Homily – First Sunday of Lent

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT PONTIFICAL LOW MASS ACCORDING TO THE EXTRAORDINARY FORM OF THE ROMAN RITE SAINT BENEDICT’S CATHOLIC CHURCH BROADWAY, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA MARCH 13, 2011

Epistle: 2 Cor 6:1-10 Gradual: Ps 90:11-12 Gospel: Mt 4:1-11

HOMILY

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen. At the beginning of the Lenten Season, the Church proclaims to us the inspired words of Saint Paul: “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.”[1] Saint Paul exhorts us not to render vain the gift of God’s grace given to us through the Sacrament of Baptism, strengthened and increased in us through the Sacrament of Confirmation, nourished by the heavenly food of Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity through the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, and restored in us through the Sacrament of Penance. His exhortation applies to every moment of our lives but, in a special way, to the Season of Lent, during which Our Lord provides us with strong grace for the faithful and generous living of our life in Christ. Pope Saint Leo the Great, in his Fourth Sermon for the Season of Lent, reminds us of the great importance of our annual time of prayer and penance in preparation for the celebration of the holiest days of the year, the days on which God the Son Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ, accomplished our eternal salvation. Let us listen to the words of his sermon:
It is true that our devotion and reverence towards so great a mystery should be kept up during the whole year, and we ourselves should be at all times, in the eyes of God, the same as we are bound to be at the Easter solemnity. But this is an effort which only few among us have the courage to sustain. The weakness of the flesh induces us to relax our austerities; the various occupations of every-day life take up our thoughts; and thus even the virtuous find their hearts clogged by this world’s dust. Hence it is that our Lord has most providentially given us these forty days, whose holy exercises should be to us a remedy, whereby to regain our purity of soul.[2]
The days of our Lenten retreat with Our Lord are directed to the identification of the ways in which we have, even in the littlest things, compromised our life in Christ; to the penance for the remission of our sins, and to the setting forth anew on the way of Christ with minds and hearts purified and strengthened. Lest we doubt, in any way, the strong grace of the Lenten Season for the conversion of our lives to Christ, the Church proclaims to us, today, the account of the temptations of Our Lord, as He went into the desert for forty days to prepare Himself for His public ministry. In view of the great work of our eternal salvation, which He was directly undertaking by His public ministry and which would reach its fulfillment in His Passion, Death and Resurrection, His penance is most severe, forty days and forty nights of fasting and prayer in the desert. At the same time, in order that His faithful and enduring love of us might know no boundary whatsoever, at the end of the forty days and forty nights, he permitted Satan to tempt Him in the same way that He tempts us daily. By so doing, He shows us the power of His abiding presence in our midst, in the Church, to overcome sin in our lives and to win in us the victory of eternal life. Abbot Prosper Guéranger, commenting on today’s Gospel, reminds us that the victory of Our Lord over the temptations of Satan are the source of our hope that the sins of our past need not be the pattern of our future. Making reference to the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews,[3] regarding Christ’s high priesthood, he writes:
When the apostle speaks of the wonderful mercy shown us by our divine Saviour, who vouchsafed to make Himself like to us in all things save sin, he justly lays stress on His temptations. He, who is very God, humbled Himself even so low as this, to prove how tenderly He compassionated us. Here, then we have the Saint of saints allowing the wicked spirit to approach Him, in order that we might learn, from His example, how we are to gain victory under temptation.[4]
As we follow the example of Christ’s penance in the desert, Christ Himself accompanies us during the forty days of our Lenten observance, pouring forth from His glorious pierced side, in abundance, the grace of conversion of life. In his Message for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the gift of God’s grace, given to us in Baptism, “must always be rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path like that of the catechumenate, which, for the Christians of the early Church, just as for catechumens today, is an irreplaceable school of faith and Christian life.”[5] Through our Lenten observance, with the help of Our Lord, we discover anew the great gift of His life within us and seek, through our fasting, almsgiving and prayer, to safeguard and foster our life in Him. Regarding the First Sunday of Lent, and especially the Gospel of the temptations of Our Lord in the desert, our Holy Father teaches us:
The First Sunday of the Lenten journey reveals our condition as human beings here on earth. The victorious battle against temptation, the starting point of Jesus’ mission, is an invitation to become aware of our own fragility, in order to accept the Grace that frees from sin and infuses new strength in Christ – the way, the truth and the life (cf. Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum, n. 25). It is a powerful reminder that Christian faith implies, following the example of Jesus and in union with him, a battle “against the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in the world” (Eph 6:12), in which the devil is at work and never tires – even today – of tempting whoever wishes to draw close to the Lord: Christ emerges victorious to open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil.[6]
The temptations with which Satan tried to beguile and ensnare Our Lord and with which he tries to make us his slaves are three, even as described in the First Epistle of Saint John:[7] “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”[8]As Abbot Guéranger reminds us: “Every one of our sins comes from one of these three sources; every one of our temptations aims at making us accept the concupiscence of the flesh, or the concupiscence of the eyes, or the pride of life.”[9] For that reason, Our Lord subjected Himself to these very temptations, in order to show us and win for us the victory over sin in our lives. Concupiscence of the flesh is “the love of sensual things, which covets whatever is agreeable to the flesh, and, when it is not curbed, draws the soul into unlawful pleasures.”[10] By our Lenten fast, we restrain the satisfaction of our earthly desires, learning, in the words of our Holy Father, “to look away from our ‘ego’, to discover Someone [Our Lord Jesus Christ] close to us and to recognize God in the face of so many brothers and sisters.”[11] Fasting disposes us to express our love of God in pure and selfless love of our neighbor. Concupiscence of the eyes “expresses the love of the goods of the world, such as riches, and possessions; these dazzle the eye, and then seduce the heart.”[12] Our Lenten practice of almsgiving trains our heart to see the goods of this world as gifts given by God into our hands as His stewards for His glory and for the care of our brothers and sisters. In the words of our Holy Father, “[t]he practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God’s primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy.”[13] “Pride of life is that confidence in ourselves, which leads us to be vain and presumptuous, and makes us forget that all we have, our life and every good gift, we have from God.”[14] Our Lenten prayer disposes us to the poverty of spirit by which we understand our total dependence upon God and, at the same time, are filled with confidence in His tender, all-generous, and never-failing love of us. In the words of our Holy Father, “when we pray, we find time for God, to understand that his ‘words will not pass away’ (cf. Mk 13:31), to enter into that intimate communion with Him ‘that no one shall take from you’ (Jn 16:22), opening us to the hope that does not disappoint, eternal life.”[15] Let us pray, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Mother of Good Counsel, that our Lenten fasting, almsgiving and prayer, will draw us ever close to Our Lord Jesus Christ, alive in us from the moment of our baptism, accompanying us, with the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit from His glorious pierced Heart, on every step of the way of our earthly pilgrimage home to God the Father. Let us pray that our Lenten observance may be the pattern of every day of our lives, so that we may show ourselves always to be true sons and daughters of God our Father, alive in His only-begotten Son, devoted in love of Him and of all our brothers and sisters, especially of those who are in most need. So may we be ready to celebrate with deepest joy the Paschal Mystery, the dying of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection to eternal life, so that He, seated forever at the right hand of the Father, might pour out unceasingly His life for us from His glorious pierced Heart.   Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us! Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, pray for us! Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Guardian of the Redeemer, pray for us! Saint Benedict of Nursia, pray for us! Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

[1] 2 Cor 6:2.
[2] Pope Saint Leo the Great, Fourth Sermon for Lent.
[3] Heb 4:15.
[4] Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, tr. Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2000, Vol. 5 (Lent), p. 123.
[5] Benedictus PP. XVI, Message for Lent 2011, L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 2 March 2011, p. 6.
[6] Ibid., p. 6.
[7] Cf. 1 Jn 2:16
[8] Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol. 5, p. 125.
[9] Ibid., p. 125.
[10] Ibid., p. 125.
[11] Benedictus PP. XVI, Message for Lent 2011, p. 7.
[12] Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol. 5, p. 125.
[13] Benedictus PP. XVI, Message for Lent 2011, p. 7.
[14] Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Vol. 5, p. 125.
[15] Benedictus PP. XVI, Message for Lent 2011, p. 7.
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