Freedom from False Gods

(Homily for Second Sunday of Lent, Year C)

Bottom line: It is not too late to make this the best Lent ever: Even a small sacrifice can give God an entry point to free us from false gods.

The season of Lent brings to mind a fond memory of my mom. At the beginning of Lent, I went to Camano for my weekly visit to her and my brother, Louie. On the way I stopped at a bakery to buy some of her favorite pastries. After the regular greeting, I showed her the pastries. They were layered, with semi-sweet raspberry jam and chocolate. Mom looked at them and after a moment's silence, she said. "It's Lent. I gave up pastries for Lent."

"That's OK," I said. "Louie and I will eat them. But one of the Hispanic ladies works at Seattle Chocolates. She sent some for you." Maybe you have tasted Seattle Chocolates - they are the best chocolates on the planet. My mom looked and after another pause, said, "I gave up candy too."

You know, if my mom - who was almost eighty years old at the time - could give up pastries and chocolate, what about us? This is the Second Sunday of Lent. It is not too late to make this the best Lent ever. Today we hear Moses and Elijah speaking to Jesus about his "exodus" - what would happen in Jerusalem: Namely, his suffering, death and resurrection. There's no resurrection without suffering and death. Lent reminds us that we have to die to self, to base desires, in order to live for God. To speak plainly, we have to embrace the cross.

St. Paul tells us today that, sadly, some former Christians have become "enemies of the cross." Instead of serving God, he says, "Their God is their stomach." What does St. Paul mean by that? How can food become an idol, a false god?

Let me try to explain. God created the earth to produce food - in abundance. Food has two purposes: The first - and most obvious - is to nourish our bodies, to keep them healthy so that we can do the tasks God wants. The second purpose is to create bonds between people. Notice how often Jesus shared meals: with Zacchaeus and Matthew the tax collectors, with Pharisees and public sinners - and above all the Supper with his disciples the night before his death. A lot more happened at those meals than simple nourishment. Like Jesus, we should share - and enjoy - meals with family, friends and fellow parishioners. God uses food for important purposes.

At the same time, we can misuse food, make it into a false god. That's what St. Paul refers to when he says some have become enemies of the cross - "their god is their stomach." Rather than eating to live, they live to eat. Here are some signs that food has become a false god:

  --I plan my day around food.
  --I get irritated if I don't get the food I want, when I want it.
  --I insist on food being prepared "just right."
  --I never experience hunger because I am always eating junk food.
  --Meanwhile, fruit and vegetables spoil in the fridge - because I avoid them.
  --I choose fast food over a family meal.
  --I dive into food so quickly that I don't thank God by saying grace.  And...
  --Instead of enjoying the meal I am eating, I am thinking next meal!

These are signs that food has become an idol - and that I am becoming one of those sad people: "Their god is their stomach." From the list of signs you can see that the sin of gluttony involves more than overeating. Gluttony happens when we make food the center, rather than God. Glutton is idolatry - making food into a false god.*

During Lent God wants to free us from false gods - from all forms of idolatry. If we put God first, other things find their proper place. That includes food. Fasting can help us find the right balance. Giving up some special treat - like my mom giving up pastries and candy - that can help recover the true purpose of God's gift of food.

Lent can help one achieve balance and perspective. You notice that Jesus took his disciples up a mountain. From a mountain top, a person gets an expansive view.

One thing that perspective will show is how our eating habits fit with everything else. It is a question of balance. I don't want anyone here to obsess about food - to go on a guilt trip over enjoying a Big Mac. Go ahead and do it from time to time. It's no sin - it can be a good thing in itself, especially if it's part of a day with the grandkids. But make sure you put God first - and you will find the right balance. There is a time to fast and a time to feast: A time to give your body good nourishment and to enjoy a delicious meal with family, friends, parishioners.

And don't worry so much about your outward appearance. Our bodies don't come with a hundred year warranty. St. Paul assures us God will change our lowly body to conform with Jesus' glorified body. (When that happens, I personally hope to get muscles and a full head of hair like some the young guys here - but that's another story.) That will only happen, however, if we put God first. God can hardly help us if we belong to a false god. Please don't put your stomach ahead of your eternal soul.

I hope my mom's example helps. She loved good food, especially when enjoyed in a family setting. But she also knew a time for fasting. She knew that if we are going to climb God's mountain, we need to leave a few things down below. We cannot take false gods with us. It's not too late to make this the best Lent ever. Even a small sacrifice - embraced with love and good humor - can give God an entry point. He will do the rest. He will free us from false gods and transform us according to the image of his Son. By the cross - and only by the cross - do we come to the resurrection.


*As C. S. Lewis pointed out, the devil uses gluttony to set us up for other attacks: sloth, lust, anger, greed, etc.

Intercessions for Second Sunday of Lent (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):

First Things: Children (2016)
Home of the Homesick (2013)
Freedom from False Gods (2010)
Chosen (2007)
They Spoke of His Exodus (2004)
Voice from the Earthquake (2001)
Enemies of the Cross (1998)

Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")

2016: First Things: Children
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 2
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2
2013: Home of the Homesick
2012: The Convenant with Noah Today
2011: Sons of Abraham
2010: Freedom from False Gods
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Visit of Fr. Peter West
2007: Chosen
2006: Trust
2005: A Confrontation with Evil
2004: They Spoke of His Exodus
2003: Exposing a Modern Myth
2002: The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection
2001: Voice from the Earthquake
2000: A Million Dollars for Your TV
1999: God or Gods of Culture?
1998: Enemies of the Cross

Homily for Transfiguration 2006: The Son of Man
..........2000: What Lies Beneath

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