Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bowing Down (2013-02-17, Lent)

This is my homily for Sunday February 17, 2013 (Lent). I am a Catholic chaplain in Teaneck at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association and at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City. We celebrate Catholic Mass - during Fall and Spring semester - every Sunday Evening (5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) at the FDU University Interfaith Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck, NJ.

1st Sunday Lent, 17 February 2013  /  [Deuteronomy 26:4-10 | Psalm 91 | Romans 10:8-13 |  Luke 4:1-13]

[__01]       This is the Gospel of the temptations of Jesus in the desert, during which there are negotiations, bargains being offered by Satan. Sales, deals …

This is the deal. Satan does not simply give Jesus the kingdoms as a reward, as a standing ovation for his excellent performance in the desert, 40 days and 40 nights without food or water.

The evil spirit, Satan, would only surrender these kingdoms if Jesus were to submit the necessary paperwork – in the form of a bow or prayer.   

From Luke Chapter 4 à  The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory;  for it has been handed over to me,  and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

[  ]  Click here to accept all terms and conditions. This is the bow.

Jesus says, “No Deal.”

[__02]       St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, teaches that the devil – Satan – is manifest in several ways.

That is, we can “suspect the influence of an evil spirit if we were …”

·         In great turmoil about a situation

·         Always chasing after great and spectacular comfort, pleasure, profit

·         Tempted to cover up our offenses, unwilling to admit our sins, our wrongdoing before God or others.

·         Or .. always chasing after some extreme form of suffering à yes, Jesus was 40 days in the desert, following in the footsteps of Elijah who fasts for 40 days while on the run from King Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 19)_ …and Moses who fasts for 40 days on Sinai (twice – cf. Exodus 24:18; 34:28) , receiving the Commandments. 

·         The fasting of Jesus shows his connection to these prophets.  Our fast is less extreme … seeking a very extreme fast or sacrifice … may not be from a spirit of holiness, but a spirit of evil.

·         Also our Lenten fast / abstinence is meant to be a gathering with others– in the spirit of a communal fast with others who are also at prayer. Our fast is not a withdrawal or escape.

[__03]      The Catholic Church teaching is that the devil cannot act directly on our mind.[1] Our mind and soul are creations of God, the devil cannot enter there.

But, the devil can appear in the desert.

He is capable of making the water to the thirsty seem even more attractive or necessary; and, equally, the bread to the hungry.

Just as we could bow (prostrate ourselves) before an evil temptation, before something we know is wrong, the devil can also bow …

And bow, he does, making a sales pitch.

[__04]    The devil may sell us (making a sale) through spirits of DESPAIR, or GREED, or PRIDE, or JEALOUSY, or ENVY on …the idea that:

·         Insults should not be endured.
·         Imperfection should not be endured.

Isn’t the spirit of DESPAIR often easier to acquire (or maintain) than a spirit of PATIENCE?

Isn’t the spirit of GREED often easier to acquire (or maintain) than a spirit of SIMPLICITY?

Isn’t the spirit of PRIDE often easier to acquire (or maintain) than a spirit of HUMILITY?

(C.S. Lewis presents “pride”in 2 forms. The first form is one whereby I cannot find satisfaction in my own work/action… but rather must absolutely have the affirmation of others. This is one level of pride, but not the lesser of the two.

The more harmful form is when my pride makes me unable to receive any compliment, feedback, criticism from others.

The first pride is a desire for admiration; the 2nd pride is indifference).[2]

We are being “sold” presented these and other spirits as part of our acquisitions, our relationships, our emails, our texts…

It’s just part of the evil spirit’s UNLIMITED calling plan.

[__05]     The Bad News is that we can be tempted by

·         Friends, substances, parties, online or elsewhere

·         Pressure to produce academic work, to research… even to present work that is not ours

And, are we not most tempted not by actions that will cause us harm.. we are most tempted when we figure no one will find out.

[__06]     Who can resist such a sales pitch?

St. Teresa of Avila, a mystic and Carmelite from Spain  offers us a reminder of the Good News.

Our courage and strength under such circumstances   –   or sales pitches – comes not because we are strong but rather because we are humble.[3]

·         For example – is it the elite Ph.D. in political science who will resist corruption or bribery if she were elected to a government office?

·         Is it the super-intelligent engineer who can resists all forms of temptation, online, wireless, and otherwise?

Our strength is in our humility.

In the desert, Jesus is weakened, hungry, thirsty, but remains humble.

And, this is his final bow to us, his final bow to us on the cross, surrendering his life.

In humility  - alert to a need for God’s help – Jesus can resist the evil one who is always selling, always introducing himself.

God asks only that we bow down to him, to his well, his commands.

As we read in the Gospel, “him alone shall you serve.”


[1] Tanqueray, The Spiritual Life, page 115, article 221 “the devil’s strategy.”
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1944), “Part 3, Ch. 8 The Great Sin”, San Francisco: Harper, 2001. (p. 125)
[3] Tanqueray, The Spiritual Life, page 115 or thereabouts on the devil’s strategy.

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