God created the world and everything within in it, including human beings. We are God’s creation. From the time we were very young, we learned the story of Adam and Eve, our first parents, in the Garden of Eden. Today's first reading from the Old Testament Book of Genesis — the beginning of the Bible — we heard the story again. But, somehow for some reason, the good work of God described there took a bad turn. Somehow for some reason, our first parents turned against God, preferring to change what he created for a purpose that was not part of God's original plan. Adam and Eve, our first human parents, chose to put themselves above God, to be God. It was a terrible act of pride. They were made in God’s image, not the other way around. With their bad choice, sin entered the world. And humanity has suffered from that choice to this very day. We call their choice "the original sin" and it left a stain, a mark on every human being born after them. It doesn't seem fair but that's what sin does: sin never affects just the sinner... it affects everybody. And it continues to affect us.
Our second reading from the
Letter of St. Paul to the Romans explained the results of this bad choice: "through one man, sin entered the world and through sin, death." St. Paul continued, "for if by the transgression of one, many died, how much more did the grace of God and the one gift of one man Jesus Christ, overflow for the many...for just as through the one man many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one many were made righteous." St. Paul is talking about Jesus, of course.
Our Gospel taken from the early chapters of St. Matthew introduced Jesus. After his Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus begins his public life and ministry. How does he get this great mission started? Mark tells us today that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert for 40 days. He knew what he was in for as he prepared for his mission: he confronted evil, he came face-to-face with the devil. Can you imagine? It was the same devil who in the form of a serpent tempted Adam and Eve who now took on the greatest challenge of all: tempting Jesus Christ. What pride, what evil to tempt the Son of God! Satan offered him all kinds of awesome power and pleasures and possibilities, if he would only turn his back on his Father. Jesus would have none of it. "Get away from me Satan! You should only worship and serve God!" Where Adam and Eve failed in the Garden of Eden, Jesus succeeded in the desert. Where Adam and Eve had everything to lose in the Garden, and they did, Jesus had everything to gain in the desert and he did! In this story, Jesus gives us hope. We can succeed, too.
I speak first to the young Catholic people who are here today: the world throws everything at you to challenge your faith, to turn you away from God much like Satan did to Jesus in the desert. Satan told Jesus “don’t be this way, your way … be my way, Jesus; it’s better; it’s more fun; it’s got more to offer; it doesn’t have any rules or any accountability. You only have to answer to yourself.” At first, those temptations might have some attraction … but Satan is called “the Father of Lies” for a reason, make no mistake about it. The attraction doesn’t last because all those temptations only lead to selfishness, to isolation, to separation first from God and eventually from one another. And we are left alone. That’s not the way God made us to be. Deep inside we know that, even when temptation is strong, even when we give in. The Lord Jesus and his Church offer us something to believe in, something bigger than ourselves, something that creates a connection, and that something is faith which gives us hope which turns into love. Only God can lead us down that path and the Church is here to guide us every step of the way because Jesus promised to be with us all days.
To those adults who are here, the message isn’t much different. Yes, you are older, more mature, more experienced at life, carrying greater responsibilities. Is it any easier? Are temptations less strong, less alluring, less present? Or are they just different, grabbing at you in different ways? It’s the same serpent, the same Satan, the same “Father of Lies.” But, it is also the same Lord Jesus reaching out his hand. Are you ready and willing, like a trusting child, to grasp it?
Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit leads us all — young or old or in between — leads us all
not into a Garden of Eden but rather, into a desert, the desert of Lent, the holy season when and where the battle between good and evil, between right and wrong, salvation and sin, between the Prince of Peace and the Prince of Darkness, between heaven and hell rages on.
Lent is a time of conversion, which is always a process. Conversion recognizes something in our lives that needs to change, that we make a commitment to change and that we, indeed, change. That is what the Holy Season of Lent intends and provides in real time, even with some urgency.
Each one of us knows when we are drawing closer to the Lord or drifting away. As Bishop, I invite all Catholics to think about needs to change as Lent begins, and then ask yourselves, “Forty days from now, where do I want to be? Closer to the Lord or drifted away? When I stand before the Lord at the end of my life, where do I want to be?” Allow this Lent to take you there.