TAKING THE DEVIL SERIOUSLY

Hi everyone - here’s my homily for FEBRUARY 14, 2016 - THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - the readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021416.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, for sharing it on your facebooks, twitter and reddit - and your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr. Jim

HOMILY:

It’s sad how at the age of 42 I can still trace some of my formation to Saturday Morning Cartoons. You kids today have no idea with your cartoon networks and your on-demand cable. Growing up, Saturday Morning cartoons were a big deal. Pretty much every Saturday morning, from about 7 am to 11 am, the three major channels, out of a grand total of 11 tv stations all had cartoons on. (It is really weird thinking back to that... the antenna on top of the TV and all, it really seems like the stone ages compared to our High Def TV’s with 1,000 channels) Anyway - so Saturday Morning, there we were, me, and my two older brothers, downstairs, watching cartoons. Our deprived childhoods, we only had the one TV in the living room, so after the usual weekly fights over what cartoon to watch, (being the youngest I usually lost) the one thing we could agree on watching was Looney Tunes - Bugs Bunny and crew...

Their influence on me is a bit embarrassing. In college, one day, I was sitting in Music Appreciation Class (a class to satisfy a Gen Ed requirement which I foolishly thought would be easy) our professor had a quiz where he would play a classical piece of music and asked we had to identify it (style, composer...etc) and this piece, the only thing that came to mind was "From Bugs Bunny - that’s when Elmer Fudd sang KILL THE WABBIT." (The answer was actually Rossini’s The Barber of Seville – which full disclosure, for this Homily, I still had to look that up)

Even theologically, Bugs Bunny messed me up. There was an episode where Yosemite Sam is chasing Bugs Bunny and I forget how Bugs had set it up, I think Sam got eaten alive by some Lions. But in the next scene you see him on an escalator, going down in this subterranean world that was all red with fire. At the end was this creature, all in red, pointy eyebrows, pitchfork in hand. This was the devil. The devil looks in this big book and says to Sam "OOOH, you’ve been a nasty fellow, haven’t you?" Sam begs the devil for "another chance" and the devil sends him back up to earth for the express purpose of "getting that rabbit" he’s been after for so long...

Fortunately, after 4 years of seminary, I know how wrong that episode was. But it’s amazing how that and so many other images, depictions of the devil, depictions of temptation can shape our perspective on who the devil is and what temptation is. To some extent, these might be a reason why some don’t even believe in the devil. Or if they do, they kind of imagine the devil as a somewhat non-threatening annoyance, a mild distraction. Oh, I knew I had eaten enough but that steak was so good, I couldn’t resist that temptation to have ANOTHER Steak - that pesky devil! Got me again! And we kind of laugh him off like a Saturday morning cartoon character — BLAST YOU YOSEMITE SAM!

The reality though is very different. We hear in the Gospel that the Devil has one aim in his existence - to turn us away from our Heavenly Father and who God is calling us to be and he will use any means possible to do that. Which is why we hear this passage on the temptation of Jesus at the start of this season of Lent. During Lent, the entire Church is on this 40 day retreat together. To see where we are with God. How our relationship with Jesus is. How we are living as a disciple of Jesus Christ’s in my relationships with those around me - those I’m close to, and those I’m not... The Church takes this time, recalling that Jesus himself took 40 days to draw closer to his Heavenly Father.   Jesus went into the desert, away from the world and its distractions and is just alone with his Heavenly Father - listening to His voice, he’s reflecting on what His Father was saying to Him.

So today’s Gospel is after those 40 days, and we hear of this contest between Jesus and the Devil – a classic showdown of good versus evil. It’s easy to let our imaginations picture this little devil with his little pitchfork going up to Jesus with these temptations, and Jesus easily refusing them . And if that’s the image we have, we can discount the whole thing as a type of cartoon.


The thing is, though, the devil knew what he was doing with Jesus, and knew Jesus. So he’s trying to get him distracted in very clever ways. Look at this encounter again. So Jesus emerges from these 40 days with a clear sense of what His Father was calling him to do, with a vision in His mind. He knew who He was - and He was prepared to accomplish His divine mission this divine Plan. But as a human being, yeah, 40 days of fasting and praying was a LONG time. A difficult thing to do! For those who’ve given up drinking coffee or eating chocolate for these 40 days, we can only imagine... So here’s the Son of God, and He’s hungry. It’s probably going to be a little while before he gets back to town - to His family, His friends, His disciples. He’s probably thinking about getting something to eat. Maybe he’s thinking, I wonder if Peter was even able to catch some fish without my help... And so the devil starts putting these thoughts to him – you’ve spent 40 days with your Father - you’ve reflected on how you’re God’s son, right? You’ve grown - you KNOW he Loves you - You Love Him... so you’re hungry (you should be...) Go ahead - do one of your tricks - why don’t you just take that stone and make into some bread for yourself... what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong with fulfilling a basic human need? Jesus is able to recognize it immediately - that his power isn’t to be used for mere convenience, especially when he’s inviting his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him in a life of self-sacrifice and service...

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 Him, 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!

It’s amazing, how easy it could be to entertain these thoughts. They can even sound a bit reasonable. And that’s the point, each of us can make a case for giving in to whatever temptation we have, arguing I’m still being a good person... as we give in to the devil's proposals... as we turn away from God and turn towards the devil. You have a big test coming up, you’ve had a bunch of projects to do, a lot of other things going on - maybe you have a side job... there’s so much stress and pressure. All of a sudden the thought, or the opportunity to take a short cut, to cheat presents itself. You’ve never done it before - you say you would never do it if things weren’t so tough right now - and you promise you’re never going to do it again (if Jesus just helps you to make sure you don’t get caught). They always come in these small measures, small doses to get us to move slowly - but deliberately in a different direction than we know is right - that we want to follow. For example, the devil isn’t going to tempt you to abandon your faith in one fell swoop - He’s not going to try to convince you to leave Catholicism to become a Hari Khrishna or Scientologist (Tom Cruise, please don’t sue me) but he probably tempted you to not come to Church today. Nothing big - maybe just - It was a long week, you’re tired, it’s like 10 degrees outside... you should take care of yourself... you got a lot to do, you’ll make it next week or the week after that... God understands...

This Gospel tells us that He does understand. But the Gospel asks us to be clear about whose side are we on? This isn’t a message meant to scare us, or to give the devil more power than he has. Jesus beat him in these temptations and he beat him once and for all on the Cross on Calvary. But far from some harmless little cartoon devil, as we hear the Lenten call to renew our relationship with the Lord, do we realize or recognize the different voices competing to win our hearts and souls? Do we recognize the devil for the distracting, for the persuasive, for the not-so-funny being that he really is?

1 comment:

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