March 6, 2022: Homily- First Sunday of Lent

One of the great blessings of living in a country such as America is the number of opportunities many of us have.  I say “many” because we know that some in our society are mired in circumstances that pose enormous obstacles to improving their personal situations.  But for many of us, we have choices.  Where to live.  Where to work.  Whom to marry.  What schools to attend.  What to eat.  How to spend our leisure time.  Many of us even have the choice to jump in a car or plane and travel to destinations all over the country, or world for that matter.  Of course, in many places like my homeland Ghana and in many other countries these sorts of choices are much more limited if not rare.  Yes, in many respects, we have the ability to live our lives however we see fit, filling our days with whatever we choose to fill them with.  It can be a pretty good feeling. No wonder many young and able Africans and other third world countries dream of coming to America one day in their life.

Of course, things weren’t always this way.  For most of human history, people had almost no choices, had no real opportunity to enjoy the things we take for granted.  Most people just worked and worked and worked from sun-up to sundown, day after day – usually in backbreaking, exhausting jobs.  They usually lived within a stone’s throw of where they were born.  They ate whatever meager food they could grow or buy.  And there was basically no such thing as free time.

Yes, most of us here in the States have it pretty good, WAY better than nearly every generation that came before us.  But with all these choices comes a kind of danger.  You see, having so many things available to us, so many options, can sometimes lead us to start pursuing nearly everything – everything we see, everything we hear about, and everything we see others have.  In a very real sense, these opportunities can make us start believing (if we are not careful) that we can “have it all”.

Have it all.  Who wouldn’t want that?  It sounds pretty great.  A lot of advertising plays on this very common human instinct.  That’s why we see products often advertised by simply associating the brand with some sort of great life.  People having a blast on a beach.  People driving cars through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth.  People having tons of fun in a bar or in their backyard or in a far-off place or with their pets or whatever.  The idea, of course, is to try to get people to make a link between that particular product and a great life – even if that product is a can of soda or a brand of cologne or a type of shoe.   Yes, we all seem to want to “have it all”.

And then comes Lent.  Good ol’ Lent –  the Church season so many of us have a kind of fascination with, but sadly struggle with embracing the season in the fullest way possible.  Don’t get me wrong, nearly everyone in this church today probably “dips their toe in the water”.

I know I do.  I truly enjoy honoring the rules about fasting and abstaining from meat.  And I enjoy altering my prayer life, choosing special prayers and devotions I might not choose the rest of the year.  And it even makes me feel good to transfer money to help people in need in my homeland Ghana.  All good stuff.  All important stuff.  All holy stuff.  Yet, have I truly embraced what Lent is all about?  Can I pat myself on the back and think, “You done good,” – or should Lent be more?  Must it be more?

Today we see Jesus in a place we see him every year on this Sunday, in the desert.  And of course, he’s not alone.  The devil is there to tempt him, to try to lure him down a different path, try to get Jesus to want to “have it all”.  But Jesus will have none of it.  And the reason is simple:  He knows who he is, knows what he is to be about, knows what the Father is calling him to,  knows enough to resist the strong temptation to serve his own needs first.

Brothers and sister, who are we?

You see, Lent is really about rediscovering who we truly are – and then embracing that reality.  My friends, we are children of God.  Beloved by him.  Created in a certain way, with a certain dignity, and for a holy purpose.  All our prayers and almsgiving and Lenten observances are simply there to help us move outside of our own wants, outside of our own concerns, outside of our own desires to “have it all”.  It’s as if the world is holding so many things in front of us and telling us, “If you just had these things, or did these things, or embraced these things – you would be happy.  You would be fulfilled.  You would have a great life.”

Yet, those are not always the same things God wants for us or from us.  He wants so much more.  More kindness.  More selflessness.  More mercy.  More love.  THESE are the things that truly provide us with a good life, a meaningful life, a life with true purpose and true joy and true peace.  In a very real sense, he wants us to be like Jesus, staring down the temptations that come our way, and choosing a different path.

My friends, the only way to “have it all” is to “give it all”.  The only way to have life to the fullest is to die to ourselves time and time again.  The only way to truly experience love is to be a loving person.  And the only way to be forgiven is to forgive others.

That’s one of the great mysteries of our faith – that it often seems to be the opposite of how we think things work, or think things should be.  And Lent is all about helping us to see that reality, that profound truth.  So let’s embrace it not in a lukewarm way, but in the deepest way possible.  The world needs us.  Others need us.  Let’s be there for them, not just during this season of Lent, but always.  Have a blessed Lent everyone.

Short Story

A mother camel and her baby are talking one day and the baby camel asks, “Mom, why have we got these huge three-toed feet?” The mother replies, “To enable us trek across the soft sand of the desert without sinking.” “And why have we got these long, heavy eyelashes?” “To keep the sand out of our eyes on the trips through the desert” replies the mother camel. “And Mom, why have we got these big humps on our backs?” The mother, now a little impatient with the boy replies, “They are there to help us store fat for our long treks across the desert, so we can go without water for long periods.” “OK, I get it!” says the baby camel, “We have huge feet to stop us sinking, long eyelashes to keep the sand from our eyes and humps to store water. Then, Mom, why the heck are we here, freezing in the Bronx Zoo?” — Modern life sometimes makes one feel like a camel in a zoo. And like camels in a zoo, we need sometimes to go into the desert in order to discover who we truly are and how we are expected to live our lives as true followers of a crucified and Risen God. Lent, my dear friends, invites us to enter into this kind of desert experience of prayer and penance.

Father Boat

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