50 SHADES OF TEMPTATION

Hi everyone - here's my homily for FEBRUARY 22, 2015 - THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT.  The readings for today's Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022215.cfm.  As always, thanks for reading; your feedback and comments; and for  sharing this blog on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere on the web.  God Bless you on your Lenten journey, Fr Jim

HOMILY:
 
As rough as winter has been for us here in the New York area, and despite the rivalry that often exists between NY and Boston - in this instance they most definitely win. In the competition of "who has had the harsher winter," they have definitely seen one of the worst, if not historic of seasons. I'm not sure how accurate the reports are but I think they've gotten 90 inches of snow..and I know I heard this (but again this may be an exaggeration) that since Christmas they've only had 9 days of school?? This extreme weather is definitely getting to the people living there:


Last week, after yet another blizzard hit, one Boston resident spent a great deal of time and effort digging his car out of the snow on the street and clearing the spot for himself. Before he left for work, he put a "space saver" there – you know, to hold his spot. When he returned he found the "space saver" was moved and someone parked their car in it. The guy decided to take all of the snow – at least a foot if not more that he had removed and "put it back" on the car. Complete with pictures of the car now re-shovelled with snow - the story went viral on the Internet - on NBC's Today Show, and all kinds of news sites - with some laughing, calling it awesome, absolutely hilarious.

Interestingly the man who had posted the story on Craigs list "Rants and Raves" section – after feeling somewhat vindicated and justified at his actions (I can’t read you his exact feelings about the guy who parked in his car – I try to keep my homilies at least PG rated here) – and winning praise from strangers all over the world soon pulled the post off of Craigs list. Reporters who were able to track him down since the post was "screen grabbed" (just a friendly reminder, everything you post online never goes away) and they said that the man insisted on remaining anonymous.

Last week there was some other news. The movie "50 shades of grey" - the highly controversial and pornographic movie (that is trying to be passed off as a main stream movie) was released breaking all kinds of box office records. In the avalanche of hype and media attention leading up to its release; one commentator, from Britain, summed up a lot of little interviews and stories all together in one neat paragraph. She wrote:

I’ve been following the Fifty Shades press tour with mounting delight, because every single person involved seems to hate it. The author hates the director. The romantic leads hate each other. All of them hate the original fans. And in a variety of increasingly creative ways, they have independently and politely requested we don’t see the film, ever…. Most interviews with [the male lead actor] Jamie Dornan have included quotes about how uncomfortable he was with the sex scenes. Most interviews with [the female lead actress] Dakota Johnson have included a quote about how fans of the book are probably going to hate it. [As well as this profoundly revealing quote:] "I don’t want my family to see the movie, because it’s inappropriate. Or my brothers’ friends… Also there’s part of me that’s like: I don’t want anyone to see this movie," she told Glamour [magazine]. "Just kidding..."

What hit me just hearing and seeing both of these stories was that in both instances – people decided to do some pretty extreme things and make them public: A guy at 12:00 midnight was so ticked off –he spent time re-shoveling snow on top of a car, taking pictures of it, posting it on Craig’s list before going to bed. Everyone involved in this film "50 shades of grey" knew from the very beginning that there was something wrong with it. The actors, directors, producers knew going into it, knew that this isn’t ever going to be an inspirational film, a classic piece of cinema, something that will win any award, receive any acclaim (in fact many reviews have ripped it to shreds) The motivation for making this film: greed. "Sex sells" they say (and by the box office receipts, their correct). Both the "angry shoveler" and those involved in that film in hindsight are all expressing that they don’t feel particularly proud of what they’ve done. In fact they’re feeling something called shame.

Sadly our culture seems to be celebrating both examples. Having the crew of NBC Today Show kind of laughing and highlighting your angry tirade on national television – Having headlines saying "Grey topples Christ" (referring to the fact that the premiere of 50 shades of Grey broke a previous February box office record held by the premiere of The Passion of the Christ). Yet, in both cases, the Boston man has yet to come forward and accept his notoriety and the filmmakers, while enjoying their financial success, stories continue to come out of continued infighting that has caused delays towards making a sequel.

Temptation.

We can all relate to it:
the feelings of being tempted to doing something;
the thing in our gut that tells us this isn’t right…
the failures we’ve suffered in giving into temptation; and that feeling of shame after.  
The desire to make excuses for it or justify it I only did that once; I’ve seen people do worse… look they had it coming…


Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear an account of Jesus’ being tempted in the desert. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus is driven out into the desert for forty days. He’s going on retreat. He’s leaving the world behind to clarify in his heart and his mind what it is that the Heavenly Father has sent Him to do. And as He enters into this time where he wishes to be united with His Heavenly Father, what happens? He’s tempted by the devil! Imagine that, even Jesus had temptations! While the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give more detail than this account, we don’t really need too many details. Just reading the words that Jesus was "tempted by Satan" says it all.

He didn’t have his friends, there were no apostles or disciples to rely on... He didn’t even have the help of his family, his Blessed Mother Mary at that time. The Gospel simply says that He relied on; he "leaned on" angels who helped him to keep faithful to His Heavenly Father who had sent Him to earth with this Mission to save humanity.

For you and I as we begin this season of Lent, we often start this time of "spiritual renewal" with a hope, a desire to grow closer to Jesus Christ. We look at the state of our lives, the choices, decisions we’ve made in our lives and start to consider how can I make some changes? How can I deal with some of the mistakes and failures I’ve made? How can I be rid of the shame I feel from those missteps? We set out from Ash Wednesday with great intentions. Yet, quickly our motivation starts to wane. Our attention gets diverted. And the temptation to just let go of our hopes, our desires to grow closer to Jesus Christ are replaced with everyday tasks, unnecessary distractions and even a sense of despair as we start believing the lie "I’m never going to really be able to change."

Its true, we’re not like Jesus Christ during his time in the desert. One blessed difference is that we have Him to lean on as we embrace this lenten journey. But that’s one of the key factors – we have to choose to focus on Him. Because if not, this somewhat jaded, cyncical world around us will try to discourage us at every choice, every decision, every opportunity we have to make whether we will follow Christ or go along with what the "other guys on the team" are doing – Satan will whisper lies to us making us doubt we’ll be able to resist what everyone else is doing, so why even try.

It’s true, the story of some guy who comes home and discovers someone parking in his not resorting to dumping 12 + inches of snow back in retaliation won’t go viral. The actors and film makers who passed on being any way involved in "50 Shades of Grey" might be a footnote in a Wikipedia account on the history of this film. But the point is, when confronted by whatever temptation: big or small; whether it comes to us in a barely audible whisper or if it’s something that confronts us face to face; whether it’s something extraordinary or a daily temptation that is all too familiar – the choice, the decision we make: to give into Satan’s cunning, clever attacks or not – isn’t about what the world thinks of those choices. It’s much bigger than that, it reveals what is in our heart. Sometimes we can be blinded by the "ways out" when our focus is on the temptation. Our natural self allows the temptation to remain in our mind for a while rather than making the choice to cast it out. The casting out process takes inner strength … a decision made … the Holy Spirit is in us so that we can do that … we have the power, but we need to plug into it for it to become active.
shoveled out parking spot and him

The loving message that the Lord offers us as we engage in this battle is to remember – no matter how many times we struggle, or even the many times we fail – He is victorious. He is victorious in withstanding the temptations in the desert. He continues to reject temptations, even when they lead to the Cross and His passion and death. And in His resurrection, he has ultimately defeated the tempter: Satan, for all time.

May we recognize how Jesus meets us in our vulnerability, in our moments of weakness where we feel tempted to give into whatever lie that Satan is putting before us. In those moments, we have Jesus himself that we can rely on to minister to us. Are we willing to withstand the ridicule of the world to live only for him? Are we willing to admit we're weak, but have confidence in His strength to complete us? Are we willing to work past our shame and guilt and let the Holy Spirit guide us to better things, things more worthy of His temple, which we believe our bodies are? Let us continue this great season of Lent that we began so earnestly on Wednesday, and let God's love for us strengthen us and lift us up and fill us with the gift of hope, of a new life in Him, a gift that He so desperately wishes for us to receive.

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