Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, March 9, Jesus in the Wilderness , Fr. Ken Hughes SJ

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St. Mary of the Angels Sunday Lent I A 2/9/14

Genesis 2.7-9; 3.1-7; Romans 5.12-19; Matthew 4.1-11

My Brother and Sisters,

Winter Weariness

A character in Robert Frost’s long narrative poem, "Snow," comments: "You can’t get too much of winter in the winter." I used to agree with that statement, but not anymore! This winter, I feel as though I have been walking through a wilderness not just for 40 days but for 3 times 40 days! And now with Ash Wednesday, the Church invites us to enter another 40 day wilderness, while today’s Gospel asks us to focus on Jesus’ 40 day wilderness experience. It feels like too much! I am weary of wilderness! I feel that I have been tested enough already!

But then I reflect on the wilderness of Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, and, more recently, Ukraine. These countries have been, are, and will be experiencing a long, long time of wilderness walking and wilderness testing. I pray for these countries and I weep for these countries. How weary they must be!

Satan’s Strategies

You will notice that, whether in the garden of Eden or in the wilderness of Jesus, or in the present crisis in Ukraine, or in the struggles in our own life, Satan’s strategies are the same.

  1. He exploits the weakest point.
  2. He proposes what looks good but really isn’t good.
  3. He pushes for quick decisions – no time for reflection and discernment.
  4. He makes accusations and gets everyone else to make accusations. (After all, Satan’s name means "the accuser!")
  5. And, he causes division, painful, hurtful division. His work is diabolical which literally means "to throw apart."

Adam and Eve in the Garden

For example, notice how with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden Satan interweaves his strategies. First, he exploits their weakness by pointing to the one thing that they don’t have. He promises them an instant knowledge of good and evil which will make them more powerful like gods – a promise he can’t keep. He places the fruit right in front of them so that they have no time to think. Then he divides them from God and within themselves. They walk away in shame.

Jesus in the Wilderness

Satan exploits Jesus too in his weakest moment after a long fast. Wouldn’t it be good to change stones into bread? Think of how Jesus could feed all the poor of the world! If people saw Jesus being rescued by angels, wouldn’t everyone have to believe in his divinity? And could not the world be saved without suffering? All false promises, a quick bombardment of temptations, and an attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and his Father!

Ukraine

Do we not see the same temptations going on in Ukraine? Satan has attacked the weakest point: the Crimea. The Crimean government is forcing a quick solution: a referendum just one week from today. No time for reflection and compromise! Notice all the accusations coming from Russia, the US, the European Union, Ukraine, Crimea itself! And Satan would like nothing better than to divide Ukraine and push it to civil war.

We Ourselves

But, where is the weak point in us which Satan wants to exploit? What false promises does he make to us? Do we get caught in accusing and blaming others for our problems? Is Satan trying to divide family members, colleagues, even our community at St. Mary of the Angels?

Testing or "Time Out"?

We can look at Lent as a time of testing, but we can also look at it as a "time out". For Jesus it was both. It was the Spirit who led Him into the wilderness. He took time out for forty days before the moment of testing. He needed that long quiet time to grasp fully his Father’s words at his Baptism, "You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased." He needed time and space to go deep into his relationship with his Father. And his firm resistance to Satan shows how deeply He went. I suggest that our Lenten time is a similar "time out." We take time to go deeper into our friendship with God, to see more clearly how much God loves us and how much God does for us. It is good these days to take just a little more time for prayer. It is good to be just a little hungry and it is good to make at least some sacrifices for others. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving all open up space for God, and with God we can reach those inner resources of strength and courage against Satan’s temptations and strategies.

Spring

If I began with the weariness of winter, I want to end by reminding us that the word, Lent, means "spring." During Lent we will be moving from winter to spring, from frozen whiteness to the greenness of new life. May the new life which will unfold in our land also unfold in our hearts that we may grow these days in faith, hope and love, and so rejoice more freshly and fully when Jesus meets us at the end in Easter resurrection.

Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J.

Brighton, Mass. 3/9/14

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