Bottom line: In Jesus' death and resurrection, we receive power - the Breastplate, the armor we need for spiritual combat.
Today is the Fifth Sunday of Lent - the final Sunday prior to Holy Week. Before we enter these intense celebrations, I would like to take a step back to recall that we are in the Year of Faith. We have two events that help us appreciate the meaning of our faith:
The first is the election of our new Holy Father - Pope Francis. I will say more about his role next Sunday (Palm Sunday) when we hear Jesus say to Peter, "Strengthen your brothers."
The second event to help us appreciate our faith is right in our own parish: We are accompanying our candidates for the Easter Sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. This Sunday we have the final "scrutiny," that is the pre-baptismal exorcism. The word "exorcism" might scare some people, but it shouldn't. An exorcism is a solemn declaration that the power of Jesus is greater than that of the enemy - Satan and his hosts of demons.*
Here are words of this Sunday's scrutiny: "Free them from the slavery of Satan, the source of sin and death...Place them under the reign of your beloved Son." This prayer underscores that we are in spiritual combat - on one side is the slavery of Satan and on the other the rule of Jesus. The battle affects all levels: from the Vatican right down to our parish, our families - and most urgent, your heart and mine. We are in a spiritual war - and every moment we are either falling under Satan's power or turning to Christ.
Sometimes it seems we are fighting a losing battle. We see people slipping from the faith. We see young people giving in to the culture of death: alcohol and drug abuse; contraception, abortion and cohabitation. And the devil has powerful tools - new forms of pornography to attack men, women, young people and even children.
We are in a spiritual war. Satan wants to weaken us adults. Why? His ultimate target is our children and grandchildren. The devil goes after those who are innocent and defenseless.
We can see that in today's Gospel. It is about a case of adultery. Adultery harms adults, but its devastate children. We can understand why Israel had a "zero tolerance" policy against adultery.
But Jesus is not about policies; he is about people. He know that we all have in some way turned against God. All of us have come under Satan's power. And Jesus wants to free each one. He faces the accusers and his look causes each to examine his conscience. Then he speaks to the woman. Instead of condemnation, he offers a new beginning, "Go and from now on do not sin any more."
She must have experienced an incredible joy (like the joy of good confession), but also a huge challenge. How would she rebuild her life? Tradition places her at the foot of the cross. That's where you and I have to go. Jesus offers a new beginning - by way of the cross. As the Scrutiny prayer indicates: by the cross Jesus defeats Satan, the source of sin and death.
I would to like conclude with an exorcism prayer that you can use: the Breastplate of St. Patrick. By a nice coincidence this year the Fifth Sunday of Lent falls on March 17 - St. Patrick's Day. I am making his prayer available to you - the Breastplate - St. Patrick's armor against Satan. In the prayer he asks for "God's shield to protect me...from the snares of demons, from temptations and vices." Then he says:
Christ with me, Christ before me... Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
We are in a spiritual war. It sometimes seems like a losing battle, but did you notice that Isaiah speaks today about a "powerful army." That army is Jesus with his host of angels and saints. As we will experience dramatically in Holy Week, in Jesus' death and resurrection, we receive power - the Breastplate, the armor we need for spiritual combat. Take up the Breastplate, put on the armor of Christ - for your own salvation and for the sake of your children and grandchildren. Amen.
*Pope Francis wrote this about Satan:
"Jesus calls him the father of lies and the book of Wisdom says that sin entered the world through the envy of the devil for master work of God. His fruits are always destruction, division, hate and calumny. And in personal experience, I feel him every time I am tempted to do something that is not what God asks of me. I believe that the devil exists. Perhaps his greatest success in our times is to make us believe that he does not exist, that everything is worked out on a completely human level."From "Sobre El Cielo y La Tierra" - a dialogue between Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Cardinal Bergoglio (the translation is mine)
And in his first homily as pope: "When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: 'Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.' When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness."
From Archives (Year C homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):
From Misery to Joy (2010)
Neither Do I Condemn You (2007)
Filled With Joy (2004)
Misery and Mercy (2001)
Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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Parish Picture Album
(has slide shows of Archbishop Sartain and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers at the March Men's Conference)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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