Christ the King Catholic Church
I will date myself this morning, but when I was growing up Flip Wilson was a household name. Wilson was a comedian who hosted a weekly variety show called, “The Flip Wilson Show.” He is most remembered for his impersonation of ‘Geraldine’. Geraldine was a flamboyant character who was always getting in trouble. And when she got in trouble, she always had an excuse for her bad behavior and that excuse was: “The devil made me do it!” It became a catch phrase and everywhere you went you would hear people say, “The devil made me do it!” I tried it on my Mom once when I got in trouble, but it didn’t fly.
Geraldine was simply playing the blame game that began long ago in the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam why he had eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam blamed it on Eve, and Eve blamed it on the devil.
We do the same, we blame the bad that we do on the devil, or on our dysfunctional upbringing, or on the bad example of our peer group, or on the ‘impossible’ spouse with whom we live, and so on, and so on, and so on!
But the simple truth that we try to avoid by playing the blame game is that no one can make us do anything. Everything we do, we do by choice.
When God created us, he created us with free will. And there was a reason why God did this. Only with free will can we love. Only with free will can we choose to love. We were each created in the image and likeness of God and, the God in whose image and likeness we were created, is love itself. The only alternative that God had was to create a race of robots who were programmed to love. God could have put a computer chip in each of us that would program us to love, but a robot does not really love. Only where there is freedom, only with free will can there be love.
When a couple comes in to begin preparation for marriage, one of the first things we talk about is freedom. Last Saturday Victoria Nondorf and Brad Elson were married here at Christ the King. As with all couples, just before they exchanged their vows, they were questioned about their freedom to do what they were about to do. Without that freedom, a marriage can’t take place. Only with freedom can there be love. We cannot be programmed to love, we must choose to love.
Because God has given us free will, everything we do, we do by choice. If we lie, we choose to. If we use foul language, we choose to. If we get in a fight we either started it or refused to walk away. If we get into name-calling, we choose the hurtful words that come out of our mouths. If we gossip, it is a choice. If we come to Mass on Sunday, or don’t come to Mass on Sunday, it is a choice we make. “The devil made me do it,” didn’t fly with my Mom and it doesn’t fly with God.
Good or bad, we make our own choices and we can’t pass the blame on to anyone else.
Today’s first reading and the Gospel we have just heard, bring us face to face with temptation. Usually, when we think of temptation, we think of being urged by someone else to do something wrong. But that is not the exact meaning of temptation in the scriptures. If you read Archbishop Thompson’s column in this week’s ‘Criterion,’ he picks up on just this idea and explains why Pope Francis approved a change in the Italian translation of the Lord’s Prayer from ‘lead us not into temptation,’ to, ‘do not let us fall into temptation.’ The point being that God would never lead us into sin.
In the scriptures ‘temptation’ means a ‘test’. In Genesis, Adam’s loyalty to God is being tested. In Mathew’s Gospel Jesus is lead into the desert and his loyalty to God is being tested.
Each temptation we face in life is a test of our loyalty to God. Each temptation is a test of our character. To whom will we be loyal? In order to discover our true character, we have to allow ourselves to be put to the test. This is what Jesus did by going into the wilderness for 40 days. Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tested. To whom would he be loyal? In the desert Jesus faces his demons, so to speak. He faces all of those things that could test his loyalty to God and to the mission for which he came into the world.
Lent is our opportunity to do the same. We voluntarily strip ourselves of some of the things that can distract us from reflecting on the big questions of life, to face, so to speak, our own demons. In a wilderness in which our electronic gadgets are left behind, in which we give up the time we so often waste with television and other amusements, as we fast from things than we really don’t need, we test our will power.
The stakes are high. In Lent we choose the test voluntarily by our prayer, our fasting and our almsgiving. In our day-to-day life the tests come unbidden: What place does God have in my life? Do I lie? Do I cheat? Do I steal? Do I honor my mother and father? Do I keep my commitments to God and to my neighbor? Am I concerned about my neighbor? What do my choices say about me? What do they say about my loyalty to God?
When we fail the test, we call it sin. Sin literally means, “to miss the mark’. Adam and Eve missed the mark. They failed the test. But Jesus did not. Nothing could keep him from hitting the mark. Nothing could distract or sidetrack him. Jesus’ loyalty to God remained intact. The testing he underwent strengthened him for all that God would ask of him. And what God would ask of Jesus was nothing less than that He be the beginning of a new humanity – the first of many sons and daughters. Adam used the gift of free will that he had been given in one way, and Jesus used his in another.
In our baptism we were, by God’s grace, grafted into this new humanity. At Easter we will all renew our baptismal promises. We will be given the opportunity to renounce Satan and his ways and his empty promises and profess our faithfulness to God and to his ways and to his promises. After the testing of these 40 days of Lent, we pray that we will be prepared to renew those promises with greater understanding and to live them with greater faithfulness.
Athletes train to get better and stronger and faster, and so, too, we Christians train to become stronger in our fight against temptation. We train so that we may be stronger in choosing to love in our daily lives. We train so that our natural inclination to be selfish may be replaced by a supernatural inclination to be selfless. We train so that the Adam in each of us may give way to the Jesus in each of us.
In every choice we make we reveal our true character. In every choice we make we either hit the mark or we miss the mark. Do we love God with all of our heart, all of our mind and all of our strength? During Lent we go into the wilderness to struggle with that question. In every choice we make, we give our answer.
Lent is a season of grace. We are invited to examine our choices and to be strengthened to make those choices that express who we really are as a people who, in baptism, have been grafted into a new humanity.
The days of Lent will pass quickly. May the grace of this season not be in vain!