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Homilies | Saturday, February 17, 2024

Time again to confront the enemy within us

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Ocean Reef Club on First Sunday of Lent 2024

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating the vigil Mass for the First Sunday of Lent at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Feb. 17, 2024.

How many times have we prayed the Lord’s Prayer? Every time we pray the Our Father we say, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Some other translations have it “and subject us not to the trial.” It might sound like we’re saying that God is setting us up to fail by sending temptations our way. But that’s not what the Lord’s Prayer is really saying.

So, what is it that we are praying for? We pray that God will protect us in the time of temptation and deliver us from the time of trial. We are asking God to be with us when we face the devil himself.

So, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” There are all sorts of temptations — of varying kinds and intensities.

Some temptations are of the flesh; others of the spirit; but all involve a “testing” or “trial.” And what is tested is our spiritual resolve — our spiritual muscles if you will. We are always to resolve to do good and to avoid evil. But if our willpower is weak and flabby, if our mind or intellect is clouded or confused so that it doesn’t recognize what is good, then we will be a pushover for the devil.

We have to remember that the devil always comes to us in disguise — he is always disguised as something or someone that is good. That’s the way the devil works, he takes something good and corrupts it; he takes goodness and then devalues it, debases it, corrupts it.

Out in the desert the temptations that the devil put to Jesus were temptations that called him to corrupt the good, to compromise his mission and thereby subvert his Father’s purposes. And aren’t these the temptations that we confront in our lives? No, the devil doesn’t whisper into our ears. He doesn’t have to try to seduce us; the culture that surrounds us does the job for him.

What is the culture — what is the world — saying to us? It suggests that we can compromise with evil: follow the easy way, take the path of least resistance. “Everybody is doing it” — whatever the “it” may be, so why can’t we? we whine. The devil wants us to feel sorry for ourselves, to think of ourselves as victims of an autocratic authority and to scream about their unfairness, because “everybody is doing it.” Why should we, Catholics, be so backward … so different. But compromising with evil is a slippery, slippery slope.

Another ruse of the devil — and this is going full steam today — is to redefine sin. We are led to believe that we can change the definition of something that is wrong into something that appears to be okay.

Jesus was tempted — he was like us in all things but sin. He experienced being alone and abandoned — so do we; he had his desert experience, and we have ours. He knew temptations and trials just as we know them.

It is important for us to remember that being tempted is not a sin, giving in to the temptation is what the sin is. One might have a disposition, a tendency — we might even call it an “orientation” — to be prideful, or gluttonous, or impatient. We have to struggle with those dispositions, those tendencies, and those “orientations” so as not to sin, to maintain our resolve to do good and avoid evil. Life is a struggle; we are on a battlefield and the stakes are high. And so, when we pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” we are asking God to be with us when we face the devil himself.

And so, we begin Lent, a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, a time to strengthen our spiritual muscles. We are to deny ourselves, to say “no” to ourselves — but not just for the sake of denying ourselves. This is not about some kind of spiritual masochism; rather it is about spiritual liberation. We say “no” to ourselves so that we can be free to say “yes” to God and to neighbor.

The words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel according to St. Mark: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” When we received ashes on Wednesday, we heard those very words. Repent and believe the Gospel.

Repent means to stay in the company of the one who loves us. Keep walking with Jesus! But to walk with Jesus might mean we have to make a U-turn.

To do that, the Gospel challenges us to change our minds about the way we think, to change our hearts about those Gospel teachings we might prefer to ignore and to change our ways about those habits of sin that hobble us along the Way that Jesus points out. Lent reminds us that we must begin again to confront the enemy within us.

As Catholic Christians, our life’s task is not to change the Gospel to accommodate it to our easy compromises with the culture around us. Our life’s task is to allow the Gospel to change us. I like to say that we call ourselves practicing Catholics because this life is our one-time chance to keep practicing the faith until we get it right. And so, during Lent, we seek healing and mercy. We ask God to forgive our sins, not to bless them.

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