1st Sunday of Lent
Preached February 18, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
The Gospel account today is very brief. Jesus is driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit and there he is tempted by the devil. He is of course victorious and vanquishes the tempter. Jesus sets the example for us and gives us the power through the gift of his Holy Spirit to do as he did.
We know from the other Gospels that the 1st temptation proposed to him was to command that the stones become bread and that he answered the temptation in the words of the Old Testament, Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Dt 8:3, Mt 4:4, Lk 4:4)
Jesus shows us to feed on God’s word, which requires faith, so as to conquer the devil through faith. So also St. Paul urges us to take up the shield of faith to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (cf. Eph 6:16) Likewise St. John writes, The victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 Jn 5:4-5)
I have been preaching a series of seven catechetical homilies to cover the basics of Catholic faith and practice in preparation for April 8, when the Bishop will come to confirm more than 40 of our youth.
So far I have talked about the reality of sanctifying grace, through which we truly share in the life and nature of God so as to become children of God; I have spoken about how this life of grace, which Jesus Christ won for us on the Cross comes to us through faith and the sacraments and I have provided a summary of the order and purpose of the seven sacraments. I have also spoken about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit through which God leads us to live actively from the gift of grace that we have received. Today my intention is to speak about faith itself, the 1st work of the Holy Spirit within us and the foundation for the entire life of grace.
St. Paul writes, No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)
The Church tells us: “’The obedience of faith is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,’ and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving ‘joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.’” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 5)
The Holy Spirit moves us to believe, he moves us to believe in Jesus Christ and in all that God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ about himself and his plan of salvation.
Faith, then, is not just a matter of some internal conviction or some strong feeling within, faith is a response to God who first reveals himself through Jesus Christ, not just to me, but to all humanity; faith is focused above all on the person of Jesus Christ, his identity and his work, who he is and what he does.
All of this is summed up in the Creed. There are two versions of the Creed that every Catholic should know by heart – the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed. Either form of the Creed may be recited at Sunday Mass.
We should memorize the Creed and we should reflect on the meaning. The Creed provides us with the structure and framework for the ‘shield of faith’; unless we are familiar with the Creed, we will not be able to make good use of the shield of faith to extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one.
It will help if we recognize the threefold structure, a threefold structure that expands on the simplest profession of faith, the sign of the Cross. The first part treats of God, the Father, and what belongs to the whole Trinity; the second part treats of God, the Son, his eternal identity and his saving work in time; the third part treats of God, the Holy Spirit, and his work in the Church through which he brings all the promises of God to fulfillment in eternal life.
Still, because the basic doctrine of the Trinity is in many ways presupposed to the Creed and then interwoven in the Creed, we can easily get confused if we don’t have the basic doctrine clearly fixed in our minds: We believe in the Holy Trinity, one God in three divine persons; three divine persons who are one God.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; they are not three gods, but one only God. There is no greater or less in the Trinity, each person is fully and equally God, nor is the whole Trinity any more God than each of persons. Everything that we say of God, because he is God, is said of the Father, and equally of the Son, and equally of the Holy Spirit, and so also of the whole Trinity.
Nevertheless, the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the same as the Holy Spirit. The Son comes from the Father by way of generation and the Holy Spirit comes from Father and the Son by way of the procession of love.
Each of the three is equally God, but the Son has something wholly unique; only the Son took a human nature and was born in time of the Virgin Mary. Only the Son died on the Cross and rose again from the dead. The is the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption.
The Creed sums up all that belongs to God as God in the doctrine of the Father, the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. In talking about the Son, Jesus Christ, the Creed tells us about us about his eternal identity, one Lord, equal in all things to the Father from whom he came and also about his becoming man and all his work of salvation that he accomplished on our behalf in his human nature. The Creed also tells us about the godhead of the Holy Spirit, who lives in and guides the Church, one holy, catholic, and apostolic, bestowing the forgiveness of sins and the life of grace, guiding the faithful to eternal life and the resurrection of the dead.
How do we know all this? How can we be sure? Most of all because Jesus Christ, who showed himself to be the Son of God by his life, death, and resurrection has made it known. It is all contained in the writings of the Gospels, confirmed in the letters and the book of revelation, and it is either revealed or foretold in the writings of the Old Testament and the story of the people of Israel. It has been handed on the tradition of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit. It has born fruit in the life of the Church through the centuries, above all in the lives of the saints.
This is the life into which we have been introduced through baptism and if there is anything that we do not understand now – even though we already know it to be true – it will be revealed to us in heaven.
Now we cannot grasp how in the Trinity of divine love, the three can be one and the one can be three; now we cannot grasp how the eternal Son of God can be both God and man, without confusion and without division. We can grasp that this the revelation of God’s love for us and in the glory of heaven we shall clearly behold the reality.
When we hold firm to this faith and when we live by this faith, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the devil will have no power over us.
For that we need strength, the strength that comes to us from the Holy Spirit, the strength that will enable us to wield the shield of faith; this strength is given to us through the Holy Spirit’s gift of Fortitude, the gift that enables us to stand up for and profess our faith, even at the cost of our own life, if that be God’s will.
There are two very different names of human beings who are mentioned in the Creed: the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus Christ, and Pontius Pilate, who condemned him to death.
Pilate proved to be the great coward, who recognized the innocence of Jesus, heard Jesus affirm that he had come to bear witness to the truth, then after shrugging his shoulders and saying, What is truth, sought to employ pragmatic means to release Jesus and at the same time realize his own political goals. He ended by condemning Jesus to death, while trying to shift the blame to the high priests by symbolically washing his hands, but could not evade his responsibility as the legitimate judge.
The Virgin Mary, of course, stands at the other pole. She is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the great woman of faith and the Queen of the Martyrs. She stood beneath the Cross of her Son and united her Immaculate Heart with the sacrifice of his Sacred Heart. She was the only one who at that moment believed in the Resurrection to come. We need to turn to her so that the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude might give us the strength to bear witness, by word and deed, to the truth of our faith.