Forty Days: Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, and we spend 40 days in Lent. We began this holy season of cleansing, sacrifice, and joy five days ago by getting our ashes. On Ash Wednesdays in New York City, where I attended seminary, we would spend all day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, marking ashes on people’s foreheads. Everyone came: the cabbies and the power brokers, office workers in smart business suits and tennis shoes, news anchors and opera stars from Times Square, street cleaners and Wall Street financiers, homeless folk and the Park Avenue elite. All stood shoulder to shoulder in line, patiently waiting to get a smudge of ashes under the great gothic arches of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. All alike confess the universal truth: I am not perfect, I will die someday, and I need God’s help. Now is the time to turn back to God. I gave a dollar to a homeless man yesterday at a red light on Park Presidio. Homeless people often see life with wonderfully simple clarity. He asked me if I was a reverend. I said, yes, sort of, that I was a Catholic priest. “I’m a Baptist,” he called out, “and I believe in God, because he is my savior.” I looked into his dancing blue eyes as the light turned green. “But don’t get me wrong,” he chuckled as I pulled away. “I backslide from time to time!” There is no one in this church that does not backslide, and God is here to push us back up the slide.
In today’s Gospel, our blessed Savior enters the wilderness of our sin and its consequences, a zone of death, to fight for us. It is a wilderness full of beasts and angels, the best and the worst of our human race. Jesus goes into the desert to rescue the beasts and transform them into angels. He is tempted by Satan, as we are tempted, in three ways: First, by pleasure. You are hungry, Satan points out, for this or that satisfaction. You can have that satisfaction just by asking for it; your Father in heaven would not deny you this simple pleasure. With Jesus, we reply: God’s word, and God’s will, is my bread, and my only pleasure. I will discipline my body so my soul can be filled. Keep your Lenten fast—the spiritual riches you will receive are worth the price. The Second Temptation is to having it my way. Throw yourself down—you have a right to do what you want, and someone will catch you. I saw a skateboarder the other day flying down the hill on Geary right through traffic—no brakes, completely unprotected—almost like a death wish. It was a sheer assertion of his will to do what he wants with his life. And we say in reply: my life is not my own, but I am a steward of the gift God has given me. Give alms, for in giving your life to God and others rather than throwing it away on your own will, you entrust it to God, who will keep it safe for you. And finally the third temptation, to power. By bending a knee to Satan, Jesus could have unlimited worldly power. By bending a knee to this culture, we could gain mastery over a dimension of it. But God calls us not to conform, but to reform, to go against the tide rather than assimilate to this world. The world, anyway, is passing away. SO in Lent we pray more and more deeply. We pray to God, not to Satan, and we dedicate ourselves to disciplined prayer.
Our Parish Mission next week will focus on Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant, and Jesus, the divine presence in that Ark. He is always within her. The closer we draw to Mary, the closer we draw to Jesus inside of her. There is no authentic devotion or life in Christ that ignores or disowns his Mother Mary.
Msgr. Arthur Calkins, a Vatican expert on Our Blessed Mother, will preach Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights at 7pm. We will expose the Blessed Sacrament after his talk, and conclude with benediction. A priest will be in the confessional during adoration. There is wonderful grace in simply coming to a mission, because it is God’s will that we do this during Lent. I hope you can come. Let us pray to Our Lady now in the words of Mother Teresa:
Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart,
so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate,
so full of love and humility,
that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life,
love Him as you loved Him,
and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.