(A homily on the 1st Sunday of Lent, by Deacon Paul Rooney)
On this First Sunday of Lent, our readings talk about floods (Gen. 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22) and hot deserts (Mark 1:12-15). A deacon friend of mine from PA pointed out that we are seeing severe snowfall back East, and record-breaking cold temperatures all over the nation, including here in Omaha! Now seriously, admit it, isn’t the idea of being in the hot dry desert starting to sound pretty good about right now? JOur Gospel story is very short today. Let's remember the background to today's short episode. Jesus has just been baptized by John the Baptist; and we heard the heavenly Father saying, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Then almost before he even had time to dry off, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for the purpose of being tested by the Devil.
Now, doesn't it seem as if God was doing it all backwards? First he praised Jesus, and then he permits the Devil to test him. It's as if a teacher awarded a pupil an A-plus, BEFORE handing out the exam papers. Did God get it all backwards? Is something wrong here?
We might think that God the Father should have waited until AFTER Jesus was tempted. Then, if and when Jesus resisted these great temptations, THEN the Father could say, "with you I am well pleased." That's what Hollywood would have done, isn't it? They would have advised our heavenly Father to wait until the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Then at just the right moment when Jesus was hanging on the cross, Hollywood would have a large ray of sunlight come down between the angry-looking clouds. Imagine the horror and shame appearing on the faces of the soldiers and Sadducees, when the mighty voice from heaven says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Then of course God could add in an earthquake (say, about "6.0" on the Richter scale), as a climax. That's what Hollywood would suggest.
But that isn't the way it really happened.
So, why did the voice come from heaven BEFORE Jesus' public ministry? And why, as soon as God praised Jesus, did the Holy Spirit drive Jesus off into the desert to face temptations and trials?
The answer is really simple. God's ways are not our ways. Suppose — just suppose for a moment — that God knows what God is doing.Some years back, parents had different ideas about children. Many parents, maybe most, talked to toddlers in some form of "kootchy-koo" baby talk. But parenting styles have improved since then. We have discovered that children who hear baby talk will learn to speak baby talk. Later they will have to re-learn to talk standard English. Re-learning is difficult, and children who have to re-learn this way, usually find it difficult to communicate well in adulthood.
Someone discovered that if we want our children to have good reading skills, we are not to wait until they can read. Instead, we are supposed to read to them out loud -- read anything, from Shakespeare to Cinderella—and play Good music, all while they are still in the womb. In the same way, and for the same reason, we praise them. We certainly don't wait until they graduate to tell them they are good at certain skills.
Notice how God is acting the same way toward you and me. Through Christ, God has already told us certain things about His feelings towards us: That we are forgiven, that we are saved, that we are His people, that we are His children, and that He loves us unconditionally.
And now we have a special opportunity to "prove" whether God is right or wrong about us! This special season that we call Lent is one of those opportunities. God encourages us to pray in private, to fast in secret, and to give alms in secret. This is the way we respond to God's loving words to us. In this three-fold way we can be sure we are doing it all for love of God, and not for love of self.
Let's ask ourselves one Q every single day during Lent, as soon as we wake up: What can I do for God today? Can I take a lesson from Him, and praise Him and thank Him, even before He showers the day's blessings upon me?
Know that God is with you on your Lenten journey! (+)
My thanks to John Bristow for these considerations. -Dcn Paul.