Resistance to Temptation Strengthens Our Soul

Based on my homily given at St. John the Evangelist in Whitby on the First Sunday of Lent, Sunday March 5, 2017:

We live in a most vibrant culture; a culture always in pursuit of happiness.  In the world we live in, sin is often denied, camouflaged, psychoanalysed and repressed – but not confessed.  “We don’t really sin; we make mistakes of judgment!  We’re only “being human”.”

It’s not my intention to be cynical or to present this dark or irredeemable opinion of the world we live in. It was the world Jesus lived in too, it’s a world that we might not completely change but we contribute to it with our own outlook and attitude. Christians are without a doubt a very important and influential part of this world we live in, if even we may sometimes feel we are not.

Lent is a time to take a look at these temptations, sin and the consequences. The origins of the Lenten season saw those about to be baptized repenting of their sins and sought to know Jesus in a more intimate way. We see this in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in the various rites and then in the Scrutinies prior to Easter.  It became a season for the baptized to do the same.

Each of us are challenged to die to sin so that we may rise again to new life in Christ. This is not merely a theological concept, it is part of the Christian journey.  As we begin the season of Lent with reflections on the origins of sin among us, we hear in today’s readings the main themes of temptation, sin, guilt and forgiveness.

We hear in today’s Gospel of the temptation of our Lord, His submission to these temptations would have destroyed His mission and we would have a very different history than the salvation history we joyfully have a share in. Our temptation may not be as dramatic as our Lord’s temptation: but it’s not meant to be.

We fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat in part to heighten our awareness of temptation in our lives. Who among us didn’t feel more like having that cheeseburger or steak on Ash Wednesday but did not? It’s often when we are stressed in life, challenged, suffering in some way that we feel like sinning, letting go or moving further away from the Lord, pitying ourselves, or justifying selfishness – it’s not to be harsh.  We are tempted in the challenges of our lives.

But we are also challenged as Jesus is: to give ourselves over to material wealth and the temptation to draw closer to things than the Lord and others too. We must accept that this is indeed part of the experience of life; but as Christians we live for something much greater: greater than ourselves or this world: we live for God, for others and for a world much bigger than what we can see or comprehend.

We too face temptation but in struggling and resisting temptation we become stronger. Each time we are tempted to do evil or do wrong or to be self-centered or selfish and we choose the good instead, we become stronger. We are never tempted beyond our power.

We hear in the First Letter of John: “Greater is the one who is in us, than the one who is in the world (4:4).” By rite of our baptism and marked again at Confirmation, the Holy Spirit has dwelt in each of us. When we make a good confession, we may feel it’s guilt that brings us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we can be assured that the Holy Spirit that dwells within us helps us rid ourselves of what holds us back from being th best Christians we can be.

We also hear St. Paul affirm this as well when he says, “No testing has overtaken you, that is not common for everyone.  God is faithful and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you will be able to endure it (10:13)”.  As Jesus is tempted in the desert, He is assured of the Father’s protection; as are we in our temptations, trials and tribulations.  We simply need to have faith and trust; trust in God will lead us to greater faith.

My friends in Christ, as we begin our Lenten season, I wish each of you well in your personal Lenten commitments; sacrifices and spiritual offerings. Let us be People of Hope, as we journey with Christ, may we be successful in the challenges that face us day by day and may we know that we are not alone, but have a God who loves each of us so very much and will protect us. May we resist temptation and have the grace to see ourselves gro stronger as Christians each day too.  May God bless you.

Saturday After Ash Wednesday: Our Lives Have a Meaning and a Purpose

Matthew's Call

As many of my readers will know, I am a big believer that our Christian faith provides us with both a clear sense of purpose and the meaning of our lives.  We might be inclined to laugh this off as absurd until we give ourselves to Christ.  We might believe that this is a recruiting tool Christian use to get more to believe.  Although it’s the Christian’s mission to evangelize; to “get to heaven and bring as many people with us as we can” it is also very much a part of Jesus’ instruction that Disciples not focus too much time and attention in places where Jesus’ Word is being rejected.  We have to accept that God is the primary agent, and we are secondary in His mission.  If we don’t reach someone, we need to get past it and entrust it back to God.  That said, it is an important part of the Christian witness to share with others the joy, peace and understanding of his or her meaning and purpose found in being a Christian and living it out through our chosen and freely responded to vocation.

Our Gospel today illustrates one such vocational call: that of St. Matthew, aka Levi.  He was living his life for what he could gain in the world and although he had much of what the world could offer him; money, worldly power over others, material things – none of this brought him any closer to discovering meaning in his life and his true purpose.  But Jesus did, and we know He did.  Matthew followed the Lord and found a new purpose and the meaning for his life as an Apostle.  He brought others to the Lord and the Church and faith we are a part of is thanks to Matthew and the other Apostles and Disciples.  Today’s Gospel is his story; what will yours be?

Friday After Ash Wednesday: Purging & Cleansing Our Souls


Fasting and dieting for personal health are without a doubt, a staple of our society.  We seek to look and feel good and we know what brought about our lethargic feelings and perhaps that pot belly or excess fat in areas of our body was the poor or excess eating habits that so many of us have been guilty of.  And so we fast and we diet.  But we also know that this requires a balanced approach.  We know that this requires of us a certain discipline which doesn’t mean that we stop eating altogether and that we have a plan for the future otherwise we know that what we do by controlling our eating now will not last us any longer than for the time or moment we do it.

Our Gospel today reinforces that fasting, penance and prayer contribute to our souls looking good and our feeling good too.  Fasting, penance and prayer release and remove the “cobwebs” or “dirt” that gets in the way of being the very best Christians that we can be.  But just as when we fast or diet, we don’t stop eating altogether but stop the excess or bad, we replace it or supplement good things: our souls need the good food of the Good News.  Jesus’ Disciples need to be nourished in the right way so that they can go the extra mile and do what they need to do.  Fasting is and will always be a part of the Christian’s life and most especially in Lent we’re reminded of this.  But we are nourished first and foremost so our souls are healthy and ready for what is to come.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Living for Others


Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.  Jesus calls us to do three things for Him in today’s Gospel, but three things which we probably all can agree are not easy things for us to do.  They are, however, essential and essential to any and all vocations we are being called to.

Denying ourselves.  Although self-preservation is a strong human instinct and perhaps in many ways important to everything we do; when we allow self-preservation to be what guides us always in life we quickly become selfish, self-absorbed, self-interested and before we know it, totally consumed with ourselves.  Self-denial is not a burden but a freedom; freedom from focusing on ourselves and “emptying” of ourselves from sin (through confession among other ways) and through an increase in the acts of charity.  Doing for others helps us to think about ourselves less.  If we focus on God and what God wants for us, we will find that others come first.  We will also find that who and what we are becomes clearer to us as we become more and more “vessels” or “instruments” of God and see the work we do for Him is what we find brings us happiness and peace in our lives even if things aren’t peaceful and always joyful around us.

Pick up your Cross.  Often times we think that this refers to the obvious “crosses” of sickness, weakness or inadequacies.  Of course, these are crosses we bear but we also bar crosses when we serve others too and these are important to the vocation we choose or God chooses us for.  When we deny ourselves we prepare ourselves to discover what it is the Lord calls us to.  When we pick up our crosses to follow, we take on the burden of service which is a yoke the Lord carries the heavy part of but some of it is ours.  There is a burden of service but there is a great joy to be found in knowing that we are more configured to our Lord’s work and mission when we do.

And “follow Me”.  These words are certainly words used by every Vocation Director because it is the call.  These are the words our Lord uses when He invites ordinary people to Discipleship and to follow in His footsteps.  They are the words that mark the call forward and we must allow these three invitations to be circular for us “deny yourself, pick up your Cross and follow Me”.  We need to continue to find ways to empty ourselves of selfishness and self-interest or self-focus, joyfully and securely take up all the Crosses we bear with our Lord and continue day by day to follow Him.

Turn Away from Sin-Turn Towards Jesus

Today begins my Lenten reflection series.  A Most Blessed Ash Wednesday and Lent to all.

Passion of the Christ

Today we will hear these or similar words: “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel”. I hear these words anew each year and they mark for so many of us a time of new beginning. As an adult convert, I hear many of my contemporaries and people much older than I am who believe that we should not focus much or any of our attention on sin. Their experience is that this was an unpalatable part of their Catholic upbringing, and it’s what makes the Catholic Church antiquated and out of touch: that we focus on sin too much. That’s not my experience of the Catholic Christian Church at all. In fact having lived my life by no religion and even hostile to Christianity for some of it; I am indeed glad that I am reminded to “turn away from sin” and given an alternative – Jesus Christ!

We are sinners, but loved sinners. We are sinners who must stay close in relationship to our Redeemer; there’s no other way. Where and when this became a distasteful thing, I have no idea. As a man who lived for himself for many years, I can assure you I have searched for something better and never found it. The Gospel is the Way, the Truth and I can assure you that Life flows from it. As a spiritual director (and as a Vocation Director too), I have always encouraged a regular practice of confession, not to move anyone to scrupulosity but rather so that our sins and weakness clearly have no dominion over us and we can pick ourselves up and get on with the best part of what it means to be Christian: Discipleship and living the mission!

I love Lent; it renews us as Christians. Even the best of us get caught up in the busyness of life and through the forty days as we journey again with our Lord to the Cross are reminded of the essence of what real love, sacrifice, perseverance; and real triumph is all about. Our sense of contrition and desire to amend comes from a recognition of the great things others have done for us; namely Christ.

Our Gospel today reminds us that this is not about making a show of things, that is definitely not what Lent is about, but we must give witness. We must seek to become day by day better people, better Christians. We must seek to reserve judgment against others, instil kindness, love, compassion, generosity, faith and a sense of hope. These things by the way we give witness will help encourage others to follow the Lord. And then we will be doing our jobs; of getting ourselves to heaven and bringing as many with us as we can.