Saturday, March 04, 2017

First Sunday of Lent

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 394, 538-540, 2119: The temptation of Jesus
CCC 2846-2949: “Lead us not into temptation”
CCC 385-390, 396-400: The Fall
CCC 359, 402-411, 615: Adam, Original Sin, Christ the New Adam

“The Temptation of Christ” by Tintoretto, 1579-81
Readings and Commentary:[4]
Commentary on Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7
This selection from the Book of Genesis follows the second creation account, and includes the creation of man (the creation of woman followed in the verses omitted). The story resumes in the third chapter of Genesis.  Adam’s wife, now settled in the Garden of Eden, is tempted by the serpent, and, with her husband, falls into the original sin, the disobedience of God's commands.
"The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents" (CCC 390). The Bible is teaching us here about the origin of evil--of all the evils mankind experiences, and particularly the evil of death. Evil does not come from God (he created man to live a happy life and to be his friend); it comes from sin, that is, from the fact that man broke the divine commandment, thereby destroying the happiness he was created for, and his harmony with God, with himself, and with creation in general. "Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness" (CCC 397).[5]
CCC: Gn 2:7 362, 369, 703; Gn 2:8 378; Gn 3 390, 2795; Gn 3:1-5 391; Gn 3:1-11 397; Gn 3:3 1008; Gn 3:5 392, 398, 399, 1850; Gn 3:6 2541, 2847; Gn 3:7 400
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13,17
R. (cf. 3a) Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Psalm 51 is a lament and the most famous of the seven penitential psalms. In this first section, the singer asks God to wash away the guilt of sin. In the final strophe a closer relationship is asked for as the familiar: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise,” is uttered in concert with all those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
CCC: Ps 51:6 431, 1850; Ps 51:12 298, 431
Reading II: Romans 5:12-19
Commentary on Rom 5:12-19
The first verses of this longer form of the reading recall the original sin of Adam and Eve recounted in Genesis 3:1-7. Through this action, says St. Paul, sin entered the world, although before the Law of Moses, sin was not defined and therefore “…sin is not accounted when there was no law.” "Although to some extent the People of God in the Old Testament had tried to understand the pathos of the human condition in the light of the history of the fall narrated in Genesis, they could not grasp this story's ultimate meaning, which is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin. The Spirit-Paraclete, sent by the risen Christ, came to "convict the world concerning sin",(see John 16.8) by revealing him who is its Redeemer."(CCC 388)
St. Paul continues describing how, through one man, sin entered the world. But, the mercy of God was even greater in providing Jesus, his Son, through whom all sins were forgiven in his one heroic action, the Passion.
CCC: Rom 5:12-21 388; Rom 5:12 400, 402, 602, 612,1008; Rom 5:18-19 605; Rom 5:18 402; Rom 5:19-21 1009; Rom 5:19-20 411; Rom 5:19 397, 402, 532, 615,623; Rom 5:20-21 1848; Rom 5:20 312, 385, 412, 420
Shorter Form: Romans 5:12, 17-19
Commentary on Rom 5:12, 17-19
In the shorter version the specific reference to Adam and the Law of Moses are omitted focusing the emphasis on Christ’s righteous act through which “acquittal and life came to all.” This selection specifically recalls the original sin of Adam and Eve recorded in Genesis 3:1-7. Through this action, says St. Paul, sin entered the world although before the Law of Moses, sin was not defined and therefore, “sin is not accounted when there was no law.
CCC: Rom 5:12-21 388; Rom 5:12 400, 402, 602, 612,1008; Rom 5:18-19 605; Rom 5:18 402; Rom 5:19-21 1009; Rom 5:19-20 411; Rom 5:19 397, 402, 532, 615,623
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
Commentary on Mt 4:1-11
The temptation of Christ highlights the fact that one of the remarkable characteristics of temptation can be that the devil may use our own moral core to attempt to overthrow us.  We note that the evil one uses scriptural quotes to invite Jesus to sin.  However, the Lord's knowledge of God's will and purpose refutes the devil.
“Jesus, proclaimed Son of God at his baptism, is subjected to a triple temptation. Obedience to the Father is a characteristic of true sonship, and Jesus is tempted by the devil to rebel against God, overtly in the third case, more subtly in the first two. Each refusal of Jesus is expressed in language taken from the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 8:3; 6:13, 16). The testings of Jesus resemble those of Israel during the wandering in the desert and later in Canaan, and the victory of Jesus, the true Israel and the true Son, contrasts with the failure of the ancient and disobedient "son," the old Israel. In the temptation account Matthew is almost identical with Luke; both seem to have drawn upon the same source.”[6]
"Catholic teaching tells us that there are three levels of temptation: 1) suggestion, that is external temptation, which we can undergo without committing any sin; 2) temptation, in which we take a certain delight, whether prolonged or not, even though we do not give clear consent; this level of temptation has now become internal and there is some sinfulness in it; 3) temptation to which we consent; this is always sinful, and, since it affects the deepest part of the soul, is definitely internal."[7] The Lord underwent his temptation only in suggestion, an example to all his followers that sin never bears consideration.
CCC: Mt 4:1-11 394, 2849; Mt 4:4 2835; Mt 4:10 2083, 2135; Mt 4:11 333
At one point in my life I decided to get my private pilot’s license.  It was something I had always wanted to do, and I had some connections with a flight school that made it feasible.  If any of you are considering, or want to consider, doing the same this story may be instructive.  I spent six weeks going through ground school. I learned all about navigation, flight rules, centers of gravity calculations, and the like and took my FAA written examination.  I passed with flying colors (massive pun intended).
Armed with my incredible head knowledge, I went off to see a fellow parishioner, Dr. John Freitas.  Not only is John a good friend and doctor, he is a certified Flight Surgeon.  John gave me my flight physical and something surprising happened.  Part of the exam is a test for visual acuity. It tests for, among other things, color perception.  Of the 12 cards John showed me, all of which he alleged had numbers displayed in them of various colors, I got two right.  We said earlier that this might be instructive for others considering general aviation, here’s a hint:  take your flight physical before ground school.  I was given a student pilot's license but in big letters it said: “Not valid for night flight or under visual color signals.”
Some of you may be wondering what this has to do with the Holy Scripture we were given today or even Lent for that matter.  Well, as a footnote to the story, John told me that I might be able to get an unrestricted license if I went out and practiced with a person who could show me different lights at night so I would learn to recognize them.  Now it should be coming clearer.
In Holy Scripture today we hear a great deal about sin and temptation.  In the first reading from Genesis, Eve and Adam had been told by God that they could eat from any fruit in the garden except from the fruit of the tree of “knowledge.”  God’s incredible love for them had caused him to create humankind in his own likeness, and then provide and idyllic life for them, free from the stress and pain of modern existence.  But the serpent, taking advantage of our weakness, tricked Eve into violating that command, and sin entered the world.  Had she been told not to eat of that tree?  Yes.  Did she know that the evil one would send the serpent to delude her into violating that command?  It probably did not occur to her.  She made a choice, and it was a bad choice.  Just so we’re clear, Adam was with her.  We quote: “…and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her.”
Neither of them stopped and thought: will not God be angry if we disobey him?  We know what happened as a result.  Because they could not recognize evil, they fell prey to temptation with disastrous results.
St. Paul provides a nice bridge for us with his second reading.  He reminds us that through Adam and Eve sin entered the world, Original Sin And just as the gates of death were opened in that act of disobedience, they were closed by Jesus as he defeated sin and death in his passion and resurrection. 
At last we come to the Gospel story today.  Setting the stage, Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist.  He came out of the water, and St. John saw the Holy Spirit descend and rest upon him, “like a dove.”  Jesus was immediately led into the desert where we are told he fasted for forty days.  Scripture says “…and afterwards he was hungry.”  Fasting for that long, Jesus was probably more than just hungry; he was on the verge of starving.  Into this time of vulnerability came Satan.  Using passages from Holy Scripture, he first tempted Jesus to use his power to make bread to ease his hunger. When that failed, he tempted him with a test to see how much God loved him, and finally he offered the Lord power over the earth (this would have been excruciatingly tempting since it would have allowed him to avoid the coming passion).  At each of these temptations the Lord refuted Satan.  Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus saw the evil one’s plan and defeated him.
We are given two examples of temptation from the sacred texts; one failed and the other succeeded.  The examples place new emphasis on the final sentence of the Lord’s Prayer.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Temptation, as we have seen is what Satan is best at.  When we are at our weakest, he will show up in one guise or another. 
When we are hungry, he will tempt us with food.  When we are struggling financially, he will tempt us with money that is not ours.  When we are lonely, he will surely provide unsavory company and comfort.  It is what he is best at. 
We saw him in the Gospel.  He used tricks, even with Jesus.  He quoted scripture to try to entice the Lord to fail.  He will come to us the same way.  It won’t be like the horror movies where Satan is hideous or repulsive.  He will come to us in charming or sweet ways.  His proposals will seem reasonable, his words fair sounding.  It may not be easy, but under the surface we will see the motives of the fallen angel. 
This is where the analogy with my color perception test above comes in.  We may not be able to distinguish the good from the bad at a glance.  We need to practice seeing what God wants and does not want.  To do this we need to practice.  We practice this in a few ways that are especially appropriate during our Lenten Season.  First and foremost is prayer.  Getting to know the Triune God through speaking with him is one of our best exercises.  Especially when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, let us make the words meaningful.  If we really want to be saved from temptation and delivered from evil, we can make that prayer intensely personal. 
Another excellent way is to review our past mistakes.  Taking advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation with its examination of conscience and discipline of atonement will move us forward along the path of understanding the traps laid for us. 
The discipline of Lent also includes almsgiving and fasting.  Using these tools we sharpen our perception of what God calls us to and what the evil one would like to call us away from.  The most important thing is for us to sharpen our understanding of God the Father, His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit so we will not fall to the traps set for us on our path to salvation.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the HomileticDirectory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used is “The Temptation of Christ” by Tintoretto, 1579-81
[5] The Navarre Bible: “Pentateuch”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp. 51
[6] See NAB Footnote on Matthew 4:1-11
[7] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp 69

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