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March 5, 2017
Homily of the Most Reverend Larry Silva, Bishop of Honolulu
First Sunday of Lent, Year A – [Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election)]
If you join the Marines and go to basic training, you do not expect them to take you to a resort, to serve your gourmet foods, or to give you lots of leisure time. If you expect the drill sergeant to ask your opinion about the way things should be run, you are probably in for a big disappointment. What you should expect is a time a great trial, physically and emotionally, because they are forming you for a mission, a mission that is very often difficult and life-threatening. Pampering you or allowing you to act out of your own limited perspective without training you and preparing you for the possibility of some very physically and emotionally tough battles would be to do you a disservice. And, of course, it would do a great disservice to the mission.
So how does one train for being criticized, rejected, and crucified? How will one be able to meet such an overwhelming moment in life without running away from it, unless one submits first to lesser temptations and learns to overcome them? It is by gradual training in virtue and dedication to God that we can be faithful to whatever crosses we may be called upon to carry in life. And so, this is why we see that immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus is “led by the Spirit” into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The Spirit that descended upon him in the form of a dove to affirm him leads him to prepare him for a mission. The Spirit does not take him to a resort where there is rich food and wine, but to a place of deprivation, of loneliness, and of struggle with his inner cravings, so that Jesus will ultimately be prepared for the horror of his death on the cross, a death that would be crowned with his own resurrection and with freedom from the original sin that affects all of humanity since that day our first parents ate the forbidden fruit.
This is why the Church gives us this season of Lent, a time of intense prayer, fasting, abstinence from meat on certain days, giving to the poor, and greater commitment to taking up our own crosses. These may be little things, but they are meant to prepare us for greater deprivations that will lead us, too, to eternal life. As the most cunning of God’s creatures, that ancient serpent, Satan, always tempts by presenting us choices that seem good for us or for others, but that in the end will lead to destruction. Eve and Adam did not eat the forbidden fruit because it was ugly and repulsive, but because the serpent made it look so wonderful. In the same way, an extremely hungry Jesus, the Son of God, was presented with an easy way to alleviate his hunger. The God who formed a human being out of the clay of the earth could surely turn stones into bread. Yet Jesus knew that holding on to the Word of God was much more nourishing than any kind of bread he could miraculously make. The God who created the angels could surely command them to come to his rescue if he was in danger, but if he was going to prepare for his mission, he had to learn to say an emphatic “no” to showing he was the Messiah by coming down from the cross, as his torturers taunted him to do. The God who rules over the whole world that he created did not have to bow down to anyone to become the King of it all, just as Adam and Eve did not have to eat any fruit or do any other thing to be like God, since they were already like God by being made in God’s own image and likeness. It was in the discipline of prayer and fasting that Jesus was able to not fall for Satan’s empty promises, as our first parents had done. And thus it is that we are all invited to these forty days in the desert we call Lent to prepare for the most challenging mission we will ever have.
When there are challenges in a relationship, the easiest thing is to walk away. It is much more difficult to take up the cross and work things out. So we need to be trained in the disciplines of listening to others, even when we do not agree with them, of forgiving when others hurt us, and of putting things in a larger perspective. Otherwise we succumb to the Tempter and end up very lonely, with a wake of broken relationships. When we make the effort to notice those who are suffering from poverty, from loneliness, or from abuse of any kind, the most comfortable thing is to look the other way. But if we resist that temptation, we will be able to be better equipped to fulfill our mission of bringing good news to the poor, a mission that is the continuation of the mission of Jesus himself. When we are faced with injustices in the world, it is easy for us to keep our mouths shut and just to enjoy life. But if we are to engage in the battle against evil, we must be trained and disciplined to meet the challenges and committed to be engaged.
As we welcome our catechumens today and enroll their names as those God has elected to become a part of his army committed to the mission of Jesus, we must warn them, even as we remind ourselves who are already baptized, that taking up crosses is no picnic. It is one of the most difficult things we will ever do, and we will often be tempted to go off track and to do things our way. But we have the example of Jesus, who was tempted in every way that we are, but who renounced Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. He affirmed his belief in God, so that through him, and with him, and in him, we can be victorious over Satan, over sin, over darkness, and over death itself; so that we can invite everyone in the world to cross the saving waters that will take us back to the beautiful garden that God wants us to live in with him forever.