Fr. John Hanic
Homily for the first Sunday of Lent
First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Saint John Baptist de la Salle February 26, 2023
We have begun Lent with a bit of cold and inclement weather across our country and abnormally warm temperatures in other parts. Just one more problem in life. So, it should not surprise any of us that each year, when the First Sunday of Lent rolls around, you can bet that the Scripture will be about all those things we have to deal with. Most of the things that concern us are probably things that we have been trying to deal with for years, probably without a great deal of success. However, we also know that these things that trouble us are all just a part of being human. Over the course of a lifetime, we are not able to mend all, or even many, of the problems that are a part of our lives, and the weather is just one of them. But, once again, that too is part of our human condition. Of course, we should not feel too sad about all that. After all, we are complicated people, born into this world incomplete, unfinished, or, if you will, simply human. If we were conceived and born as perfect holy people, I can predict that our world would be a much sadder place than it is presently. One conclusion we can draw from all this is that a great part of our lives is bound to be about struggling to become the person that our conscience tells us we are able to be. In other words, we are constantly in the state of becoming what we know we are not yet. The other issue that enters this mix is the fact, and I know it is a fact, that we live in a world that is also struggling for perfect holiness. In some sense, it’s always "us against them." So, that’s the way it is, or at least seems to be. We live in a lifelong state of turmoil, trying as best we can to be that perfect, holy individual. We want to be that kind of ideal person, which we imagine exists somewhere out there. Lent has begun. The goal and purpose of Lent in not penitential. To be sure, lent means or suggests penance. It entails a certain amount fasting and abstinence, abstaining from some food and drink. It also suggests that we try to control some of our normal pleasures. In our church, vestments and liturgy are keyed to the tone of sorrow and regret. But the fruit of all our Lenten observances is not the spirit and practice of denying oneself. Such spirit and practice are only means to an end, and the end is a deepening spirit of union with Jesus in his passion and death. The goal and purpose of Lent is not precisely penance but holiness.
I went to the bank on Thursday in an attempt to straighten out my financial mess. The woman at the bank asked me, "What have you given up for Lent?" and I had to pause and think before I gave her an answer. I had just finished saying on Ash Wednesday, "If someone asks you what you are giving up for Lent, run away," because they have missed the whole meaning of Lent. Lent is about doing and not about giving, at least not about giving things up. This is the very issue the Scriptures for the First Sunday of Lent invite us to deal with. Adam and Eve are portrayed as creatures inhabiting a world created to be holy. Eve is the first person to realize this. She longs to be holy, as the world is holy. All her hopes and dreams can be fulfilled from the "magic" tree in the middle of the garden. She then wants Adam to also draw holiness from this tree. Alas, they find that achieving holiness is not a simple matter of picking a piece of fruit from a tree and eating it. Let it be said, however, that the person who told this story was onto something. This is a story about two people who know they are in an incomplete state of being. Therefore, they naturally long to be what seems possible for them. Is that not what we all try to do during our lifetime? Indeed, is that not what Jesus teaches? Obtaining holiness is a life-long struggle to fulfill what we believe the Creator meant us to be from the first moment of our conception. Jesus sees three great "distractions" of life. Unlimited power, unlimited wealth, and finally, unlimited dependence on God For these very reasons, Jesus makes it perfectly clear: "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." In some sense, we are all faced with these same issues during our own lifetimes. And, if we are truthful to ourselves, we admit that they are also part of our human and spiritual growth; they simply take different forms as we grow old in life. Nothing in this life happens easily or simply. So, this is the way Lent begins every year. Lent is always an invitation, to take a fresh look at who we are at this moment of our life. Lent invites us to ask where we want to go and how we should proceed to get there. For nothing can distract us from God if we act only for God. Even in the whirling world, it is possible to hear God in the silence of a heart that wants to be God’s alone.