01 March 2015

Practicing the fine art of being victors in Christ

2nd Sunday of Lent (2015)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Two mountains: Mt. Moriah and Mt. Tabor. Two fathers: Abraham and God the Father. Two only sons: Isaac and Jesus. And two stories of sacrificial obedience and the glory that obedience brings. Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac foreshadows the Father's coming-sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Because Abraham obeys the Lord on Mt Moriah, God showers him with blessings, promising him “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” Jesus brings three of his disciples to Mt. Tabor and shows them who he will be after his sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection. Abraham listened to God; he obeyed. Jesus is transfigured and the Father's voice calls out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” When we obey – listen to – the Lord, we too are showered with blessings and transfigured, abundantly gifted and made new in Christ. If we will survive these forty days in the desert and arrive with Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then we will listen to him and claim as our own his victory over sin and death.

How do we survive the forty desert days? For that matter, how do we survive until Christ returns? Paul writes to the Romans with part of the answer, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?” Every year with begin Lent with the story of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. We know that Jesus cannot be truly tempted b/c everything Satan tempts him with already belongs to him. Jesus participates in this little desert side-show with the devil to show us that the fight against temptation is not a fight to be won. It is a fight already won. By him. For us. Paul grasps this truth when he writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?” Temptation is a test, a trial. We are the accused. The devil is the prosecuting attorney. Sounds bad until we remember that Christ is our defense attorney; and he's also the judge and jury. Temptation is never a fair trial – for the devil. We are acquitted by God before the trial even opens. How do we survive these 40 days and all the days until Christ returns? We listen to our defense attorney and give the devil no evidence against us! 
The first truth that Christ needs us to hear is that the trial against us is rigged – in our favor. There is nothing and no one for us to fight when Satan comes around with his accusations and lies. As children as God, we are already acquitted of all charges. The second truth that Christ needs us to hear is that if we believe in and live in that first truth – that we are already, always free – we will be changed, transformed as he himself is transfigured on Mt Tabor. Christ's transfiguration is a promise like the Father's promise to Abraham. Listen to me and the blessings will flow. We could think of these blessings are rewards for being good boys and girls, but there is a better way of understanding this truth: when we choose to align our wills with God's will for us, we see the obstacles to our freedom for what they really are – lies and illusions. Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we are with God, what lie or illusion has the power to lure us away? None! No lie or illusion has the power to lure us anywhere. . .unless we empower the lie with our sin. Lent is that time of year when we practice hardest at not giving life to the devil's lies and illusions, the temptations that bait us and attempt to lure us away from the verdict Christ has already reached and announced.

All this sounds wonderful in theory, right? How to put it into practice? First, you have recognize a temptation when you see one and treat it for what it is. Temptations are trials. Think of yourself as The Accused. You've been charged with a serious sin. If you actually committed the sin, then you throw yourself on the mercy of the judge – Christ – and receive his forgiveness through sacramental absolution. If the Accuser is truly testing you, dangling a sin before you to see if you will bite, remember: you are free in Christ Jesus! Tell the Accuser: “Christ the Just Judge has already acquitted me. You have no power to test me.” Never give the Accuser the power to test you. Recall Christ's transfiguring promise on Mt Tabor. That is your goal, your end. That's where we will all end up if we believe in and live in the transfiguring promise of Christ. And there is nothing – literally, nothing – the Accuser can do to prevent the fulfillment of that promise if we do not give him the power to do so. Be careful: “Fighting the Devil” is dangerous b/c it tempts us to imagine ourselves as mighty warriors fighting against a great evil. That's the Accuser testing us with Pride. There is no battle to fight. Christ won. Christ is winning. Christ will always win. On the Cross and through the Empty Tomb. As his brothers and sisters through baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are heirs to his victory.
So, spend your Lenten days practicing the fine art of being heirs to his victory!


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