YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Matthew 4:1-2)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Matthew 4:1-11
“Ashlyn Blocker’s parents and kindergarten teachers all describe her the same way: fearless. So they nervously watch her plunge full-tilt into a childhood deprived of natural alarms. In the school cafeteria, teachers put ice in 5-year-old Ashlyn’s chili. If her lunch is scalding hot, she’ll gulp it down anyway. On the playground, a teacher’s aide watches Ashlyn from within 15 feet, keeping her off the jungle gym and giving chase when she runs. If she takes a hard fall, Ashlyn won’t cry.
Ashlyn is among a tiny number of people in the world known to have a rare genetic disorder that makes her unable to feel pain. ‘Some people would say that’s a good thing. But no, it’s not,’ says Tara Blocker, Ashlyn’s mother. ‘Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.’” (Associated Press)
Tears are healthy, and so it pain. As Ashlyn’s mother states so strongly, “Pain’s there for a reason.
It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.” And if this is true for physical pain, so is it true for the pain that originates in the soul. For us Christians who struggle with the temptations that entice us to leave the path of holiness, it’s the pain of a guilty conscience that protects us from what is spiritually dangerous. It’s the pain (and the blessing) of a guilty conscience that attempts to keep us single-hearted in our desire for God. When our hearts become divided, the soul’s anguish finds expression in symptoms emotional and even physical. Who of us has not had the experience of a stress-induced headache or upset stomach following upon an interaction where we caused pain to another, when the charity we profess has not been charity shown? And who of us has not felt immediate release from that physical and emotional pain when, responding to the soul’s distress, we’ve righted a wrong?
In the gospel passage we hear today at a new Lent’s beginning, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Matthew 4:1-2) As the story unfolds, Satan three times attempts to derail Jesus, enticing him to leave the path destined for him by his Heavenly Father. While Jesus successfully avoids the devilish wiles, after forty days and nights he’s exhausted and hungry.
What caught my eye anew when reading this gospel passage lay in the fact that it was the Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit, who led Jesus into the desert that God’s Son might experience human temptation, that troubling, anxiety-producing, guilt-provoking wrench of the soul that became part of the human legacy with the bite of an apple in Eden’s garden. While Jesus did not fall prey to any of the temptations offered him, we quickly admit that we often do, and we know so by the soul’s distress, the pain that sears us when our hearts become divided from the God-chosen path. We know, though, that one can regain the right road just as quickly as one takes a divergent path. And more than that, the pain we experience in walking in the wrong direction, of sauntering away from God, teaches us that it’s bad for us to leave the right path.
As Ashlyn Blocker’s mom asserted, “Pain’s there for a reason. It lets you know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.” When we respond to our soul’s pain and return to God, not only have we regained the right road, but we’re just a bit wiser than we were before, for pain is an exquisite teacher. Or, in the words of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” Indeed, battling temptation is an opportunity to grow stronger.
Lent is that yearly season when we Christians give ourselves to a deeper examination of our relationship with God, with self and with neighbor. It’s the time of year when we look more closely to the health of our souls, attending to what causes pain. And in this examination, we may discover that, indeed, our souls are wounded, hurting because our hearts have become divided, suffering the pain of separation from God who leads us ever homeward.