Bottom line: When tempted, do not talk to the devil; turn to Jesus.
This has been a dramatic week. I ask you to join with Archbishop Sartain and with Catholics throughout the world in praying for Pope Benedict in the final weeks of his papacy. And to pray for the cardinals as they journey to Rome to elect a successor. People have asked me if I have favorite candidate. My only prayer is that they elect someone younger than me! The media want to portray the papal election in political terms, but the "liberal" and "conservative" categories do not really apply. This is about much higher stakes - the eternal fate of human souls. As we begin Lent, we are reminded that we are in a spiritual battle.
We see the spiritual battle dramatically portrayed on this First Sunday of Lent as we hear about the devil tempting Jesus. He faces Satan head-on. When we hear how Jesus demolishes the devil's sophistries, we might think, "Sounds pretty easy." Well, I would like issue a warning, "Do not try this at home." Do not talk to the devil.
Although Jesus speaks directly to devil, you and I should not do the same. In case you have not noticed, there is a difference between Jesus and us. He is God; you and I are not. He is all powerful and all-wise. You and I are weak - and (please don't take offense) dumber than we think.*
Let me give a comparison. To take on the devil directly would be like me taking on a kick boxer. Even the most poorly trained kick boxer could have me on the floor, flat on my back, in a matter of seconds. Just so, a minor demon could bring me down - if I try to deal with him on my own.
The devil is like a wolf pursuing a sheep or a lamb. You would think the quickest way to bring down a sheep would be to attack its legs and make it stumble. But reportedly that is not the wolf's normal method. He goes for the neck. And when he sinks his teeth into the neck, a lamb cannot bleat. It cannot call for the shepherd. The devil does something similar. He wants to first disable our voice so that we do not call out to the Lord.
Have you ever noticed that when you try to set aside a time to pray, that something inevitably comes up? All of a sudden, you remember a chore or a person you should talk to. Or better yet, you want to take a quick look at the TV or the Internet. Maybe you begin thinking about what you have in the refrigerator. The devil will do almost anything to keep you from praying. Many families tell me about the trials they go through on Sunday morning, getting ready for Mass. Do you think that these things are just a coincidence? No, the devil attacks at the throat, to wants to take away your voice - so that you will not call out to the Lord.
Sometimes people ask why God allows the demons to attack us so much. I do not know, but I can at least make a guess. I think God does it for the same reason he permits anything bad to happen. He has in mind a greater good - namely, that we will turn to him. Sometimes a person has to hit bottom before he recognizes he cannot do it on his own.
There is something else. Whenever we give in to a temptation, it takes power from us. But the opposite also applies: when we resist a temptation, we take power from it. The devil wants to rob us of power, to make us impotent. The Lord wants to make us strong by resisting temptation. The more strength, the more power we have, the more we have to offer to God through Jesus - and the better we can serve others.
I have talked quite a bit about the devil, more than I like to. I want to conclude by stressing that we do not have to fear the devil. St. Augustine said that since coming of Christ, the devil is a chained power. He compares the devil to a dog tied to a post. For him to attack, we have to step into his territory.
Stay away from certain temptations. Various studies have shown that sexual involvement of any kind, apart from marriage, can harm a person, especially a teenager. One University of California study concluded that "early sexual activity - whether in or out of a romantic relationship - does far more harm than good."** You know, nothing magic happens when a person turns 20. These studies also apply to older people. Stay away from certain temptations. Flee them. Run to the one who overcame the enemy.
In our Seattle Men's Conference we will hear more about spiritual combat - how our men can take their leadership role by putting on the full armor of God. I ask you to join me in praying for the men will attend this Conference.***
And, above all, remember that, by his death and resurrection, Jesus has shackled the demonic powers. When tempted, do not talk to the devil; turn to Jesus As the Lord says to us in today’s Psalm:
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him...
He shall call upon me - and I will answer him. Amen.
*A survey revealed that 90% of the people in our country believe that they are "smarter than the average American"! (this was one of the fun discoveries by Frank Luntz in "What Americans Really Want...Really")
**A couple more quotes:
Though a girl is "far more likely to feel used and abused after a typical" hook up, the "impersonality of twenty-first-century adolescent sex victimizes girls" and "plenty of harm" is done to boys as well.
Especially among younger teenagers, casual sex is associated with depression. This impersonality is harmful to both girls and boys; however, girls are especially at risk of becoming victims in casual sexual relationships.
See Adolescent sexuality in the United States
***Here is the prayer: "Lord Jesus, raise up in your Church strong, godly men: Men who respect, care and protect. Men who lead with courage, putting on your full armor. Men who persevere in love as you did – to the last drop of your blood. You live and reign forever. Amen"
From Archives (Year C homilies):
Complete List of Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):
Ash Wednesday Homilies:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Parish Picture Album
Seattle Men's Conference
March 2, 2013 at St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)