Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent – February 26, 2012 by Father Sretenovic
This is a good time to maybe be watching and praying, especially if you have not to this point been in the habit of going to First Friday/First Saturday, maybe making a holy hour. You don’t have to sign up at all, but it is an especially good time to spend this time alone with Christ and to give Him solace. You know, when you go to First Friday/First Saturday, think about this gospel today in which Our Lord was comforted by the angels after being tempted. It was a very difficult experience. And even though He is God, he suffered very much just having to deal with the devil’s presence right in front of Him. Think about all that He suffered for us. And what you do is when you come before the Blessed Sacrament, really more than anything this Lent you wanting not so much to make reparation for your sins, but to give Our Lord comfort, to give Him consolation, to forget yourself in the time in which you come here. That time is not for us. It’s for Him, for us to give to Him. So, if we are going to make reparation, make it for those who do not love, who do not adore, as the Archangel, St. Michael said to the three children of Fatima. So at this time we should be really anxious for any moments we can get before the Blessed Sacrament. We should long for that time. But a lot of times because we are so introspective, because we’re focusing so much on our lives we forget that we’re just meant to love Him, and just really to be in His presence, and recognize that that is supposed to be a foretaste of heaven. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be a foretaste of what we are going to do in heaven. So, if we don’t like it now, then judgment’s probably not going to go too well for us. (Father smiling) So we’d better start loving Him at this time.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
We are now in Lent proper. We’ve had a few days to get ourselves going, a few days to get ourselves prepared to enter into Lenten sacrifices. Ash Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday were added in order to make up for those Sundays in which we are not fasting. So these days should have been for us maybe to kind of get ourselves focused on our sacrifices. Maybe one thing that we can do this Lent is to have a specific menu for ourselves every day. Some of you maybe already do this, but given that even though the heart of Lent is not the temporal or the sacrifices of food, it is a necessary part. And in order to insure that we will keep that, it is important to have something in place already. If we have something in place or something to fall back upon, so that we can say, Okay, this is what I’m supposed to be having now. — so that we are not tempted so much to have something else. When there’s a void there, then we may think to ourselves, Oh, well, maybe it’s not such a big deal. You know, I can’t find anything else right now, I can’t think of anything else. I’ll just have this, what I was going to give up. So it’s one way as a safeguard maybe for ourselves. So, have a weekly menu, something very simple to follow.
Remember to be generous. It is only six weeks long, Lent. We already have eight weeks into this year. It’s very short. Remember that this is the one time of the year, given how little we actually tend to do the rest of the year in terms of sacrifices, this is the one time in which we can do more. And we’re supposed to be focused on doing more so we shouldn’t be — just like with when we come before the Blessed Sacrament, we’re supposed to be keeping our focus on Christ. We don’t want to focus on how we’re feeling at the moment or whether or not we think of getting anything out of this. Once we make the sacrifice, we should stick to it. And a part of that sacrifice is not feeling anything when we do it. That’s the act of faith that we make that, in fact — it’s an act of the will that is independent of where we are in a particular moment, whether consolation, desolation of spirit or somewhere in between. It matters not. The point is to make the sacrifice, to make the commitment and, then, to follow through. If you do that for the 40 days, there is plenty of penance in terms of reparation that you will have made for past sins, and will also have opened your soul to do much more. It will expand our souls to have more of the grace of Our Lord to enter in.
So, remember, this season is going to go by so quickly that now is really the time in which if at all possible we want to be focused on everything possible that we can do — not too much, not to take on more than we can, but as much as we can we should. This time is so precious and is so short. We will know in eternity just how short it was, and we will know as we are dying how much use we have made and how little use we have made of this time. This is really a time to be merciful to ourselves, and that mercy is in doing penance.
By the Lenten sacrifice, we seek for at least two things. Again, one, as I was mentioning, is to make payment for the temporal punishment due to our sins. That’s the first one we tend to think of. But the other one also is that we are trying to be conformed to Christ crucified. We are trying in this time to put on the mind of Christ, to be like Him, to make reparation with Him certainly, but to be conformed to the image and likeness of Our Lord, who every day had the cross before His eyes. So, we want our whole way of thinking to be changed, so that we can answer the devil when he comes. Remember the devil tried to use scriptures against Christ and Our Lord uses scriptures right back. His conversation with the devil was very much unlike that of Adam and Eve. Eve conversed with the devil, was in a certain sense familiar with him. And Our Lord was absolutely opposed at every moment.
We need to recognize that when we think about being conformed to the image and likeness of Our Lord, think about, discern why He did what He did today. Why did Jesus Christ allow Himself to be taken by force by the devil. When it says that the devil led him somewhere, he didn’t just lead Him by the hand. He took Him by force, like pushed him. Okay? The devil doesn’t do anything nicely. So God allowed Himself to be manhandled by Satan. Why? To give us an example, to obtain for us the grace to be able when, during Lent if we are faithful, remember just how the devil focused his eyes on Christ to say — he didn’t know who He was yet — but he said, I’m going to find out. I’m going to find a little bit more who this is, because He has not sinned to this point and he must be very special. But he did not know that it was God Himself until the crucifixion. That was hidden from him until then, until the moment when Christ died. But before that, he’s trying to figure this out. So when Our Lord is tempted, He is doing it specifically to give us an example that when we are just, if we take up the Lenten penances the way that He did for the forty days, the devil is going to take an interest, and he’s going to attack us vehemently at the opportune moment. He’s not going to just do it once, he’s not going to just do it twice, at least three times if not more, many times.
Sometimes we tend to get discouraged when, in fact, let’s say for instance we have succeeded once, but all of a sudden he comes back again. And then we think, Did we fail? What happened. I thought that I got over this already. Nope. He comes right back. The point there is that the devil does not give up. So just as he does not give up, we must be vigilant. We can never sleep. God allowed Himself in fasting for forty days to get hungry, to be tired, and then it was that the devil decided that that was the perfect time. So he is going to do the same for us, but only if we even get to that point of honesty with Our Lord, and also this fidelity to our Lenten practices. Otherwise, the devil’s not going to pay any mind to us, he doesn’t care. If we’re not doing what we have to do, he already has us anyway. So he’s going to say, All he has to do is keep us lukewarm and he knows that he can get us in the last battle before we die. So it’s only if we are truly committed to taking up the cross that he will say, Okay, let’s see.
When we think of this aspect of Lent, not just to purify ourselves from our sins and to make reparation, when we think about putting on the image and likeness of Christ, see the way that He responded. See the absolute vehemence against sin, the vehemence against any suggestion that would be in any way contrary to the Will of God. So sometimes we tend to rationalize, we tend to think, Is this a sin, is it not a sin? We can know deep down. When we have to ask that question, we already know it’s probably not the will of God. Whether or not it’s a sin, if we have to ask the question, the answer normally is no.
In fact, it was in this regard that Dom Guéranger says concerning, actually, the epistle but also goes hand in hand with the gospel, says “The words of the apostle give us a very different idea of the Christian life from that which our own tepidity suggests. We dare not say that he is wrong..” Christ, as well, “…and we are right; but we put a strange interpretation upon his words, and we tell both ourselves and those around us that the advice he here gives is not to be taken literally nowadays.” So we have this tendency, it says, “The interpretation is full of that discretion which meets with the applause of our cowardice, and it easily persuades us to be at rest, just as though we had no dangers to fear and no battle to fight.”
So this Lent, if we are going to take up the cross, the battle we have to fight is against our corrupt frailties. We have to be ready for that and to recognize that it is not a bad sign. If all of a sudden we start thinking stupid or maybe having these gross temptations, when we all of a sudden — all of our weaknesses, all of those things that we try to hide from everybody start coming out. That’s not a bad sign. It’s actually a good sign. And it’s a sign of exactly what we need to do, exactly where our problem is and the remedy that must be applied. But we tend to hide so much from ourselves that we never really come to figure out what it is that God wants us to do to become a saint. We tend to do the generic things, but not specifically to our own state in life and to our own particular faults.
So, this time, if we are faithful to the Lenten sacrifices and we take up the cross joyfully and manfully with this great desire to be like Christ, to respond to what He has done for us — not the agony in the garden yet, but just in these temptations, the very fact that Christ allowed Himself as God to be in the presence of the devil and He was doing it specifically for us, if we keep this in mind, it would be a great motivation for us when the time comes for those temptations to come to us. We will know, just as Christ has done, He will give us the grace to do. That is the attitude we want to have. And, if we do, not only will we make reparation for past sins, but when we come out of this Lent, we will be much better Catholics, much more charitable, much more patient, much more kind, because we will be at peace. We will have established in our souls by the grace of Christ, a peace that we have not had before. We will no longer be lukewarm. We will no longer be kind of in between, but we will be all for God. And that is what this Lent is about. It’s not simply about making corporal sacrifices, but it’s about making those sacrifices that we may be exposed for what we are. Because if we are faithful again to these corporal sacrifices, we are going to be exposed to ourselves, to God, maybe to others. We cannot be afraid of that. Because it’s going to happen now or later anyway. So be prepared and recognize that when this happens, it is a great sign that you are working out your salvation. Then, if you fall, if you are wounded in the battle, you come back to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. And you give that to Him, and He will heal your wounds. “Come to Me all you who are weary and overburdened. I will refresh you.”
This is what our life is all about. This is the warfare that separates the men from the boys. Let us joyfully with great courage take up the cross of our own weaknesses this Lent, and with that, God will never be outdone in generosity. And He will help us, therefore, in all things. And even when we fall, He will be there to give that healing balm to us. We must always trust that His will is for our sanctification, for our salvation. Even when we fail, He is always there to make us well. And, that’s again what this Lent is about.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.