Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prayers this Sunday: When he calls to Me, I will answer; I will rescue him and give him honour. Long life and contentment will be his.

Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son's death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

St. Peter Damian (1007-1072)
Maybe because he was orphaned and had been treated shabbily by one of his brothers, Peter Damian was very good to the poor. It was the ordinary thing for him to have a poor person or two with him at table and he liked to minister personally to their needs. Peter escaped poverty and the neglect of his own brother when his other brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took him under his wing. His brother sent him to good schools and Peter became a professor. Already in those days Peter was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, fasted rigorously and spent many hours in prayer. Soon, he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines of the reform of St. Romuald at Fonte Avellana. They lived two monks to a hermitage. Peter was so eager to pray and slept so little that he soon suffered from severe insomnia. He found he had to use some prudence in taking care of himself. When he was not praying, he studied the Bible. The abbot commanded that when he died Peter should succeed him. Abbot Peter founded five other hermitages. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a peacemaker or troubleshooter, between two abbeys in dispute or a cleric or government official in some disagreement with Rome. Finally, Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to wipe out simony (the buying of church offices), and encouraged his priests to observe celibacy and urged even the diocesan clergy to live together and maintain scheduled prayer and religious observance. He wished to restore primitive discipline among religious and priests, warning against needless travel, violations of poverty and too comfortable living. He even wrote to the bishop of Besancon, complaining that the canons there sat down when they were singing the psalms in the Divine Office. He wrote many letters. Some 170 are extant. We also have 53 of his sermons and seven lives, or biographies, that he wrote. He preferred examples and stories rather than theory in his writings. The liturgical offices he wrote are evidence of his talent as a stylist in Latin. He asked often to be allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and finally Alexander II consented. Peter was happy to become once again just a monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal legate. When returning from such an assignment in Ravenna, he was overcome by a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072. In 1828 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4.1~13)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry. The devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.' The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

On this first Sunday of Lent there is placed before us a remarkable Gospel scene. The all-holy God had become man and, immersed in our human condition, was being tempted to swerve from his divinely-appointed path. The temptation did not arise from disordered interior impulses as it usually does with us, but directly from satan. The Redeemer of man, though himself sinless, shared sinful man’s lot of being tempted! As we think of the vast ocean of human history, we also think of the vast sea of human temptation, of which any number of examples could be given. I once read of a girl of six who saw her family fall apart. After the divorce her father was gone. She lived with her mother in a poor flat where she could hear the rats eating their way in through the floorboards. In school she worked hard and did poorly. Because her parents were divorced, she felt like an outcast. ‘If there is a God,’ she said, ‘then why am I so different, why don’t I have a family?’ She was tempted against faith. On top of this, she developed a serious stomach illness, and had no money for doctors. Then, without any conscious faith, she got a prayer card and started a novena to St Therese of the Child Jesus. On the ninth day she was cured, and then she knew from personal experience that there was a God who cared. She grew up and now she is known to millions of viewers as the nun Mother Angelica, who has written numerous small books, and who most notably began the famous EWTN TV network to teach others about the God who loves and cares for us. Due to strokes and bad health she retired in 2001 to the seclusion of her monastery, but the programmes of her network are watched all over the world. The network continues to expand. Time Magazine once described Mother Angelica as "arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America." The point here is that she too shared in the common lot of being tempted. Due to her experience of suffering and evil she was tempted not to believe in God. By the power of grace she overcame the temptation and went on to a magnificent service of Christ and his Church.

Our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted, as we read in the Gospel (Luke 4:1-13). We could tend to think of our Lord as being like us in all things except in being tempted. No. He was like to us in all things except in having sinned. Never having been touched by original or personal sin — impossible for God the Son — his temptations could never have arisen from any inner disorder as is the case with us. However, as man he allowed himself to be tempted by Satan. Presumably Satan expended all his dark talent, all his long experience at lies and seduction, all his most subtle devices to trip Christ up, aiming perhaps at our Lord’s high and loving zeal for mankind. He perhaps could see that he had no chance of leading Christ into self-seeking. Perhaps his strategy was to insinuate more effective methods of commanding the allegiance of the world for his purposes. “Make it easy for them, all these people you dream of benefiting. If you do not, they will not follow you. In any case, do not overdo it. Your task need not crush you. Create food by miracles on these very stones. Perform displays and spectacles and in everything be magnificent. Especially, acknowledge me and I promise to give you the world.” Satan was tempting the Son of God to follow a path which was not that of his heavenly Father. These temptations would recur again and again, and they would come not only from Satan, but even from his dearest friends. When Peter tried to persuade our Lord to avoid the cross and death, our Lord called him Satan. Our Lord resisted absolutely the temptation to take any easy way, and also any temptation to give us, his disciples, the easy way. Precisely because he was tempted — perhaps mightily in view of the mighty task and sufferings ahead of him — he shows us the way. St Augustine writes that by being tempted, Christ shows us how to triumph over temptation. Lent is the holy season when we go into the desert with Jesus, praying, doing penance and uncovering the deceits into which we have fallen. Temptations are deceits: by giving in to the temptation we gradually convince ourselves that what we want is not wrong but right. Satan makes himself like an angel of light.

On this first Sunday of Lent, the example of Jesus provides us with an agenda for Lent. We must unmask temptations, be alert to them, resist them, and avoid them. They can lead to sin. Satan is smiling behind them. We must be very canny about temptations to sin, and never give any quarter to them, no matter how minor. It is an ambition that ought be growing during life and for this we must have the example of Jesus, and the gift of his grace won for us by his obedient sufferings. His example is given to us in the Gospels, and his grace is given to us in the Church’s Sacraments. During Lent let us enter wholeheartedly into this all-important program of life.

A second reflection concerning the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted by the devil for forty days." (Luke 4:1-13)

Christ’s work
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the inspired memory of the Old Testament, the liberation of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt was the mightiest of God’s works. As the first reading puts it, “The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 26:4-10). This pointed to what was to come, but which would be on a far grander scale. It would be a liberating act again, but of far greater significance for sinful man. The liberation would be from the slavery to sin. Both were mighty works, but the later work, the work of Christ, would have several special characteristics. One would be its cost to God. The Old Testament accounts of God liberating his enslaved people do not give the impression that it cost God greatly. Rather, they reveal directly his great compassion and overwhelming power. He was the greatest of saviours, his power showing itself in his mercy. But with Christ, what is directly revealed is God’s readiness to suffer indescribably and in this way to atone for the sins of man. God’s power is shown in a love that suffers personally. God’s mighty power was manifest in the extent of the sacrifice he himself made and what it cost him. In the Old Testament God’s mighty work was liberating his people from physical slavery. In the New, God’s mighty work was to suffer and to atone for the sin of mankind. It was to take away the sin of the world — it was the greatest work ever done in history.

But there is another aspect of this work which cost God so much. It was his contest with satan, which makes its first appearance right at the start of our Lord’s public ministry, as reported in the Gospel of today. In the former liberation from slavery, the Pharaoh was the oppressor and opponent of God’s plans. In the redemptive work of Christ, satan was the oppressor and the opponent, and satan makes his appearance in a way and at a scale he never did in the Old Testament. The Gospel of today places before us the two antagonists. satan tempted Christ repeatedly to swerve from the will of the Father, and each time he was repelled (Luke 4:1-13). Christ would be obedient unto death. Just as Pharaoh loaded the children of Israel with burdens and indignities, so satan poured burdens and indignities on Christ, the redeeming representative of man. And Christ accepted the burden for it was the burden of the sin of the world. Let us show in our lives the readiness to suffer with Christ for our own sins and the sins of others. Let us be ready to follow Christ in the work of atonement. Let us also manifest in our lives a vigorous fight against sin and satan, overcoming him by our daily obedience to God.

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