Lent, 1st Sunday - Homily
About two hundred years ago in France lived a very holy priest, Fr. John Vianney. Fr. Vianney loved his people, and prayed for them constantly. He was extremely devoted to hearing their confessions, spending between 12 and 18 hours a day in the Confessional! Eventually, people came from all over France to go to him for Reconciliation because of his extraordinary natural and supernatural gifts. He is now the only parish priest who has been canonized a saint.
In a rare outward appearance, the Devil tried to disrupt St. John Vianney’s ministry of healing. Many nights, he would attack Fr. Vianney; people heard loud and strange noises coming from the rectory. One night, they saw fire coming from Fr. Vianney’s bedroom: the Devil had lit Father’s bed on fire! At first, Fr. Vianney was afraid, but then he got used to the attacks. He finally figured out the timing of it all: every night the Devil came to attack him, a big sinner would come to Confession the next day – someone who hadn’t been to Confession in 20 or 30 or more years. With the help of Christ, St. John Vianney withstood the attacks of Satan, and won victory over him.
The Devil makes another rare appearance in today’s Gospel: he tempts Jesus in the desert three times. Usually, Satan works in invisible and very subtle ways. His main objective is to take people away from God without them even knowing of his presence. The Devil is not an evil God; he is not on the same level as God. He is an angel, a fallen angel. He used to be known as Lucifer which means “light-bearer”. He was the top and brightest angel. Like all angels, he was given a free choice to either serve God forever or reject Him forever. He and about 1/3 of the angels in Heaven chose to reject God because they were filled with pride.
The Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verse 7, says that a battle ensued between St. Michael and the good angels and Satan and the fallen angels. The good guys won! They crushed the demons, and cast them down to earth. Satan and his legion of demons now wage spiritual warfare on earth. He has made his presence known a few times – the Garden of Eden, to Christ in the desert, and to a few people like St. John Vianney. It’s very important for us to know that the Devil can never force us to do anything against our will. He tempts us in brilliant ways; he is much smarter than any of us. On our own, we can’t defeat him; but, with the help of God, we will be safe and win victory over our Enemy.
Christ wins victory over the Devil in the desert and in his Death and Resurrection. In the desert, he is tempted in his human nature. He wins victory for two main reasons, I believe: 1) he is fasting, and 2) he is “filled with the Spirit”. Fasting brings spiritual strength. When we deny our bodies in some way, we build up inner or spiritual strength. During Lent, we imitate Jesus’ fast of 40 days in order to build up our souls, and to resist the temptations of the Devil. Also, we go to the Sacraments in order to be “filled with the Spirit”. The Church strongly encourages us to come to the Eucharist- going to daily Mass during Lent – and going to Confession. The sacraments are the primary ways for us to be “filled with the Spirit”; remember, the Spirit had just come upon Jesus in Baptism before he was into the desert.
Finally, the Devil continues to attack our Lord, primarily in the Eucharist. He knows that it really is the sacred body and blood of Christ, and he knows of its tremendous power. I have heard of many stories where he and his army of demons have desecrated the Eucharist in different ways. A few weeks ago, our youth group went to Mount 2007, where the Eucharist was the center of the very powerful retreat for 1500 teens. The day before the retreat began, thieves broke into the Church next to where the retreat was being held. They went straight for the tabernacle, busted it open, and desecrated the Eucharist. The Devil knows the power of the Eucharist.
Normally, he is much more subtle in his attacks on the Eucharist. He puts certain thoughts in our heads: ‘it is just a symbol’…’I can worship God on my own; I don’t need the Eucharist’…or ’I don’t need to come to Mass every week’. But, Jesus tells us the truth: ‘this is my body’…and that the way we worship on the Sabbath, every Sabbath, is to gather around a table as a family, and eat his flesh and drink his blood. When we do, we are filled with the Spirit, and are ready to defeat the Devil and his temptations. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with God’s life and God’s love. As you enter more fully into his life during this holy season, may you know his love. May you know his love this day, and this holy season.