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Bishop's Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2023

[St. Michael the Archangel Church, Kailua-Kona (Rite of Election); Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election)]

Winning big on a lottery would be very exciting, but it would not make a very engaging movie.  Now, finding a hidden treasure, such as in the Raiders of the Lost Ark or in the Lord of the Rings, that is much more dramatic!  One has to go through many trials and tribulations, perform many incredible feats, fight off countless enemies within oneself and without, and suffer many deprivations, all to win the great prize.  This is the stuff of good movies, good novels, and of life itself.  And we find that in the end, not only is the sought-after treasure found, but the person who finds it has grown in character, courage, and dedication.  The greater the struggle, the greater is the appreciation of the prize.

It was certainly the experience of Jesus as he sought to win the prize of our salvation.  He who made all creation by simply saying the word, could have won our salvation just as easily.  But for some reason, he decided it would be best for all of us if he first engaged in a titanic struggle with that ancient enemy who thwarted his plans early on in the Garden of Eden.  This was a life-long struggle, from the time a jealous tyrant sought to take his life as an infant, to the hand-to-hand combat he had with Satan during those forty day and forty nights in the desert.  For the rest of his life, he would contend with Satan, who could variously take the form of a serpent, a voice, scribes and Pharisees, and even a well-intentioned disciple who thought this should all be much less dramatic.

You may not realize it, catechumens, but on the night of the Easter Vigil, you will be admitted to the Garden of Eden, and your initiation will culminate in what even Adam and Eve never achieved because they were diverted by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  You, of course, have been tempted to eat that same fruit, as we all have, because we all want to be in-the-know, to be like gods, thinking we are smart enough to save ourselves by relying on our own road map of reality.  We think we can find the key to winning the lottery of life and be done with it.  Yet Jesus reminds us there is a treasure beyond all price, and to reach it, we must struggle against all manner of temptation.

On the night of the Easter Vigil, you will be allowed to eat the fruit of the tree of life.  That tree, of course, is the cross, on which Jesus heroically culminated his quest for our salvation.  Just when Satan thought he had won the battle definitively by putting God to death, he was shocked into oblivion when Jesus rose from the dead.  The fruit of that tree of life, of which you will partake, is none other than the very Person who hung from the tree, Jesus Christ himself!  You will eat and drink of the real, living Body and Blood of Christ, and you will live forever, as he promised.  But getting there is not so easy.  God wanted to guard that holy tree from anyone who would not properly appreciate it, so he set angels with flaming revolving swords to guard the gates of the Garden.  You will be able to get through the flames safely because first you will be soaked in the waters of Baptism, when you are immersed in the name of God himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  No lesser god will be allowed to go through those flames unharmed.  And you will be able to get through those revolving blades because in your Confirmation you will be anointed with the Holy Spirit, so that you will not be flesh that can be cut to pieces, but spirit that those revolving swords will propel toward that tree of life.

To prepare for that great adventure, the Church calls you to prayer, so that you may know that your own power could never win the prize, but that a higher power is anxious to guide you to it.  You will engage in fasting, so that you will be purified to know that we do not live on bread alone but on the living Word of God.  You will go through many temptations, and you will have to do in reality what you will state before you are baptized, that you renounce Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.  You will engage in almsgiving and in penance, because these are what build character in anyone who wishes to be admitted to the Garden of Eden and to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.

Once you have eaten of the fruit of the tree of life, you must constantly come back to be nourished by Jesus, because until your last breath, Satan will still pursue you, trying to deceive you and trip you up.  You will join the rest of us who are members of the Church in the dangerous but glorious quest, until we draw our last breath and climb the cross ourselves, so that we can be forever one with the fruit of the tree of life, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today, you are at the outskirts of the Garden of Eden, and your names will be enrolled as those who are ready to struggle, to suffer, to strive with all their might to breach its gates, having been first soaked in the saving waters and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Throughout your lives you will still be tempted, still struggle, and still suffer.  But then you will have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, and you will be convicted that every ounce of effort you can make will pay off with the hidden treasure that is the risen Jesus himself.