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'Reflect on those trials that Jesus encountered'

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

March 11, 2020

Editor’s note: The following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily from the Rite of Election, held March 1 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg.

We remember that under the old covenant, God subjected His people Israel to testing in the desert. They failed that test, so a new covenant became necessary. In today’s familiar Gospel reading, we see Jesus, the Bearer of that new covenant, being subjected to testing again in the desert. Immediately before the temptations of Jesus that we just heard about in today’s Gospel, St. Matthew tells the story of the baptism of Jesus in which a heavenly voice declared of Him: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” As He leaves the baptismal waters of the Jordan to begin His public ministry as the Anointed Son of God, Jesus went through tests of faith. My sisters and brothers in Christ, no child of God can go through life without trials, without tests.

In this scene, Jesus is given three. The first one, to turn stones into bread, prompts us to reflect on how we use our God-given gifts, talents, and abilities. The temptation is for us to use our gifts to stash our bread, to make a comfortable living for ourselves and those who live under our roof, and that’s pretty much it. But St. Paul tells us that gifts are given to the individual “for the common good.” Jesus would, later on in His ministry, multiply bread to feed others. Notice, He would not do it to feed Himself, but others. Do we see our talents and abilities, our jobs and professions, as means to serve others?

In many ways today, some people have become indifferent, even uninterested in the plight of others, de-sensitized, almost hard-hearted to the people around us. Certainly, Pope Francis has called our attention to how so many have failed this test. We resolve to be attentive to the needs of others.

In the second test, Jesus is tempted to prove that He is God’s Son by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple and letting the angels catch Him as was promised in the Scripture. Though Jesus fully believes the word of God, He would not put His Father to the test. This contrasts sharply with the case of a college student in Nigeria who claimed that he was born again and to prove it he jumped into the lion’s cage in the zoo because the Bible promises that nothing can ever harm God’s children. Maybe his soul is in heaven today, but his body provided a special lunch for the hungry lions that day.

Again, so many have succumbed to this second temptation. We place conditions on our faith and test our God. We demand signs from Him. If He produces, then we will follow Him. We bargain with Him because somehow we believe that we are doing our God a favor if we remain faithful to His commandments. Or, maybe, it’s out of a sense of desperation that we bargain. These holy days, we resolve to try to grow in our faith with no strings attached.

In the third temptation, Satan promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if only Jesus would worship him. Jesus wants the whole world to acknowledge Him, of course, but would He achieve that by worshipping a false god? Can we pursue our goals by any means whatsoever? Does the end justify the means? Jesus says no. He remains steadfast and faithful to God, rejecting the short-cuts offered by Satan.

My friends, you know as well as I, that we are under constant testing. Jesus shows us today that to serve God is to surrender ourselves to Him unconditionally and in all situations, even when the going gets tough. It is so very difficult sometimes to let go and let God be God. That’s why it is important that we rely on one another in our journey of faith. We challenge, support, and affirm our sisters and brothers. You see, the hope for you and me in all of this is that the desert experience was a victory event for Jesus. The times our faith is tested in life can be occasions of growing in our relationship with Jesus because we know He’s been there before us and He’s with us today as we respond to life’s difficulties. Our faith can be strengthened when it’s tested, if we know and rely on Jesus as our constant companion.

Historically, dear catechumens and candidates, Lent is the time has been set aside by the Church for your preparation for the Easter Sacraments. In preparation, I invite you, during these graced forty days of being in the desert, to reflect on those trials that Jesus encountered and see how they might apply to your own lives. As Pope Francis wrote, “In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. In these situations, we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink…to go out of ourselves and to join others is healthy for us.” (EG, 86)

Each and every one of you, coming from many parishes throughout our Diocese has done precisely that--you have gone out of yourselves and responded to the Lord’s call to follow Him as a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, our family of faith. For that we are most grateful!

With the help of your pastors and the parish RCIA team and staff, make these forty days in the desert a privileged time of reflection and prayer with the God who has loved you into existence. On the day of our baptism, God smiled and calls us His “beloved.” I’m sure this day, the Lord is smiling as He sees your joy-filled faces here this afternoon. He is well-pleased! Thank you for coming to our St. Mary’s Cathedral to be counted among the elect. Know of my continued prayers for each one of you. May God be praised…forever may God be praised!

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