Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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March 10, 2019
[St. Joseph Church, Hilo (Rite of Election); Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election)]
It is Spring training time for baseball, and that means that the players are spending lots of time in the gym, strengthening their muscles, running to improve their speed, and working on the skills they will need to be the best baseball players they can be once the long season begins. They watch their diets and learn to think not as individuals but as members of a team. The same could be said of any sport. Practice, learning new skills, sharpening old ones, and preparing oneself can often be an ordeal, a time of deprivation and intense focusing on their ability to ultimately win games.
And so it is that the Church gives us this time of Spring training that we call Lent. It is a time to shed our spiritually flabbiness, to tone up, and to focus on our mission. It is a graced period of forty days in which we deprive ourselves of many things, not because they are bad in themselves, but so that we can gain a laser-sharp focus on what is most important. It should not surprise us then that God has provided this kind of training before. When the Israelites were freed by God from slavery in Egypt, they did not necessarily want to go. Wandering in the desert for forty years with all the difficulties we read about, was extremely difficult, but it was God’s way of training them and preparing them for the destiny that he had given them. And in today’s Gospel we see God’s beloved Son Jesus participating in his forty days of training, of fasting and prayer, so that he would be ready for the mission of saving us from our sins. Yet even he was tempted to cheat, to make things easy for himself, to eliminate the cross so that he could go straight for the victory. But Jesus was strong and knew his destiny, so he resisted these temptations. Yes, the devil left him for a time, only to return at the most critical moment in his life when he knew he would meet certain death unless he changed his tune and appeased those whom he had so upset by telling the truth. Yet because he was well trained, he was prepared to say to his heavenly Father – much to the distress of the great tempter – “Not my will but yours be done.”
You who are catechumens and who today will be elected to proceed to the saving sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, are entering the Catholic Church at what many would say is one of its low points in history. A few of its priests and bishops have committed the grave sin of abusing minors, and some bishops have dealt with such scandalous behavior in a way that could have put more young people at risk. Some Catholics are walking away from the Church, so angry and disgusted are they by this grave scandal. Yet you are offering yourselves to come in, because you have resisted the temptation to judge the whole Church by those who have prostituted it, and have decided instead to look at the many holy women and men who make it the beautiful Bride of Christ. It takes a great discipline to stay focused on this greater truth of the goodness and beauty of the Church when all around are amplifying its very real sins and saying that this beloved Body of Christ is nothing more than a fraud. Staying close to Jesus and disciplining yourselves to be the saints that Jesus wants us all to be is not easy, and there will be many temptations to go the other way. You novices are an inspiration to all of us who have been in the Church for ages, and you remind us that we, too, need to discipline ourselves against whatever sins may mar the face of the beloved Bride of Christ.
We can also be tempted in so many other ways, and at the Easter Vigil, before you are baptized, you will be asked to renounce Satan and all his empty promises and the rest of us will renew our commitment to do so as well. You have no idea what a daring and bold thing that is! Satan does not like to be renounced in any way. He ultimately wants us to bow down before him, just as he tempted Jesus to do. So to prepare ourselves to make that statement as honesty as we can, we must engage in this time of training called Lent. We are called to fast, as Jesus did, so that we may not be tempted as Adam and Eve were to keep grasping for more and more, when God provides us all we need if we obey him. Fasting can make us more grateful for what God has already given us and lessen our hunger for more and more and more. We are called to a deeper discipline of prayer, so that we will know that bowing down before any other god – the gods of sex, wealth and power, or even the god of self – is a dead end, while bowing down to the true and living God is life and joy. Almsgiving, sharing our resources of time, talent, and treasure with the poor is a discipline that can help us realize our goods and possessions, our positions of power or fame, do not give us dominion over the world, but only making ourselves servants of others will make us great.