Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the First Sunday of Lent, February 17, 2013. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021713.cfm . As always thanks for reading and for your sharing these posts, sharing feedback, etc. God Bless - Fr. Jim
One thing abut the devil - something I’ve learned from personal experience is how logical he can sound. No that he is logical, but he sure as hell can sound logical (pun intended). Taking something and twisting and manipulating it to the point that it almost sounds good, or reasonable or understandable...I’ve shared before a particularly rough time in my life, about 7 years ago I took a leave of absence from the priesthood. When I thought I was “done” with being a priest. And that’s a complicated, long story to be sure. (Available soon on paperback - haha) But with reflection I see a lot of things that happened in the years prior to that which contributed to that vocation crisis. And one part I wanted to share today is how I’ve learned how logical the devil can sound.
A couple of years later, with my prayer stagnant, and all those other issues I was frustrated with continuing to get worse (surprise surprise that would be the case with a poor prayer life) - this one day I read in the paper this advertisement for the FDNY (New York City Fire Depratment). They were accepting applications as long as you had not reached your 29th birthday by the application deadline. I was 28 -- my birthday was after the deadline... One of several paths I had always thought about growing up (which being ordained now you would rightly think I had discerned and closed the door to) was being a firefighter. That day I cut the ad out. Focusing on that one line about the age requirement. I kept thinking about it. And the thought came -“it’s only $25 to apply to take the test - what’s the harm? You don’t even have to end up going to take the test... but if you don’t send it in by Sept 29th, you’ll never be able to do that. Your just keeping your options open.”
Yeah... keeping your options open, there’s nothing sinful about that, right? I didn’t even realize it at the time, but right there I let the devil in and allowing him to stick around in my head. Practically inviting him to manipulate things. And the more I kept my “options” open... and kept pursuing those open options, the more he would play with me. I ended up taking that written test, (what’s the harm, give it a shot just for a laugh and see how you would do) and I got 99% on it. HMMM - didn’t think I’d do that well... well maybe God was backing this “options open posture” (in case you can’t read that, that’s sarcasm... especially since my personal prayer life was so pathetic)
Which was quite simply that I aced that part of the exam too.. A test that I saw a few of the most physically fit guys fail or struggle with. All this did was continue to be a distraction, an “alternative”; an “option” should my present situation not improve. Which how could it improve... I had already checked out mentally, spiritually. I just didn’t realize it.
Eventually I ended up being placed #2,363 out of the almost 20,000 people who took the test - which meant I was offered the job. The long form (or longer I should say) of this story is that one day all I had to do was sign the acceptance letter to be accepted as a member of the FDNY. I could feel the Holy Spirit just very gently nudging me to “not to do it today” and I listened and started listening again, praying again, and turning away from these temptations and thoughts. Finally I could see the mess that I was in (even while being in great physical shape) and I eventually find my way back.
And I look back with a great sense of thankfulness. Yes the devil was patient - but the Lord was even more so... Thank God. And I look back with absolute horror realizing how right to the edge I had become. How the devil and his cunning lies, his sounding logic (when in fact it’s twisted logic) can really entrap us in our moments of weakness, in moments where we’re vulnerable.
The other two temptations are similar - they try to attack that same sense of vision, relationship, and understanding that Jesus had of what the Father was asking the Son to do and how to do it... The devil proposes to Jesus “You’re GOD’S SON - why not just be King - why do you have to answer to a bunch of purported religious authorities, debate them, be questioned by them... Who are they to tell you who YOUR FATHER is??? Here, you can be ruler, king over all of them...” When that didn’t work, the devil comes at it another way “Alright, alright you know what would really get these people’s attention... imagine you jumping from the highest height of the temple. You know God’s going to take care of you. Forget all this selflessness and service. You want attention - That would DEFINITELY create a buzz!”
My brothers and sisters - if the devil can be that arrogant to go after Jesus and to even present somewhat logical, persuasive arguments to try to even for a moment enter into His mind and twist it, how eager do you think he is to do that to each and everyone of us who are trying to follow Jesus Christ today? And he uses the same approach (like I said, he’s not creative). The guy or gal who has an extra marital affair never planned on it, and usually after it’s happened doesn’t know how they got to where they are. But if they look back, they see those moments where there was a slight whisper “what’s the harm in having a cup of coffee with that person?” The drug addict never ever would’ve chosen that life for themselves, but in a moment of weakness and vulnerability the promise that “you’ll feel better, just try it” seemed too good to be true. The student who cheats his way through school never imagined he would do that, but that one time when he felt frustrated or unprepared and that voice saying “hey everybody does it once in awhile” seemed reasonable enough for them to find a shortcut that seemed easier to give into with each new challenging course.
Which is why at the start of Lent it’s important for us to be clear about this enemy whose twisted logic continues to diminish and destroy so many. To identify that he is a threat and how he operates. Trying to sound so logical and persuasive. We have to recognize how the slight compromises to what is right that we make, the seemingly most insignificant “venial” sin isn’t slight or insignificant - they are openings, steps in the wrong direction to make us that much more comfortable with living slightly less noble, less righteous lives. “It’s only a ‘white lie,’” “Don’t be such a prude, it’s only a joke...” “What’s the harm, you’re not going to end up like so and so...” We have to identify all those lies, all those ways the devil slowly eases in to twist us with his twisted logic and persuasions.
Fortunately we have a savior who’s love defies all logic. Who’s love is assured on the cross for each and every one of us for all eternity. Who the minute we become aware of how we’ve allowed this enemy into our hearts and minds is instantly eager and ready to defeat him once again - particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we make a good confession and turn away from those lies and into his loving embrace. May we move forward these 40 days of Lent vigilant in our rejection of the devil and single minded in our following of Jesus Christ alone.