Editor’s note: This is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily for the First Sunday of Lent.
Brothers and sisters, I am not trying to sound morbid this day, but I would not be surprised that with the tenor of the news this past week, the question, “And then what?” has crossed our minds in some shape or form. It reminds me of the story of a young student who came one day to St. Philip Neri, a parish priest of the city of Rome, and told him he was going to study law and become a learned man.
“And then what?” asked Fr. Philip. “Then I shall become a great lawyer and win fame.” “And then what?” “Then I shall become very rich and build a beautiful home for myself.” “And then what?” “Then I shall marry and live in comfort to a ripe old age.” “Francis, then what?” as the priest persisted in his questioning.
Francis knew no further answer. After some thought, he said, “Then, like everybody else, I shall die.” “And then what, Francis?” The young man was disturbed, but he answered gravely, “Then I shall await to learn what judgment will come upon me.” Here he stopped. He could not answer any further. This question made him change all his plans for the future.
Sisters and brothers, I would like to suggest on this first Sunday of the Lenten season that the question behind the temptations Jesus is grappling with in today’s Gospel reading is, “And then what?” As one Scripture commentator observes: “Jesus is alone, hungry, poised at the edge of decision making before his Father and his own truth. With perfect timing, the tempter arrives with three attractive propositions.”
The three propositions represent in a historical and theological fashion the triple temptation of Adam and Eve—the disordered human desire for pleasure, possessions and pride. To put it another way, like our first parents … like our forebears in faith on the Exodus journey … like Jesus in the desert or wilderness of life … all are wrestling with the question: “Is God enough for us?”
The Scripture scholar Dr. Brant Pitre states in his work “The Introduction to the Spiritual Life” that “according to Jewish Scripture, there is a triple motivation for the [human family’s] first sin. The reason Adam and Eve disobey God is because of the pleasure of tasting the fruit (‘good for food’), the longing to possess it once they see it (‘a delight to the eyes’), and the prideful desire to be ‘wise’ like God, but disobeying him (‘desire to make one wise’).”
In essence, the first temptation illustrated in this Sunday’s Gospel is that you and I are “self-made” men and women who can satisfy our hungers or desires in life. Ergo, we don’t need God and we can cast aside his Word! Jesus’ remedy to this craving is to remind both tempter and listeners that “one does not live on bread alone” and that our deepest hungers are fed when one listens to God. St. Augustine who was very familiar with seeking to satisfy the appetites of life would write from his own experience: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The second temptation put forth this Lord’s Day is to forget the divine image in which the human person is made and to seek to improve upon it by seeking one’s own power and glory. You and I only have to listen to the news today to understand the slippery slope that this self-centered temptation involves in which the person not only loses one’s focus about their relationship with God, but also with neighbor. Such loss produces oppression and violence, and we are witnessing the byproduct of this particular temptation as we speak.
The third temptation brought forth in Luke’s Gospel is to put God to the test—“God, if you really love me, you will do this for me …” I think I have shared in some settings before the story of the time as a young priest I was driving down Highway 401 between Cornwall and Alexandria, Ontario. I was praying the Rosary and I remember at one point saying to God, “You know God if you did things this way, everything would work out!” Yikes! I am lucky there wasn’t a lightning bolt at that moment! Maybe it was because I caught myself and quickly came to the realization that who could love me more than God and that in Him I was safe no matter what! As one Scripture commentary for today observes: “But Jesus will be true to his sonship not by flamboyant acts but by suffering an impoverished death on a cross. … Only then will come Jesus’ leap of faith, not from a temple pinnacle, but from the raised cross on Calvary” and the words, “Father, I put my life in your hands.”
Brothers and sisters, on this First Sunday of Lent our local Church and the Church throughout the world celebrates the Rite of Election. In this moment, catechumens will make a leap of faith and declare their own willingness to share in the living, dying and rising of Jesus Christ through the Sacraments of Initiation— Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Like Jesus and us, these men and women are being invited to spend the next forty days in the Lenten desert—where together all, baptized and the soon to be baptized, are invited to open their lives to God through prayer, fasting and charitable works—so that all might be filled anew with the abundance of God’s life. Is that not what our Easter celebration is all about—the new life God has won for us by conquering temptation, sin and death?! But even more, sisters and brothers, the horizon of Easter morning and the event it announces direct us to answers for the questions facing you and me in today’s wilderness or desert: “And then what?” “Is God enough for us? Amen.