Bible Reading for the First Sunday of Lent: Luke 4: 1-13 Two Wolves Fighting
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - March 10, 2019 - 12:00am

If I were to ask you:  “Are you a saint or a liar?”  Chances are you will answer, “None of the above.” 

 

But if you say that you lead a perfect life, no vice no sin, no mistakes, no backsliding, not even an inclination to stray from the straight and narrow path of virtue, you must be one or the other – liar or saint.

Almost all of us are willing to agree that we’re not ready to be canonized.  Even a saint would never claim to be perfect.  And most of us will admit that we have given in to temptations every now and then.

The world in which we live is surrounded by attractions to follow a path leading away from the kingdom of God.  There are all sorts of worldly pleasures, which can easily be ours, if we want them. 

Anyone can be tempted to take a few extra drinks to drown a problem.  Prohibited drugs are readily available to transport us to a fantasy world, where we can escape from our harsh realities. In today’s culture, the attraction of sensual and sexual pleasure is always present.  It is much easier to give in to the temptations of the world than to keep sight of the rewards of the kingdom of heaven. 

Someone came to a priest and confessed, “Father, I had impure thoughts.”  The priest asked, “Did you entertain them them?”  “No, Father.  They entertained me!”

The novel, “Ultimate Prizes” written by Susan Howatch tells of a 40-year-old Anglican clergyman named Neville Aysgarth. Neville has already won the prizes of life that most people strive unsuccessfully all their lives to win. 

He has a loving wife, five lovely children, the respect of friends and associates, and a bright future in the church.

In spite of these prizes, however, Neville is discontented; something is missing. He should be happy, but he isn’t. In fact, Neville is downright bored with life.

Then one day Neville meets a wealthy young woman. The experience stirs up in him all the excitement that is missing from his life. But instead of recognizing the situation for what it is – a temptation – Neville denies the obvious.

Soon the temptation turns into obsession. And only when Neville’s obsession carries him to the brink of disaster and despair, that finally, he decides to seek spiritual counselling from an old monk named Aidan.

It becomes Aidan’s task to help Neville come to grips with his obsession – and the destructive behavior that is beginning to flow from it. It becomes Aidan’s burden to help Neville make the free, conscious decision to serve God, and his brothers and sisters.

All of us can relate to that story.  It is one that we all recognize.  It is the story of every person’s quest for the ultimate prize.  It is the story of every person’s quest to make the free decision to serve God, and our brothers and sisters.  It is the story of every person’s quest for eternal life – the life that Jesus came to bring us. 

“I came,” said Jesus, “so that [you] might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Almost everything we experience in daily life seems to tell us that we aren’t worth much without money or material possessions, or fame or influence. Competition is the name of the game.

That means forgetting everything else and devoting our energies to acquiring more wealth, more power.

In today’s Gospel, when invited to satisfy his physical hunger by turning stones into bread, Jesus cited the warning of Deuteronomy; that is – one does not live by bread alone.

He refused the offer of worldly riches and power in exchange for worshiping the devil.  He cited the same scripture, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; Him alone shall you adore.” 

He rejected the temptation to presumption and pride by quoting Deuteronomy again: “You shall not put the Lord, your God to the test.”

The problem is that – we do not understand the ultimate reason for the boredom and incompleteness that we feel.  We do not understand that these things are really the human soul crying out for purpose in life – the purpose for which God created us.

In other words, we do not understand that – what the human soul is crying out for is the fullness of life that Jesus came into the world to bring us.  And because we do not understand this, we try to satisfy spiritual hunger and the spiritual thirst that we feel in the depths of our soul with material food and material drink, with earthly pleasures and comfort. They keep us occupied. They keep us from remembering that which is troubling us.

How can we answer the temptations to pleasure, to wealth and power, or to pride and presumption, as Jesus did in the story of the Temptation in the Desert?

Left to ourselves, we may not be strong enough to turn our backs on selfish desires, the lure of money and power, the arrogance of pride.

But we are not alone.  The Holy Spirit is within us and, as St. Paul reminds us, no one who truly believes in Jesus will be put to shame. 

We received the grace of this Spirit in Baptism, had it strengthened for us in Confirmation, and nourished each time we partake of the Eucharist.  This Spirit is with us, helping us to resist the attractions, which would lead us away from the life of love Jesus taught.

The Season of Lent is a time to look into our lives and ask ourselves how well we are doing in our quest to make the free, conscious decision to serve God, and our brothers and sisters.

This is the message contained in today’s reading, especially the Gospel.  Like Jesus, we must reject the temptation to serve ourselves.  Like Jesus, we must make the ultimate decision to choose the ultimate prize of life: the decision to serve God, and our brothers and sisters.

Confident of this divine assistance, we can have the courage to be different, despite condescending smiles from friends, and even real hardships which may confront us.  We can live our lives as we know in our hearts we should.  Rejecting the deceptive values of the world, we can follow the teachings of Jesus.

So Lent is a time to re-examine our Life’s direction.   Maybe it means giving up the “first fruits of our labor” so that others may live.  Maybe it means reading the social teachings of the Church, to sharpen our sensitivities to others’ needs.

Maybe it means getting involved in some social actions or services.  Maybe it means helping others, who seek to deepen their Catholic faith.  Maybe it means working for clean and honest election.

Maybe it means deepening our prayer life and devotion to the Sacraments.  Maybe it means growing more intensely in a life guided by the Spirit.

Whatever might sharpen a Gospel perspective on our use of personal power, and help us to be grateful for the blessings we have received from God is not only a good personal penance, but it will also be a deeper sharing in the mystery of Jesus’ gift to us in the Eucharist. 

Jesus lays down his life for us here and we are to go forth and lay down our lives for one another. All we have to do is put our trust in the Lord and accept Christ’s invitation to enter with him into his father’s eternal kingdom of love.   

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My child, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.  One is Evil – it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good – it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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