God's Gift to Us

03-10-2019From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These words are very familiar to us since they are the concluding words to the prayer Jesus gave us when His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray; the Our Father. Temptations are part of life. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus Himself being tempted by the devil in three different areas: hunger, acceptance and popularity, and power and control. Jesus had just spent forty days praying and fasting in the desert. That experience heightened His trust in the Father’s love and presence to Him. He had to be physically hungry, but because He first satisfied the inner thirst all human beings have for God He did not use His power just for His own personal satisfaction. As we read and ponder the way people encountered Jesus in the Gospels, it is very clear that He was not seeking personal popularity and acceptance. His goal was to open His listeners to God’s love and acceptance of all who sincerely opened their minds and hearts to Him. Finally Jesus did not seek power over others. He never sought to be in control of anyone except Himself. Up to His very last words on the cross He expressed love for even those who crucified and mocked Him and trust in the Father: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.”

It is so clear that we have so many more sources of temptation in our world today than the people of Jesus’ time did. Technology is a marvel and wonder that does so many good things for us, but it is also a source of temptations that lead to sin and chaos. The internet is packed with countless pornography sites. All we have to do is to sit down with our computers or phones and bring up a site. Our false sense of need for instant messages and immediate communication not only takes our attention away from those whose physical presence we are in, it can also cause death and destruction when we give in to the temptation to send and receive messages when we are driving our cars. We also have a greater awareness of needs and situations personally and around the world that cause us to think about what we can do besides talk about them. The temptation is to look but not get involved. This Lent we are invited to be involved with other parishes in our area to speak up for those threatened by abortion, especially with the new law in our state that legalizes abortion up to the moment of birth. The 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting offers us a way to pray and bear public witness to the sanctity and wonder of life in the womb. The temptation is to say I personally do not believe in abortion and would not have one and do nothing more. The one thing we can all do is pray. Today’s Gospel reminds us of how powerful prayer can be. It fills us with the wisdom, love, and power of God’s Spirit.

Lent is a time to look back and to look ahead, all the while being aware of the blessing of the present moment. Sometimes when we look back we are filled with regret and remorse over things we said or did. Looking back is not meant to fill us with grief and discouragement, but to see that we are already beyond them and through the eyes of faith are seeking to embrace the path to hope, peace, and God’s life-giving mercy and forgiveness. St. Paul is one of the great saints who looked back at his life of arrogance, self-righteousness, and misguided faith as he came to know humble joy and gratitude for God’s love, mercy, and trust in him. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 St. Paul says, “Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” As we seek to be at peace with who we are we can learn and be inspired by St. Paul. Knocked from his misguided high horse, he found true life in embracing Jesus. We do not know what his thorn in the flesh was, but he was confident that as much as it did not seem to go away that God would give him the strength and fortitude to get beyond it. And he did. Countless people, including you and me, have been enriched and enlightened by His inspired letters. Obstacles such as inner fear, regret, or shame can cause us to be downhearted and sad, but prayer puts us into the presence of the same God who reached out in love to St. Paul and wants to shower us with His life-giving presence, love, and mercy. Lent is God’s gift to us to see how refreshing, energizing, and inspiring prayer, fasting, and good works can be.

I conclude with the Magnificat prayer of Mary, a prayer St. Paul would certainly embrace and a prayer that points to the joy our life with God brings. May this season of Lent lead us to find Mary’s joy.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.