16th century master illuminator Simon Bening's depiction of the devil approaching Jesus with a stone to be turned into bread

Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 4.15pm

[Readings: Gen 9:8-15;  Ps 23;  1 Pet 3:18-22;  Mk 1:12-15]

Repent, and believe in the Gospel.  These are words we probably heard on Ash Wednesday when we came forward to receive the ashes – and they are words we hear from the mouth of Jesus in today’s Gospel, repent, and believe in the good news.

 Before Jesus begins his ministry, the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness where he experiences forty days of temptation by Satan.  Jesus had no need to repent of anything, and so his experience in the wilderness is for our benefit – for the benefit of all who will be united with him as his brothers and sisters.  On the one hand, his forty days in the wilderness shows that he knows, first hand, what temptation is.  He has been tempted in every way that we are.  When we face temptation we needn’t run from Jesus – but rather we can, and should, unite ourselves all the more with him, who has experienced this before us.

 His forty days in the wilderness also shows us that Satan opposes his saving mission.  Satan wanted to de-rail Jesus before he even begins his saving work.  Again, Jesus submits to this testing by Satan for our benefit.  It shows us that Satan will oppose the followers of Jesus.  The enemy will first try to stop us from fully receiving the salvation that Jesus has won for us, and he will also oppose anything we do in Jesus’ name.  He will try to derail us, just as he tried to de-rail Jesus.

 Our forty days of Lent is a yearly reminder that we are engaged in a spiritual battle.  The age-old adversary is still at work, tempting us to sin, and keeping us bound in sin.  This Lent we are invited to go into the wilderness with Jesus … and in the wilderness we’re challenged to face our own demons.  In what ways are we tempted?  – tempted not to recognize our dignity as God’s sons and daughters?  – tempted to remain in the bondage of sin?  – tempted to settle for compromise?  – tempted to think that God can’t free us and lead us to the liberty he wants us to have, where we know and experience his love, mercy and forgiveneness? – tempted not to live fully our life in Christ and to share that life with others?

 In facing temptation it’s good to remember that temptation in itself is not a sin.  Jesus did not sin, and yet he was tempted.  Temptation, rather, is a reality – the work of evil and God’s adversary – and temptation is a challenge for us to grow “in fidelity and consistency through humility and watchfulness” (John Paul II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia).   We should add: it changes things, though, if we’ve deliberately put ourselves in an occasion of sin.  And perhaps that’s one thing we could look at in our lives particularly during Lent:  what are occasions of sin for us? – people, places, things (like the television or computer).  During Lent we can ask God’s help to try much harder to avoid occasions of sin.

 As we engage in this spiritual battle, brought home to us during Lent, there are certain things we should remember.  The first is that we have been saved!  And this salvation has been gained for us by Jesus himself – and we become sharers in it through baptism.  Through baptism we belong to God – we are His.  He has made a covenant with us which He will not revoke.  He wants us to enjoy the full benefits of life with Him.  But our sin blocks that – it damages the relationship – and with God’s help and grace we need to address the damage that our sin causes.  Lent is a time of preparation either for Baptism, or to solemnly renew our Baptismal promises at Easter Mass.  We want to be fully alive in our relationship with God … a covenant relationship sealed in baptism and confirmation.

 Secondly, as we engage in spiritual combat – taking the side of Jesus against sin and evil – we should know that God is with us.  The angels ministered to Jesus in the wilderness, and they minister to us.  God’s love and mercy are always there to help us, to strengthen us, and to pick us up when we fall.  Lent is a wonderful opportunity to renew our trust in the ways God provides for us … especially in the sacraments.  Through the Sacrament of Confession God restores us to the state of grace that our sins have caused us to lose, and in the graces of Confession God helps us to resist sin in the future.  In the daily celebration of the Eucharist – the summit of our faith – Jesus comes to us in a way like no other.

 Friends, we have begun the journey to Holy Easter.  This is a time for us to prepare for that great feast.  In order to be more fully united with the Lord, we’re invited to deal with the sin in our life, so as to remove the barriers that prevent us from being fully alive in God’s love.

 “Let us therefore invoke the maternal help of Mary Most Holy for the Lenten journey that has just begun so that it may be rich in fruits of conversion” (Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, First Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2011).