Sunday, March 10, 2019

Learn the power of 'No' (Sunday homily)

Let me repeat something that is so simple we may miss it:
Lent is all about conversion. 
That’s the point of self-denial, of taking more time for prayer, 
and of giving away money or things to others.

You and I don’t do these things to gain more of God’s love, 
Because He already loves us as much as he possibly can.
We also don’t do these things to fit in with others – 
wrong reason there!

No: the only point, the only value, is the extent to which
these sacrifices or additional prayers advance our own conversion.
The only real point is to move closer to being the saints
we’re destined to be.

So here we are at week one. We start with humility.

In the first reading, the faithful Israelite must confess:
My father was a nobody. My ancestors were slaves.
We didn’t set ourselves free – God did it.
In fact, everything we have comes from God.

And in the Gospel, even Jesus the Lord humbles himself.
He goes hungry – and after 40 days, the hunger is becoming serious.

But perhaps the main thing we might notice
in the Gospel is the power of a single word: NO.

How much you and I need to learn the power of saying “NO”:
No to temptation; No to all the tasty and enjoyable things 
that are too important to us;

No to all the distractions and short-term things 
that occupy us so much, that fill our thoughts,
so that if we ever think about the long-term, 
it’s shallow and rushed, or only at the end of the day 
and we fall asleep before anything comes of it.

Let’s not mince words. This is really hard. 
It’s an essential part of our Lent.
Do you know how we know it’s important?
Because Jesus himself did it. 

He went into the desert and fasted.
He said “No” to pretty much everything – 
food, drink, entertainment, other people’s company –
before he launched on his great mission of our salvation.

He did it, without needing it, to be in solidarity with us.
And in doing it, he makes clear how much you and I DO need it.

By the way, if you’re wondering why we began Mass 
with the sprinkling of holy water, the answer is, 
we did this to remember our baptism.
Remember that Lent is also about preparing for baptism, and – 
for those of us who have been baptized – 
about renewing and reclaiming it.

And you might recall that when you and I were baptized, 
The priest asked three questions, and we – or our parents for us – 
gave three renunciations. Or, if you will, three “No’s”:

Those questions were:
“Do you renounce Satan?”
“And all his works?”
“And all his empty show?”

That lines up with what Jesus does in the Gospel, doesn’t it?

And notice, Jesus is tempted by the devil after 40 days.
That means his struggle with evil corresponds to Holy Week.
Good Friday represents the devil seeking to kill him,
Perhaps because he would not bow down to him.

In the Garden of Eden, 
Adam was fearful and failed to oppose the enemy.
But the new Adam wades into battle, refusing the devil’s offers,
And instead, renew his total trust in the Father.

You see, when we learn the power of “No” when it’s needed,
We gain the power of a true “YES” when that is needed!

YES to being truly generous with ourselves and our time and our stuff.
YES to trusting God with peace and calm.
YES to going deeper and farther, 
the way Peter stepped out of the boat, 
and walked – albeit briefly – on the water.

So if you want to take something away from this homily,
Take a simple word. That word is “No.”
Use this Lent to learn how to say that word and mean it,
In the face of all those things that get in our way and hold us back.
A “No” to the stomach, a “No” to the eyes, and a “No” to the ego:
So you and I can receive the fullness of God’s life.

That’s a good way to make Lent fruitful, don’t you think?

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