Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for The First Week of Lent 2011
First Sunday of Lent
March 13, Mt. 4: 1-11
(Daylight Saving Time Begins)
The Gospel chosen to be read on the First Sunday of Lent always has the same theme. The Evangelist changes for each Liturgical Cycle (A-B-C) but the topic matter is always the same: Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the desert and the temptations of Jesus.
Temptation is a tendency to act on something that is appealing to us. The tendency or act itself does not have to be sinful necessarily, but usually, in the adopted sense, it carries with it a negative connotation. I can be “tempted” to eat a banana split and there is nothing per se wrong about that. Normally, however, when we speak of temptation, we are referring to the tug of our human nature to do something wrong. So it was with the three temptations of Jesus in the Gospel for today.
The first temptation of Jesus probably embraces the general idea of temptation: gratifying one’s own human pleasure or desires. For example, I walk past a nice looking piece of jewelry in a store in the mall. It is shiny and sparkling and would look nice on me. Gee, I really would like to have that. It costs $150.00 which I don’t have, so I steal it.
Jesus’ second temptation had to do with the desire for an ostentatious show of power. Here we get into temptations involving our pride. How great I am! I’m not like others! I’m God, don’t you know? I think I should be captain of our bowling team because I have the highest average. And on and on and on.
Jesus’ third temptation has to do with the misuse of power. Being tempted to embezzle money from an office you hold would be an example of this. Any abuse of a child by a parent or teacher would be such a misuse of power. Like a police officer taking advantage of people because he wears a badge and a gun. We are to put our power to responsible use.
Temptation happens to all of us. It happened to Jesus in his human nature and it will happen to us. Scripture tells us in I Corinthians 10: 13, “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” Now aren’t those comforting words from the Scriptures!
No temptation will ever come to us that we must surrender to. We will never be tempted beyond our strength. God will give us a way out of it. This is another one of the guarantees from God to us. He is always there with us in the time of temptation. Let’s remember to ask for his help, for Pete’s sake! All we have to do is say that one word prayer: HELP!!! Then the devil will leave us and angels will come and minister to us.
Monday of the First Week of Lent
March 14, Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18. Mt. 25: 31-46
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Lev. 9:12
“Come, you who are the beloved of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Mt. 25: 34
Be holy! I used to look at that word “holy” and run the other way. And well I should have, I guess, because I wasn’t very holy at that time. Let’s not let that word scare us off. Being a holy person is not that difficult and, you know what, it feels good! It really does.
Do you feel good today, are you in a good mood, are you on top of things? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are holy! To be holy is to be whole, complete, fulfilled, meaningful, making a difference, serving others, smiling, serene and peaceful.
Run toward it, embrace it! Don’t run away from it or fear it.
Holiness is doing the right thing that we talked about not too long ago. The “will of God” for me comes into play here. What does God want me to do? What gifts and talents did he give me to do it? Am I doing what he wants me to do or am I pushing it aside? If I can give positive answers to these simple questions, I am whole, complete, fulfilled and happy. If I respond in the negative, I am in a discombobulated state, there is chaos and darkness in my life, I am broken, not whole. I am not a happy camper. Then we have to stop and pull the loose ends together and get things back where they belong. A good question to ask ourselves often during this Lenten Season: Do I consider myself a holy person most of the time?
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
March 15, Isaiah 55: 10-11
“So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
If you are talking to someone and use the phrases “God told me so,” or “God has spoken to me,” there are going to be some people who are very skeptical and if you ask them why, they will probably answer, “Well, he never talks to me!” In that case, maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t seem to have spoken to that person because they were not listening.
I truly believe that God does communicate with his creation. When I think of this, my mind instinctively focuses on the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he says that God wanders through the world speaking to us through our family members, relatives, friends, enemies and even through total strangers. Suffice it to say, an instance such as this saved my life in 1974 when a little old lady, a stranger, confronted my shameful alcoholism – and I listened to her. The very next day I was in a treatment center and went on to grow into what I am today, a person I truly appreciate and am very, very grateful to God for. The secret: I listened to that woman. And I still try my best to keep listening to people who tell me whatever. But I have to work at this and I know I miss listening to other people many times every day.
I believe we all have to work at listening to what others tell us, even children whom we sometimes dismiss as knowing nothing. They know more about us than we think. We must sort out what is said to us and keep what is wheat and let the wind blow away the chaff. But we will never learn, never grow, if we do not listen to God speaking to us though other people.
A good Lenten practice for all of us: Try to listen more attentively.
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
March 16, Jonah 3: 1-10
What a beautiful first reading for today’s Liturgy from the Prophet Jonah as a sequel to what we said yesterday about listening to others through whom God speaks to us. I didn’t know this reading was coming until I turned the page of the Lectionary for today’s readings and saw it. Thank you, God.
In the reading we notice the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. The first time God asked him to go with his message to the Ninivites, Jonah chickened out because of his fear for the Ninivites and ran the other way. Because he didn’t listen to the Lord and do what God wanted him to do, he got himself into that mess in the storm at sea, being swallowed by the whale and spending three days in the whale’s belly. All because he didn’t listen to God.
The second time “Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding.” The people to whom God sent his Prophets usually didn’t pay any attention to them and ended up abusing or killing the Prophet. But, lo and behold, this time the Ninivites listened to Jonah. And they ended up happy because they had escaped the punishment of God. Things turned out well for Jonah and the Ninivites when they listened to what God had to say. The message for us here is as clear as a bell.
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
March 17, Book of Esther 12: 14-16, 23-25
First of all today, let us all pause a moment to pray for God’s blessings for the people and country of Ireland on this feast of St. Patrick. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!!!
“O Lord my God, save us from the hand of our enemies and turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”
What a beautiful Lenten prayer we find in this quote from Queen Esther in today’s first reading. Turn our mourning ….. let us remember what we said a while ago about the word repent meaning to turn and how fitting it is for us to find ways to turn our lives more toward God in this Lenten Season. Esther asks to be turned from mourning to gladness. And again let us remember what we said on the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time about the virtue of prudence, how prudence means to do the wise thing, the good thing, the right thing as opposed to choosing the wrong way to do something. And we have said that the way to do this is by listening to God whatever manner he chooses to speak to me and then putting his words into action.
Let’s remember these words as Lenten words: turn, repent, prudence in choosing the right way, listening to God. Let’s call these words to mind often. They fit this Liturgical Season so well.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
March 18, Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 18: 21-28
“If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him.”
Sometime during the Lenten Season, I think it is a good idea to be reconciled with God through the Sacrament of Penance. I would suggest we all take the time to go to confession to express our sorrow to God for doing this our way and ignoring his way. And when we go, I also suggest we keep the quote just given above from the Prophet Ezekiel in mind. Remember that it is God himself speaking to us through Ezekiel. This quote reminds us that our confession, our inventory of ourselves, is not a history. We take an inventory of what is on the shelf right now, not of the can of beans and bacon we sold 15 years ago. I say this because I am still running into that idea of general confessions by the people. They come in and say, “Father, I would like to make a general confession of all the sins of my life.” They are kind of surprised when I won’t go along with it.
Where this idea of making a general confession came from, of calling back to mind all the sins of our life that have already been confessed and forgiven and confessing them all again, I don’t know. This idea is contrary to the Scriptures, the Word of God that tell us over and over and over again: When God forgives a sin, God forgets the sin, let’s it go, he does not remember it, it ceases to have existence!!! Amen, for crying out loud. For our part, let’s take God at his word, believe him, believe what he says. This is God talking! Hello!!!
Confession during Lent? Yes, a good idea and a reminder to turn from our faults, a reminder to do what we can to love both God and our neighbor is a better, more complete and intimate way.
Saturday of the First Week of Lent, March 19
Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary, the Mother of God
Today we interrupt our Lenten homilies to celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the Husband of Mary. I was just thinking to myself when I remembered that today was his feast day, that St. Joseph is someone I definitely want to meet when I get to the pearly gates or wherever. The Scriptures don’t tell us too much about his person but concentrate more on what his part was in our salvation history.
We do know from the Scriptures that he was a just man, a good man. He was faithful to what God asked him to do and to be. He certainly listened well to what God said to him, he deeply loved Mary, his wife, and he was a true father figure to Jesus and gave him his name from the line of David. We don’t know how big he was, how old he was, what he liked to eat, where or when he died, what he specialized in in his work as a carpenter, and all the other myriad of details about his life.
But what we do know about St. Joseph is enough for us to look up to him and to imitate him for the betterment of our own spiritual lives and relationship with the Father.
St. Joseph, pray for us.