1st Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
We've entered the Lenten desert with Christ and for forty days the Enemy will aggressively attack us, tempting us to betray our Lord and his Church. Like Christ in the desert, the Enemy will tempt us to turn away from God and embrace the kingdom of this world. In exchange for betraying the faith, we are promised the praise of our Social Betters; political influence and prestige; access to the public treasury and the use of public property; the approval of those who would otherwise cast stones and see us driven from the public square; and the promise to leave us alone to worship as we like within the walls of our churches. The deadliest traps must be set with the sweetest bait. What the Enemy knows and we ought to know is that so long as we agree that these grants of privilege are his to give, they are also his to revoke. The trap currently awaiting the Church has been set using the Lord's own words from today's gospel, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” To the Church in the Lenten desert circa 2012, the Enemy says, “If you would serve the least of His, you must serve me first.”
For 20 centuries, Christians have embraced teaching of Matthew 25, building, staffing, and maintaining hospitals, orphanages, universities, hospices, travelers' way stations, national and international charitable institutions totaling billions of dollars annually in free food, medical care, housing, and education. The Catholic Church is the single largest private provider of relief from the ravages of poverty, disease, and ignorance in the world. In fact, without the Church's determination to follow the teachings of Christ, there would be no universities, no hospitals, no orphanages, no scientific institutions; there would no concept of universal human rights; no understanding of individual freedom; no articulation or defense of human dignity. Without the Church's determination to follow the teachings of Christ, the west would likely still practice slavery, infanticide, gladiatorial games, constant tribal warfare, and the subjugation of women and children under the absolute authority of their male relatives. It is because the Church has embraced the least of God's children that we as a culture are civilized at all. Without a grounding in the teachings of Christ, none of what we have achieved will stand against the temptations of the Enemy, and nothing he offers us is worth the damnation of a single soul.
What every Christian must keep in sharp focus during these tempting times is that we serve the least of God's children out of love and for the greater glory of God. The problems inherent in a fallen world are with us until Christ comes again. Nothing we do will ever end hunger or disease or poverty or ignorance. That's not our goal. Our goal is to love and serve God and one another: the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the dying, and the imprisoned, to love and serve them for no other reason than that God loves them. When we love and serve the least of His, we praise His glory and show the power of His mercy for sinners. We are not charged with the duty of building a just world. We are vowed to live in the world as a just people. We are not charged with the duty of bringing peace to the world. We are vowed to live in the world as a peaceable people. Our duty is to live now as we would live in heaven—loving, serving, praising God by loving and serving those most of need of His care. We cannot do our duty to God and serve the Enemy at the same time. When tempted to do both, we must always choose God.
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