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Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

And so we join our elect in facing the dangers of the desert...

By Bishop Larry Silva
February 20, 2018

[St. Theresa Church, Kihei (Rite of Election);
Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election; Mass for Great Aloha Run/Akua Run Participants)]

Bungee jumping.  Sky diving.  Swimming with sharks.  These are all activities that most of us would avoid at all costs but that a few people would love to engage in because it gives them such a rush of adrenaline.  They are risky and can be dangerous.  That is why the more adventurous among us seek out such activities and the rest of us are fine with watching a video of someone else doing them. 

Perhaps we do not think of living our faith as such a dangerous adventure; in fact, we may think of it as the safest thing we can do.  But perhaps we need to think about this again.  The Gospel tells us that it was the Spirit who "drove Jesus out into the desert," where he was tempted by Satan and was among wild beasts.  He went into a danger zone, where his body -- and more importantly, his soul -- could have been torn to pieces and consumed.  If we take this Word of God seriously, we have to admit to the real possibility that after forty days in that parched and dry desert, Jesus could have emerged as a man full of himself, full of pride about who he was, and a man who would from thence forward seek out power and prestige.  We know, however, that angels also ministered to him, and his love of his Father was so great that he was able to resist the temptations and thus emerged as a humble servant, emptying himself and becoming obedient to his Father, even to the point of death on a cross.  We must not think, however, that the temptations he experienced were light and passing.  Satan knew who he was and would have devoted every ounce of his cunning energy to subvert the plan of God by turning Jesus away from his mission.  Bungee jumping, sky diving, and swimming with sharks would have been tame in comparison to the struggles of temptation that Jesus experienced in the desert.  Yet remember, it was the Spirit who drove him there, putting him at risk and possibly in the way of harm not only for himself but for all humanity after him. 

If we reflect on the time of Noah when people were so evil that God decided to wipe them out with a flood, saving only Noah and his family by means of the ark, we might wonder if people knew they were so evil.  Or had Satan been working on them for so long that they simply took their evil, self-destructive and other-destructive ways for granted?  Perhaps they even thought they were doing good in their own eyes, yet they were doing abominable things in God's eyes.  It was only Noah and his family who resisted Satan's temptation, and the Lord allowed them to float safely above the destructive waters of the flood.  And God gave them the sign of the rainbow to remind them of the rich spectrum of his merciful love. 

For our catechumens, who enter this Lenten season as the final time of preparation for having their sins drowned in the waters of Baptism so that they can shine with the light of Christ himself, the Holy Spirit is driving them into a desert of self-reflection, of scrutinizing themselves again and again and again.  Satan may very well tempt them to think that being members of Christ's flock will bring them tranquility, power and prestige.  But we need to warn them that if they are faithful to Jesus, there may instead be trials, criticisms, and persecutions.  We need to have full disclosure that being elected to follow the Crucified One may result in their being crucified in many ways themselves; that this could be the most adrenaline-producing adventure of their lives.  When they stand before us at the Easter Vigil and renounce Satan and all his works and empty promises, they can be sure that Satan will not renounce them.  In fact, they will become more delicious bait to him.  Yet we also need to remind them that God also sends his angels to encourage them and to give them strength. 

We who are already baptized are not immune to the struggle in this desert of Lent into which the Spirit drives us.  We can very easily fall into the trap of thinking that we are wiser than God and can make decisions on our own that we know God would disapprove.  We can very easily live our faith very safely, not sharing it with anyone and not taking the risks that come with living it fully.  We can easily fall into the power of the Father of Lies and create our own "truth," because it is something we want to believe; decide on our own when life should begin or life should end and cover over the most heinous of crimes with the slogan of "conscience," even though in our heart of hearts we know what we are choosing to do is wrong.  We can easily ignore the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters because it would be too uncomfortable or too demanding for us to notice them and respond to their needs.  To struggle against these tendencies and temptations we all experience is not for the faint-hearted, but can engage us in an adventure that is risky and dangerous, because doing what is right could lead to our rejection. 

But at the end of the punishing flood, God set the rainbow as a sign of the covenant of his mercy.  At the end of the desert experience, Jesus emerged with the message, "Repent, and believe in the gospel."  Repentance is no easy task, because it means leaving the familiar and trusting that God will send his angels to minister to us.  But in the same breath Jesus reminds us that repentance is precisely the way we show that we do indeed believe that there is good news, the gospel of his merciful love.  And so we join our elect in facing the dangers of the desert, of swimming with the sharks of sin, so that we can overcome their power with the power of the Spirit that lives within us and join God in affirming his covenant that brings the beautiful bow of forgiveness, mercy, and love.