Father O’Connor’s Homily for February 22, 2015
First Sunday of Lent-B
Genesis 9: 8-15
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Mark 1: 12-15
When I say the word “temptation,” what comes to your mind right away? Is it a moist chocolate brownie with thick icing? Is it hot, greasy, salty French fries? If that is what you are thinking, we have to go a level deeper because temptation is a significant factor in all our lives.
Temptation affects young people, old people, and all of us in between. None of us is exempt from temptation. Even Jesus was tempted. Today’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent has Jesus going out into the desert for forty days and forty nights to pray and to fast and to be tempted by Satan.
Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but He never sinned. And coming out of that desert experience, Jesus says to us: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
When you are at the supermarket, waiting in line to check out, there are those tabloids right there in the rack. Now I am sure that nobody here buys one, but I will bet that while you are waiting you might glance at the front pages.
Why do we do that? One of the reasons may be that it gives us some assurance: “There are people out there who do worse things than I do!” Or it might be the thought: “I guess I’m not alone in doing this!” But deep down inside us there’s a certain interest, fascination, even a certain amount of rejoicing at someone else’s downfall, or alleged downfall. And yet, when the truth is told, we all have our temptations, our sins and our downfalls. And we hope that nobody will ever find out!
Temptation is part of our human condition. Oftentimes temptation appears to be so subtle, so seemingly insignificant – like it doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference. But when we sin, our eyes are opened to what we really fell for.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and then their eyes were opened and they were ashamed and tried to hide from God. And what they did was so significant that every single one of us comes into this world marked by their original sin and in need of Baptism.
There’s a little rhyme that goes:
Knock – knock.
“Who’s there?” I said
“A little lonely sin.”
“Enter,” I said.
And then all hell broke in.
That little rhyme says a lot, doesn’t it? Our sins seem so small to begin with, but then all hell breaks in.
That’s one aspect of temptation.
A second one is this: very often temptation leads to sin that becomes habit-forming, even addictive in its nature.
When I was a child, I had an allergy to chocolate: when I ate chocolate I would get sick. I remember one time in first grade I ate some chocolate at lunchtime. And after lunch I got sick in the classroom.
Now you would think I would have learned my lesson, but I continued to eat chocolate and get sick. It was not until I was fourteen that I finally gave up eating chocolate!
I could ask myself now, “I wonder if I have outgrown that allergy?” Well, I am not willing to take the risk, so I have not had one bit of chocolate since my freshman year of high school.
I tell you that today because there is a parallel with sin. We sin, we are sorry and we say, “I will never do that again.” And then what happens? We think: “Well, this time it will be a little different.” “I am a bit stronger now – it won’t affect me that way.” “I deserve a little freedom.” And we do it again and again and again.
When are we going to wake up and realize that sin does not deliver what it promises? Sin delivers regret and guilt and pain!
So how can I stop? There is only one way: and not through sheer willpower alone. We need God’s grace to recognize temptation and sin for what they are. We need God’s grace to be forgiven and to change our lives by changing our habits. And God is ready and willing to give us that grace – especially as we observe the season of Lent.
A powerful way the Lord helps us is in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation or Confession. Jesus Christ, knowing us and loving us, gives us the opportunity in the Sacrament of Penance to name our sins and weaknesses, to be forgiven, and to go back into our daily living a bit stronger and more able – with His grace – to change our lives by changing our habits.
We celebrate the Sacrament of Penance here at Saint Vincent’s every Saturday morning from 11:00 until 12:00 Noon.
A week from this Wednesday evening, March 4th, we will have our annual diocesan-wide celebration of the Sacrament of Penance in every parish from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. What a gift! And what an opportunity! I encourage everyone to celebrate this great sacrament of the Lord’s mercy during this season of Lent.
I will leave you with a story. There was an Indian brave that saw a mountain in the distance, and he longed to climb it. And one day he did – all by himself. He got to the top of that snow-capped mountain, and he felt very proud of himself as he looked out and saw the villages below.
And then he heard a rattling sound near his feet. It was a rattlesnake who said to him: “Indian brave, it’s so cold up here, and I’m so hungry. Would you pick me up and carry me underneath your cloak, next to your heart, and take me down this mountain?”
And the Indian brave said: “Nothin’ doin,’ Snake. I know what you’ll do. You’ll bite me and then I’ll die.” And the snake responded: “No I won’t. I promise!”
So the brave picked up the rattlesnake and he put it under his cloak next to his heart. He carried that snake all the way down the mountain, and placed it gently on the ground. He was very proud of himself for his courage and ability. Then he heard a rattling sound again, and the rattlesnake bit him in the leg.
The Indian brave said: “Snake – you promised you wouldn’t do that! Why did you bite me?”
The snake responded: “Indian brave, you knew what I was before you carried me close to your heart.”
That story makes a point about temptation. We know what it is before we carry it close to our hearts. So don’t be surprised by temptation – we’re all affected by it. And don’t underestimate it either. It is no small thing! And sin can become habit-forming, even addictive.
The remedy is cooperation with God’s grace. For Jesus says to us today: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
And isn’t that what we say at the end of the Act of Contrition, no matter what version we know: “I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads me into sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.”