First Sunday of Lent – C

Readings: Deut 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2,10-15; Rom 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

“If You Can Eliminate Temptation, You Can Eliminate Sin”

Once four priests were spending a couple of days at a cabin. In the evening they decided to tell each other their biggest temptation.

The first priest said, “Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, but my big temptation is bad pictures. Once I even bought a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.”

“My temptation is worse,” said the second priest. “It’s gambling. One Saturday instead of preparing my homily I went to the race track to bet on the ponies.”

“Mine is worse still,” said the third priest. “I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink. One time I actually broke into the sacramental wine.”

The fourth priest was quiet. “Brothers, I hate to say this,” he said, “but my temptation is worst of all. I love to gossip – and if you guys will excuse me, I’d like to make a few phone calls!”

In another example……..

A minister had parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under the windshield wiper that read: “I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. Forgive us our trespasses.” When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: “I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.”

Well, we all have temptations. This Sunday I want to address a difficult question: Why does God allow the devil to tempt us? It may surprise you that God uses the devil. He is not an independent power, equal to God. At any moment God could banish Satan, but he does not do so. Temptations have a purpose in God’s plan.

We see today that even Jesus experienced temptation. He was “led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” The Spirit led him – in order for the devil to tempt him. Temptations have a purpose.

A Sufi Master, Abdullah Ansari, said, “If thou can’t walk on water, YOU are no better than a straw. If thou can’t fly in the air, you are no better than a fly. But if you can’t resist temptation, you cant conquer the universe.” Genuine power, real strength, comes from resisting temptation by God’s grace.

A pastor once told his congregation, “I learned a great lesson from a dog.” He said, “His master used to put a bit of meat or a biscuit or some kind of food on the ground, and he’d say to the dog, ‘Don’t eat that,’ and the dog would run over and eat it, so he’d hit the dog. And he put another piece of meat on the ground. He’d say, ‘Don’t eat that.’ The dog would go over and eat it, and he hit him again. Well, after awhile, the dog got the message: eat meat, get hit. So the dog decided he wouldn’t eat the meat.” But the man telling the story related how that the dog never looked at the meat. The dog evidently felt that if he looked at the meat, the temptation to disobey would be too great, and so he looked steadfastly into his master’s face and never took his eyes off him, and thus the temptation never caused a problem.

Now, temptation works like that. As long as we stare at it…as long as we look at the baubles or the bangles that Satan dangles in front of our eyes…as long as we entertain ourselves on that and feed on it, we’re susceptible, obviously. And temptation is a very common problem for all of us, and perhaps, victory over temptation is not so common. And the problem is the same problem the dog had. The problem is we entertain ourselves by looking at the temptation rather than staring into the Master’s face – JESUS CHRIST.

First Reading: The book of Deuteronomy shares one of the most important statements of faith in the Old Testament. It was spoken every time a person gave their offering to the priest in the Temple. It reminded them of their identity and how God ‘saved’ them. Bringing the tithe (tenth) of the harvest to the temple acknowledged God’s care and provision. How could you express this religious practice of thankfulness – ‘tithing’ (giving a 10th)? Dt 26: 12-15 invites giving to the levite (priest), the foreigner (refugee), the orphan and the widow (those without family and financial support). This is at the heart of the Lenten practice of ‘almsgiving’. How generous will you be in giving of your time, talent, money, compassion- this Lent as a way of ‘thanksgiving’ for what God has given you?

Second Reading: Paul’s letter to the Romans is a careful explanation of how we are made right with God. Justification by keeping the ‘law’ was deeply ingrained in Jewish consciousness and history. Paul reminds us that it is faith in God’s covenantal relationship with us in Jesus that saves us. In a relationship, what is the difference between ‘law’ and ‘love’? Do you ‘enjoy-love’ your relationship with God? Does a ‘love’ relationship need to respect any ‘law’? What word or image would describe your relationship with God ‘now’ as the journey of Lent begins?

Gospel: Careful reflection on Jesus’ temptations leads us to see a mirror conflict within ourselves between good and evil. Get bread for ‘self’. Seek power and reputation. Demand support from others. Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving are practices during Lent to deconstruct our false self and reconstruct our true self. Almsgiving enables the hungry at our door and beyond to be fed and healed. Fasting turns us from worldly consumerism to clarity of purpose and compassion for others. Prayer tunes us into God’s vision and voice. From Jesus’ temptations, which core temptation do you notice strongly at work in your life? Which Lenten practice do you need?

The world was created good. The world and all that is in it was created for our enjoyment and pleasure and points us to a good God who loves us and desires our good pleasure. However, something is wrong.

Often we hear that the world is evil and that we should avoid it and remain separate from it. As followers of Jesus, we can be confused by the notion the world Christ created and came to redeem is evil. Are we not to be in the world? What does Scripture mean regarding “not loving the world or the things in the world”? What does “friendship with the world is enmity with God” look like? How do we make sense of “not being in the world” or “not being friends with the world” in light of God placing us here in this world at this specific time? Something must be wrong in the world.

The first sin is the lust of the flesh, the second is the lust of the eyes, and the third is the pride of life. These three sins are similar to the temptations Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden—succumbing to which is what destroyed their relationship with God, as well as destroyed all that was to be right and good in the world.

Let us consider for a moment how these temptations work.

“Lust of the flesh”. This is our physical gratification. These can be many times genuine, legitimate needs and desires that Satan endeavors to cause us to express in evil ways. One of the areas I struggle with in my personal life is the area of overeating. The need to eat is a natural physical appetite that all of us have. But when I am tempted to practice gluttony (like when I stand at a buffet counter) than that appetite becomes an illegitimate expression of a legitimate physical need.

“Lust of the eyes”. This reveals our tendency to be captivated by the outward show of the things. One of Satan’s main strategic is the appeal to our eyes. That is why pornography is such a problem for many today. We can seek mental pictures that stimulate physical reactions. Every once in a while I will hear a song from the 70’s and the words instantly come back to me. Today’s young people have not only the words coming back to them but the mental pictures from MTV and videos. Satan is constantly trying to capture our mental focus with physical images through the “lust of the eyes”.

“Pride of life”. The Greek word for life is bios from which we get our English world biology which is the study of living organisms. Satan loves to give us a sense of our superiority over others. Satan loves for us to be impressed with our own self-importance. That is why it is so important for us to never forget Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel where he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (15:5). Many today have a sense of security based on material possessions or fame. Many are willing to sacrifice their own honesty and integrity in order to win at all cost. But remember it was pride that caused Satan’s fall. So beware because worldliness creeps up on the believer as a very gradual process.

I think all 3 of these temptations are seen in the 1st sin in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis. Remember after being tempted by Satan we read, The woman saw that the tree was good for food (the lust of the flesh)and pleasing to the eyes(lust of the eye), and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom (the pride of life). So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (GEN 3:6) “What a warning for us to keep abiding every closely into the hands and heart of Jesus, for apart from him we can really do nothing.

Seven Ways to Fight Temptations:

God does not promise that we will never be tempted, but that when we are, he will provide a way of escape. However, there are things that we can do as a Christian to avoid unnecessary temptation. Many times temptations can be completely avoided by following these simple tips.

Pray

In the model prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 6, he taught them to ask God to lead them away from temptation (Matthew 6:13). A daily relationship with God in prayer is a first step to avoiding temptation.

Immerse Yourself in the Word of God

There are many good verses that will help you overcome certain temptations. Memorizing Bible verses targeted to combat your areas of temptation will be a protection and defense. 2 Corinthians 10:4 and 5 talk about pulling down things that get a stronghold in our life. You need to work on memorizing a list of Bible verses that will help you avoid temptation. You cannot rely on finding a Bible at the moment of temptation. These verses have to become second nature to you. Spend time in God’s word daily. Make it a habit. By knowing you will be confronted by the Bible in your reading tomorrow it can help you stay focused on God today.

Understand Your Personal Weaknesses

Not everyone is tempted in the same way. What is a struggle for one person may not be the least bit tempting to another person. For example one person may be tempted with smoking. For the next guy, smoking has never had a foothold on the person and therefore is not at all tempting. James 1:14 says that we are drawn away with our own lusts. This indicates that each person has their own week areas to deal with. You need to understand your own weakness so that you will know how to combat and avoid it.

Flee Temptation

God has promised to make a way to escape temptation. If you will look for the escape route then you can flee the temptation. Many times this way of escape is to literally walk (or run) away. Temptation often comes when you find yourself in certain situations or places. When you recognize one of those situations it is time to pack up your stuff and get out of there. (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22)

Don’t be Discouraged

You should not become complacent about your sin. But you should also not allow it to defeat you. Sin is much more serious than eating too much dessert, but allow me to make an analogy. If you are on a diet and eat an extra cookie that you were not supposed to, does it make sense to quit your diet and eat the rest of the bag? The truth is that one extra cookie is a minor thing compared to how many good choices you made the previous week. It sounds silly to quit a diet because of 100 extra calories. Yet people do it all the time. Realize that you probably will fall to temptation on occasion, but that is no reason to quit your Christian walk. Don’t accept your sin as if it doesn’t matter, but also realize that you have a choice in your future actions.

Confess and Repent

When you fall into temptation, go to a priest and confess. God forgives you through the priest. This year is the Year of Mercy, God is merciful always. The Priest absolves us from our sins on behalf of God from above. But for your own sake you should humble yourself before God and confess your sin. Going to him in confession makes it easier for you to have clear communication with him.

Participate in the Eucharist and receive the Holy Communion

Eucharist means thanksgiving. Holy Communion is the body of Christ which gives us grace to over come sin and temptation of all kinds. Padre Pio himself said, “It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Mass,” and “At times during the Mass I am consumed by the fire of Divine Love. My face seems to burn.”

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A Lenten Reflection: What to give up

Give up complaining——focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism——become an optimist.
Give up harsh judgments——think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry——trust Divine Providence.
Give up discouragement——be full of hope.
Give up bitterness——turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred——return good for evil.
Give up negativism——be positive.
Give up anger——be more patient.
Give up pettiness——become mature.
Give up gloom——enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy——pray for trust.
Give up gossiping——control your tongue.
Give up sin——turn to virtue.
Give up giving up——hang in there!

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Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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