Sunday, February 25, 2007

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.


At 12:41 AM, Anonymous misguided mom said...

My 4 year old has been going to mass since she was little, but I guess she's just really started to listen. Last week she didn't want to walk up to the altar with me when I went up for communion. She said she was scared. Well, people were in the pew waiting to go up, so I didn't have time to ask why just then. I asked my 6 yr old to sit there with her when I went up. Later, I asked here why she was scared. She told me that she didn't want to see Jesus' "dead" body and blood. In listening to my daughter's fears, it reminded me of many of my own apprehensions about my faith- not knowing enough about Catholicism, not being as devout as someone else (and having them find out), being uncomfortable in participating in many of the beautiful offerings of the church like confession and adoration, feeling out of my element, etc. In that moment, I realized that I haven't been living my faith very purposefully. I go to mass, sing the hymns, go up for communion and stay around after mass to say hello to the priests and parishioners, but I do little more to acknowledge the enormity of what I have through the Eucharist. I do understand that it is probably normal for a younger child to have misconceptions about parts of the mass, so I'm not beating myself up about that, but it was a sign to me that I could do so much more within my family to teach my kids in both word and action about how much Jesus means to me in my life and how grateful I am in the abundance of his love.

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good sermon, Father. Except for one personal pet peeve which I really can’t blame you for, yet nor will my periodic perfectionism allow to go unchallenged.

It has to do with the all too common, an unfortunately inaccurate, identification of “Lucifer, the Morning Star” with “Satan, the Adversary.” This is a very common misconception, all dating back to (bless him!) Saint Jerome, who translated “Morning Star” in Isaiah (14:12) as “Luciferus”, but did not translate it the same when the exact same name was used in the New Testament. The Isaiah passage refers to King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon (the title was, at the time, something that kings used to promote their glory and majesty, that it was they who “Brought the dawn”—as Venus, the actual physical “Morning Star” did), but it was Jerome who first applied it to Satan, and was followed by other church fathers. The identification was cemented into popular culture with Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Interestingly, the title/ name Morning Star is used in the New Testament but every single time refers to none other than Jesus himself. 2 Peter 1:19 talks of paying attention to the word “until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts”. There is also Rev 2:28 and even more, Rev 22:16, where Jesus identifies Himself as “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.” The title Morning Star is the planet we call Venus, the brightest “star” in the sky that rises just before dawn. The Romans, following older traditions (it’s what the Romans did), gave the appellation “Light-Bringer” to that star as well which, in Greek is “Phosphorus”, in Latin, is “Luciferus”, or if Anglicized, “Lucifer.” This identification of “Light-bringer = Morningstar” has continued unabated from earliest antiquity (ancient Babylon) through the modern day.

However, between the use of the Name/title in the New Testament, and common usage, there is a bit of contention. The New Testament identifies the Light-Bringer, the Morning Star, as Jesus himself. Unfortunately, due to the trouble starting with Jerome, popular culture identifies this Name/ title with Satan. They can’t both be right, as Jesus is most definitely not Satan.

[That said, it is not surprising that Satan should invent identity theft, and steal that name for himself, as (to my mind), he did with Gabriel in the very early Dark Ages.]

After this mis-identification of Lucifer with Satan, people filled in the holes, deciding that “Lucifer” must have been Satan’s Pre-Fall name, and then ascribing to Pre-fall Satan all the attributes of Lucifer—Light, Beauty, etc. But, there’s not really a basis for this if the original identification is wrong. It also doesn’t help that the idea of the War in Heaven doesn’t exist in early Jewish thought like it does in Christian—because the Christians didn’t get this idea from Judaism, they got it from the Zoroastrians, who in turn got it from ancient Babylonian pagan ideas.

I won’t dispute the War or the Fall —the Babylonians and Zoroastrians may have been on to something. But, um, I just wanted to point out that according to the New Testament, The Morning star is Jesus Christ, not Satan. This is why there are “Morningstar Baptist Churches”, and posters at the National Shrine that say “Jesus: The Morning star that arises in our hearts.”

And yes, I realize that this is rather trivial, especially to the point of the homily, but as I said, it’s one of those rare moments of “perfectionism”, dealing with a personal pet-peeve.

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What John the Baptist said.


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