Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

There was a story being passed around on e-mail a few years ago.  One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside the human person.  He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.”  "One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  "The other is Good -  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."  The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"  The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

This is a great analogy for explaining the season of Lent.  During Lent we feed the good inside us and starve the bad.  The Lenten practice of fasting is one way to starve the evil wolf.  Prayer and almsgiving are ways we feed the good wolf.  If we put this analogy of the wolves into Christian terms, our example is Christ himself.  Jesus always fed the good wolf, so to speak.  Thus, he was filled with the Holy Spirit as we hear in today’s Gospel.  And he was able to fight the temptations of the devil.  We also are to strive to be filled with the Holy Spirit so we will be able to fight against temptation.  What are some of the ways we can feed the good wolf?  How are we filled with the Holy Spirit?  We are by living the life of Christ; by living the virtues; by participating fully in the Sacramental life of the Church.  If we are avoiding any of these, we are not full of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  If we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to fight against temptation.  If we give in to temptation, we are that much further from the crown of victory.  So we can see how it snowballs.

That sacramental life of the Church is huge: especially the Eucharist.  We are fed with the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord.  That’s the perfect food for feeding the good wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.  Many people in this season of Lent attend daily Mass a few times a week, making the goodness inside themselves that much stronger.

And there’s much more that Christ does for us.  Whenever we are tempted and think we are alone in our struggle, this Gospel tells us that we are not alone.  Jesus was there first.  He lived through this struggle.  He appreciates how difficult it is for us when we are tempted.  God took on human flesh and endured temptation out of love for us.

St. Augustine points out: Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial.  We progress by means of trial.  We come to know ourselves through trial.  We can only receive the crown of victory after the victory over the trial.  But notice how often we want the crown of victory without having gone through the trial.  Christ was tempted and victorious in that temptation.  We follow in his footsteps.  In Christ we are tempted.  In Him we overcome the evil one.  If he were not tempted he could not teach us how to triumph over temptation.

Why do we give in to temptation in the first place?  This is the age old question.  St. Paul asked, “Why do I continue to do the evil that I don’t want to do?”  The old Cherokee illustrated it as a fight between two wolves.  No matter how we discuss it, we give in because God seems secondary.  We buy into the lie that giving in to the temptation will give us some kind of fulfillment.

As we go through this season of Lent, feeding the good inside us and starving the bad, we go through a transformation.  God is really good at transforming our lives if we let him.  We notice in the first reading that God transforms a small household into a great nation.  In their generosity of offering God the first fruits of their produce, He transforms their slavery into deliverance.  He who did great things will continue to do great things.

Growing the good in our lives and decreasing the bad will produce good fruit.  We will then be able to follow St. Paul’s command to not only believe, but say what we believe.  And we know that we say it not only in words but also in our actions.  This season of Lent helps us build conviction of heart which is of utmost importance.  Conviction of heart allows me to witness to the Lord.

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