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Bishop's Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

February 18, 2024

[Immaculate Conception Church, Lihue (Rite of Election); St. Stephen Diocesan Center, Kaneohe (Mass for Deacon Retreat); Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Rite of Election)]

Rainbows are a very common sight here in Hawaii, and even though common, we never tire of seeing them.  Our University of Hawaii’s sports teams are named the Rainbow Warriors, and we see the rainbow on our license plates.  It is a beautiful gift of God, and as we heard in the reading from Genesis, was given to us by God as a sign of his covenant that he would never again destroy the whole world by flooding.  (In fact, he never did destroy the world, only purified it and renewed it.)  But the rainbow requires two things for us to see it:  sun and rain.  Only when these two seemingly opposite natural phenomena occur together do we see the beautiful bow that God created.

I believe it is the rainbow that can be a symbol of Lent for us, a symbol of discernment that combines both rain and sunshine.  We might say that Lent reminds us that most things in life are not black and white, and that we need to learn discernment to see the will of God for our lives.

Mark’s Gospel, which is primarily featured this year in our liturgies, is very brief and succinct, reminding us that at the beginning of his public ministry, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be “tempted by Satan.  He was among the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  Here we see the rain and the sunshine – the beasts and the angels -- mingled together so that even Jesus, the Son of God, could be purified in his vision and in his discernment as a human being,  As this temptation scene is much more detailed in the other Gospels, we know that Satan tempted Jesus by offering something that appeared to be good, but that in fact would turn him away from his heavenly Father.  How could bread be bad for a man who had fasted already for forty days?  And Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread.  But he had a clear enough vision to know that this would reduce him to be a self-serving magician. How could trusting in God be wrong?  Yet Jesus knew that snapping his fingers at God to save him from falling would be to completely disrespect God by acting as if God must obey us.  Ruling over the whole world is indeed what Jesus came to do, so how could it be wrong for him to want to do so at that moment?  He had the vision to see the difference between ruling with power and ruling in service.  In resisting his temptations, Jesus was able to keep that tension between the wild beasts and the angels, between the rain and the sun, which is so characteristic of God’s covenant of love with us.

During this Lenten season, the Spirit drives all of us – those who are preparing for the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, as well as those of us who often take these wondrous signs of God’s covenant with us for granted  -- into the desert to wrestle with the light and darkness, with sin and life, with wild beasts and angels, so that we can better see what God wants us to do in life.  Sometimes we are called to be discerning because what seems to be good can, in fact, lead to our destruction; and sometimes we need to understand that not all that seems bad is in fact evil.

For example, we might think of yelling at others as bad.  And it is, if we are simply asserting power or treating them with contempt.  But I think of the father yelling at his three-year-old daughter that she must never again play with the pretty flames on the stove, because he knew this was message that she must understand clearly and definitively for her own welfare.  Jesus, too, taught with much kindness, but when he discerned it was necessary to break through a hard head or a harder heart, he was not above raising his voice.  This was no sin, but an act of love.  I think of a man giving an enormous amount of time to volunteer for many services in the Church, which seems to be a good thing.  But if he at the same time neglects his family, he may have to ask if he is holding these values in their proper tension. I think of a woman who is always devout and prayerful, which is a good thing.  But if that leads her to be unduly judgmental of others, she has not discerned the proper tension between prayer and the fruits of prayer.

Lent is a time for us to wrestle with the tension in our lives, to discern whether we pay more attention to the wild beasts or to the angels; whether we always see the world as rainy or always see it in sunshine.  This season of refinement, of repentance, and of prayer is meant to help us see more clearly the beauty that God shows us, even believing that death and life are not incompatible, as we celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  After all, at the end of these forty days in the desert that we call Lent, we will witness many of our brothers and sisters going down into the waters of Baptism and rising from them to see the Light of the risen Christ shining with the brilliance of a rainbow, a sign of God’s reconciling  and saving love.