HOMILY THEME: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


HOMILY: Luke 4:1-13

“John Smith was the only Baptist to move into a predominantly Catholic suburban Florida neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside grilling a big juicy steak.

Meanwhile, all of his neighbors, observing the Lenten fast, were begrudgingly eating fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent. On the last Friday of Lent, the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John, since he was tempting them sorely to eat meat on the Fridays of Lent and they just couldn’t take it anymore. They decided to try to convert John to Catholicism.

“Approaching him on the subject, he was so delighted with their invitation that he decided to take them up on it. Escorting him to the local parish, the priest sprinkled water over him and declared solemnly, ‘You were born a Baptist; you were raised a Baptist; and now you are a Catholic.’ The men accompanying John were indeed relieved that their Lenten temptation had finally been removed.

“The next year’s Lenten season arrived, and on the first Friday of Lent, just at suppertime, when the whole neighborhood was settling in for its fish supper, the smell of juicy, grilled steak wafted through the neighborhood. The men could not believe their noses! What was going on? Rounding up a posse, the men paid John a visit to see if, perhaps, he’d forgotten that it was the first Friday of Lent and for Catholics a day of abstinence from meat. Just as the group arrived, John was observed standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. Sprinkling the sizzling steak, he solemnly pronounced, ‘You were born a cow; you were raised a cow; and now you are a fish.’” (Original source unknown)

It’s Lent once again, a time to face squarely the humbling truth that temptation hounds us all our lives. The object and focus may shift from younger years as we find ourselves now free from the captivity of one temptation but held fast by another. Because we’re human, we must admit the truth that sin is most often pleasurable and provides an immediate reward, whereas virtue is just hard work and most often yields its reward farther down the road than we can see.

Some of us, I suppose, are not so unlike the fictional John Smith who, with a splash of rationalization, can transform sin into something far less noxious. Yet, while the story provides humor because we all recognize the struggle within us to do what is right and good, so does the tale trouble us because we’re forever in the struggle, final freedom from temptation coming to us one second after we’ve taken our last breath. The hope, though, comes from Jesus who is with us in our struggle and who appreciates the fact that, while we may desire wholeheartedly to do the right, yet something within steers us to the left.
As today’s gospel passage reminds us, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

(Luke 4:1-2) Jesus knows well our struggles and is with us both when we stand strong against temptation and when we fall before it. Most importantly, God’s love is with us no less when we lie a humbled heap by the roadside, temptation having tripped us up once again. Indeed, at all times we are no farther from God than we wish to be, even when we’ve fallen before temptation. Because we’re human, we’ll fall with regularity; the real sin is not in the falling but in refusing to accept the hand of God offered to us every single time we do fall.

As this Lent begins, may we stand at peace before temptation because Jesus knows how exhausting is the struggle and promises to be our strong companion even when, especially when, we fall. May we stand at peace before temptation because God is only as far from us as we wish him to be. And he’s always—always—closer than the tempter.

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