10 March 2022

Can you receive a gift?

1st Week of Lent (Th)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Even the wicked know how to give good gifts to their children. True. The question is: do those children know how to receive good gifts? Having a gift given is not the same as receiving it. I can be given a gift but receive it as an entitlement, or as payment on a debt. A gift isn't a gift until it is received as a gift – freely given, freely received. We are used to the tit-for-tat exchange of goods. No Christmas gift for Bob this year b/c he didn't get me anything last year! That's bartering, not gift-gifting. The gift of the Cross is not only freely given but universally given, given to all time and place. From the moment of creation to creation's final hour, the gift of the Cross gives eternal life – IF we choose to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to believe we are owed salvation or to negotiate for heaven. That nothing worthwhile is ever truly free. But Jesus says, “Even the wicked know how to give good gifts to their children.” If even the wicked can be generous to their children, why should we turn a mercantile eye to the Father's gift of salvation? Lent is our time to learn the good habit of freely receiving all that God had to give us.

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06 March 2022

The Devil wants to worship you

st Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


“For a time.” For a time. The Devil departed from him for a time. Meaning what? The Devil is coming back. He always comes back. In that desert, after 40 days of fasting and prayer, Jesus is confronted by man's first and only real Enemy. The one who would sell the already broken promises of power, riches, fame, unbeatable security, and perfect safety for the price of your soul; the one who lies to Eve, telling her, “You can be a god w/o God”; the one who accuses us day and night before God, that one is bold enough or dumb enough to try his con game on Jesus. “If you are the Son of God...” IF you are who you SAY you are...jump through these hoops and prove it. It's a child's dare. Sneering, petulant, angry. It's also an attempt to bribe Jesus into revealing his Messianic mission and ministry before the appointed time. Jesus' reply is our template, a map for traveling through our own Lenten desert: trust the Father's loving-care; worship no other god; do not test His will. The Devil departs from him...for a time. He is coming back. He always comes back. And Lent is our time to train intensely for his temptations.

First, we have to understand what it is “to be tempted.” If the Devil shows up on a Friday during Lent and waves a plate of grilled tofu steaks under my nose, I can easily say no. That just doesn't tempt me. However, if he pops in with a dozen vanilla cream filled Krispy-Kreme doughnuts, well, he got my full attention. To be tempted is to be lured in. Seduced. Drawn into a sin by an apparent good. And that's the hard part of deflecting temptation – the Devil never tempts us with something that we cannot conceivably regard as good. He uses the apparently good to entice us into an abuse of the truly good. Money, e.g., is a good. But if I worship money as my god; if I have become Money – my being is defined by my wealth – then I can be tempted with it to sin. Same goes for all the goods of creation: drink, food, sex, leisure, security, friends, family, career. All good. But none is God. The Devil is an artist at taking a good and twisting it ever so slightly to make it damaging to the soul. He can twist it to excess – hoarding, gorging; and he can twist it toward waste – wantonness, intemperance. To be tempted then is to be hailed as a god by the Devil and offered the chance to worship yourself instead of your Creator. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return!

How do we remember our origin and end in dust? Like any other 21st c. over-educated, middle-class American professional, I am tempted by the glamours of security and comfort. There's food in the fridge. Bills are paid. Insurance secured. I have a car, a cell phone, a laptop. The temptation isn't to acquire more of each or even better of each. The temptation is to make these comforts and securities into my gods. To make them into who I am rather than merely using them as tools. I'm not denying the Father's providence by having medical insurance. But the fear of losing it can be used to tempt me into sin. Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone.” In fact, we do not live by bread at all. We live by the gift of God's love in which we live, move, and have our being. Without His care, there would be no bread to eat. Without his care, none of us would exist to need bread in the first place. So, our first response to any temptation is to thank the Lord for His loving-care. To thank Him for creating Krispy-Kreme (and money and sex and jobs) and for showing us His beauty in created things, including ourselves most especially. Turn the temptation into an opportunity to give God thanks and praise. And then watch the Devil flee!

Remember: all temptations are grounded in the possibility of committing the sin of Pride, the mother/father of all sin. Pride is the false belief that I can achieve godhood w/o God's help. I can do this salvation on my own. Wealth will save me. Science, politics, religion will save me. Technology will save me. I will save me. Something, anything other than God Himself can and will save me. The moment you entertain this lie, you open yourself to temptation. You literally invite the Devil to worship you and offer you sacrifice. His sacrifice to us is always the same: praise and glory in this temporary world. All the Important People will count you among their number. Applause. Awards. Prestige. The Best People will think you deserve to be in their ranks. All you have to do is lie to yourself, call yourself a god, defy the Father's will, and do and think and say whatever we say you must. When death comes for you – as it always does – you will be a god of the grave, a deity of dirt and ash. We did not create ourselves. We cannot recreate ourselves. And we cannot make ourselves into gods. Temptation is fundamentally a lie, a lie used to seduce us into the trap Adam and Eve fell into. Turn temptation into thanksgiving and see your way out of this Lenten desert.     

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