty days, the Church feeds us with the pure bread of the Word of God. The food we need is set before us in church.

Our Mother the Church, who is full of solicitude for her children, knows to what perils they are ever exposed; she knows, on the other hand, what powerful graces of life are given to us through the mysteries of the Incarnate Word…and so she recalls to us each year, at the beginning of Lent, the mystery of the Temptation of Jesus.

She wills that during forty days, we should live like Him in the spirit of penance, retreat, solitude, and prayer. (Bl. Columba Marmion)

…On Ash Wednesday we fast and eat no meat. On Fridays during Lent we eat no meat…

…Many of us are members of families of mixed religion. We can look forward to interactions like the one depicted in the first minute of this clip, when the MacDougals were visiting the Barones for Easter:

Scewtape Lives

Imagine trying to write a paperback made up solely of letters. They are letters from an experienced demon to a “junior tempter” containing advice about how to lure the “patient” away from the snares of the Enemy (God).

It would take a master of both the spiritual life and English style to produce an entertaining book like this. C.S. Lewis was a master of both, and he did it: The Screwtape Letters.

Now imagine trying to set this paperback on the stage. This is one of the most formidable theatrical challenges of all time.

There is only one speaking part.

The only “plot”–the twisting fortunes of the ‘patient’–is completely invisible to the audience.

It would take a madman to attempt to stage The Screwtape Letters.

C. S. Lewis

It would take a true thespian genius to pull it off–to make it fun, exciting, and edifying.

Max McLean is the genius who has managed to do it.

He transforms the clever book into a 90-minute dramatic production that moves–moves itself and moves you.

I almost never say this: This play is better than the book–more delightful, a great deal more exciting.

Tickets are available in Washington for one more weekend–this coming weekend.