Saturday, March 8, 2014

Commanding stones to give us life

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 9, 2014:
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There is an Aesop’s Fable that tells about an argument between the wind and the sun about which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun hid behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more tightly the traveler wrapped his coat round him, until at last the Wind gave up. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.

I was thinking of this fable because it reminded me of what we hear today taking place with Jesus in the desert today. In our Gospel, the Devil is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – wealth, power, fame. But, as in our fable, the Son is stronger. It wasn’t the might of these worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting that won the day.

Now, while Jesus faced His temptations in the desert, ours usually have a way of finding us. And, I think the Devil’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Stones. Rocks. These are what the Devil wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life. My brothers and sisters, stones are dead. The Devil has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; only God can give Him true happiness. The Devil wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life for Him. It is completely ridiculous when you realize what the Devil is doing.

And isn’t that image a little bit too familiar in our own lives? If you think about it, we all have stones in our own life that we stare at commanding them to give us life; we all have equally dead things that we command to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. These things will never give us life. Perhaps our stone is pride, or a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have; or wanting what others have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, a shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes us to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us. Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we instead turn to food to stuff our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these to number ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?

The point is that all of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness – some of them are big; some of them are small. But, my brothers and sisters, these rocks are dead. They will never – ever – give us life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the stones you have turned to are not providing what they promised? Perhaps you are seeking something truly life giving; something with real meaning; that gives true and lasting happiness?

As always, Jesus has the answer. As always, Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as find ourselves on this first Sunday of our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put our stones down. He wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are successful at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves to sin. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.

So, let me offer three simple actions we can all do this Lent to help us put down our stones and choose the life that Christ invites us into – one personal, one communal and one universal.

First, the personal. You know that even as I share these words, you know what your stone is. God is putting something on your heart the stone He wants you to leave behind. Whatever it is, you know God is calling you to something specific and personal, something that needs to change if you are going to grow in holiness. Whatever this personal thing is, God invites us to surrender it to Him so that we may grow in His sight.

The second thing is communal. During Lent, find some extra time to gather with the community for prayer – maybe come to daily Mass, or to Stations of the Cross, or seek out God’s healing in Confession. The point is, we navigate our life of faith best when we do it together. None of us should make this Lenten journey alone. Let’s travel together towards Easter joy.

And finally something universal. Growing in holiness should always mean growing in the ways we care for others – especially the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the needy all around us. Lent should help us to focus on others; so find a chance to contribute our time or treasure to the poor, to local charities, to the Church, to the St. Vincent de Paul. Our small sacrifices can have a big impact on the lives of others.

So, these are the things we can do – something personal, something communal, something universal – all of which help us to leave behind the dead stones that weigh us down and live in the true freedom of God.

May we all have a holy season of Lent and may the Lord give you peace.

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