Last week I talked to you about what I considered to be the first temptation of Lent: to not enter the desert at all. During Lent we are supposed to be led by the Spirit into a time of retreat, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving… but it’s easier to let all that pass us by and to not seriously invest ourselves in this sacred time. Hopefully over this past week you have tried to avoid that temptation and have entered the desert.
The second temptation that you might now face is despair. Oftentimes the sinfulness that we know exists in our lives is not simple, one time mistakes that we made. By the time we are adults we are wrestling with behaviors that have been knowingly or unknowingly reinforced in ourselves over many, many years. Or, on the other hand, even small changes like realizing a need to grow in some area is hard when our routine and habits are so well established and our time and energy is so limited. And so it becomes a temptation to despair: that who we are can’t be changed in one Lent, or that something that is so comparatively insignificant like prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can’t affect the real and dramatic change in our lives that we want.
But listen to our scriptures today. In the first reading God asks Abram to leave his father’s house to go to a new land. A difficult thing, for sure, but a small thing compared to what God says He Himself will do: I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great. In the second reading we are encouraged to bear our share of hardship, but compare that to what God Himself will do: save us and bring us to a holy life of His own design, with death destroyed and life and immortality. In the Gospel Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a hiking trip to go up a high mountain, but compare that to what God Himself did: revealed Christ in all his glory and claimed by God as His beloved Son, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
The temptation to despair is rooted in a lie, the lie that we must change ourselves by our own effort and God will only sit back to watch what we do and to judge what we are in the end. If that was true then we should despair. But it’s not true. It’s not the scriptures. It’s true that we are expected to respond to God and to make hard, serious effort to carry out what He asks. But the wonder and glory of being transformed in the image of Christ, of having that holy life filled with immortality and life… so much of that is God’s gift.
Odds are this Lent, if you go out into the desert, you will see some of the disconnect between what you are and what you are supposed to be. When that happens, don’t despair. Christ says to you, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.