Homily for the First Sunday of Lent
Preached on February 21, 2010 at Holy Spirit Parish/The Newman Center at the University of Kentucky, Lexington KY
Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
The Church looks bare. The plants are gone; so are the flowers. There are no banners, no decorations hanging anywhere. We didn’t have that many candles to begin with and now we’re left with only two. Gone are the smells and bells that we Catholics are known for. Advent, the favorite liturgical season of the other Father Noll, at least has a wreath and four candles. Lent, the favorite season of this Father Noel, makes the Church look like someone forgot to fix it up. If we didn’t know any better, we would think that the Newman Center is still under construction, that there’s so much more work that needs to be done around here. And in a way, that’s one of the reasons that we strip off this place of worship. This naked space is a visual reminder that there’s more work that needs to be done in the temple of our souls, that Lent is the time to fix ourselves up.
The Church is bare to remind us that we too are being led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days (Lk. 4:1-2). In the desert, the things familiar to us are gone. The creature comforts are absent. The sounds we hear are different. First, in Advent, there was that voice of one crying out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord (Lk. 3:4). But now, in Lent, as we walk the way of the Lord, we hear many other voices in the wilderness, the voices of our inner demons: voices that tempt us to indulge in pleasure and comfort; voices that lure us to seize power and control; voices that bait us to seek popularity and praise. These are the same demons that Jesus faced in the desert and over whom He triumphed. In each of His temptations, the devil simply pointed out to Jesus the less than ideal situation that He was in: that He had a hungry stomach (cf. Lk. 4:2); that He had yet to have a following (cf. Lk. 4:6); that He easily could have gotten hurt (cf. Lk. 4:10-11). But in every instance, Jesus chooses God. He chooses God’s words which are as essential for life as bread (Dt. 8:3). He chooses to worship only God and not serve any other power (Lk. 4:8). He chooses to trust in God and not put God to the test (Lk. 4:12). In the temptations of Jesus, the devil’s modus operandi is revealed: the devil is trying to lure us away from God. And Jesus shows us the way to deal with such tests: reject the devil’s empty promises and instead choose God.
At the entrance of the Abbey of Gethsemani where the Trappist monks live daily a Lenten life, two words are carved above the gate to the cloister: God Alone. This is the motto of those who choose God over everything else everyday and it is the motto we can take as our own as we make our Lenten journey. That is why we leave this Church as bare as the desert. We rid ourselves of the trappings of Ordinary Time. We put the rousing joy of the Gloria and the Alleluia on mute for a while. We do this so we can focus on God alone: God alone who can satisfy our every hunger; God alone whom we are called to worship and serve (Lk. 4:8); God alone who is our refuge, our fortress, our shield (Ps. 91:2, 4).
The Church looks so bare. There’s not much to see around here but the faces of the faithful, the altar, this ambo, this book, the crucified Christ. We’re down to our barest necessities for worship. And let it be so, at least for Lent, so that whoever walks in may know that we took almost everything out and we have not much left but God alone.