Sunday, March 13, 2011

HOMILY - First Sunday in Lent (Year A)

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Jesus is telling us that we must listen to what he is teaching us – we must hear it and obey it – and we must act, we must put into action in our life what he says. If we do this, if we ground ourselves on his words by loving and serving God and others, then we will be like a house built on rock – unwavering in the midst of any challenge or temptation. It is like that skilled athlete training continuously, single-minded, undistracted and completely focused on achieving her athletic goal. For us as Catholics, we must also train continuously, single-minded, undistracted and completely focused on achieving on our goal – Heaven.
I can only image that it was with just such discipline that Jesus withstood the three temptations of the devil in today’s Gospel. And it is just such discipline that will allow us to withstand the temptations in our life that distract us from our goal of obtaining eternal happiness and peace. Jesus was so grounded in who he was and what his purpose was that he was not going to be easily distracted by the devil. We must be just as disciplined in what we say and by what we do.
Our Lenten journey is an opportunity to re-focus and re-ground our lives in this discipline of our faith. And it is at the end of this Lenten journey – the Easter celebration – that we find both our inspiration and model: Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered, died and rose for us, so that we might be in the right relationship with our God and that we might experience Heaven. It was Jesus, as St. Paul reminds us in today’s second reading, “through one righteous act,” freed us and gave us life; through the obedience of Jesus, we will be made righteous. It was Jesus’ complete love for, trust in and obedience to God the Father that is also an inspiration and a model for how we are to live our lives – lives of love, trust and obedience to God our Father.
When we place our unconditional love and complete trust in God and when we are fully obedient to God’s plan for us, we are liberated. Liberated from power of sin. While we may still experience temptation, like Jesus, we will be so grounded in who we are and what we are called to do, that we will resist whatever temptation to sin is placed before us.
When we place our unconditional love and complete trust in God and when we are fully obedient to God’s plan for us, we also are able to move beyond our own wants and consider the needs of others and serve them. This is an important part of our faith life – that we not only avoid sin, but that we actively love. Certainly this means clothing the naked, feeding the poor, giving shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick. This also means that we are called to promote economic justice.
I share this point, because it is timely and relevant as our state legislature debates the elimination of collective bargaining.
In our Catholic tradition, justice places the good of the person at the center of all economic activities. It stresses that the economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy. It challenges society to measure the moral effectiveness of our economic practices by how well they strengthen families and provide for the poor and vulnerable. Our Church’s teaching on justice has also long recognized that all people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, to organize and join unions or other associations, and to engage in collective bargaining.
This doctrine of the Church promotes mutual partnerships where both the needs of labor and the needs of management are freely and openly acknowledged and addressed. It challenges both unions and management to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities.
I share NOT because I am advocating for one side or another on any particular piece of legislative. However, I do share this teaching with you as an encouragement to engage in this debate honestly with these principals in mind. And, like everything in our life, if we are grounded in the teachings of Jesus and his Church, we will be disciplined to resist the temptation to think selfishly and we will be able to consider how our words and actions can help those in need. This is what we are called to do.
The author Mary Birmingham writes that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, which was read in today’s first reading, is not an exercise in despair, but rather a reflection of hope: hope in the God of mercy and compassion. In our human weakness, we will not always be as strong in the face of temptation – as Jesus was, we may be more like Adam and Eve. And we may not be as charitable to the needs of others as we are called to be. We will be disobedient and sin. But the great joy of our faith is that our God is full of mercy and compassion. And, so we pray, as we begin our Lenten journey: “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”