Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent

26 February 2023

First Sunday of Lent: Year A

Since November, I’ve been going to the gym. I go almost every day, despite the lack of visible progress. I tell myself: “I’m in my 40’s now, it matters more what the doctors see than what I see.” What surprises me about the gym is the effort people seem to put in to improve themselves – to become healthier.

There is a link here, believe it or not, with the first reading this weekend, where Adam and Eve can be seen trying to improve themselves. The devil promised Eve that she could “know good from evil”. This sounds good: we humans don’t know everything so the opportunity to know more would be an improvement, especially on such an important subject as good and evil.

The devil did a good job framing disobedience this way. In disobeying God, Adam and Eve fell – Christians call this “The Fall”. Their sin is far more than disobedience. In disobeying God, Adam and Eve desired to know in such a way that did not correspond with their human nature. Had they listened more attentively they would have known this: “you will be like God,” said the devil. This is the underlying sin: the rejection of a Creator/creature relationship.

Still confused? Think of it like this: it is consistent with the nature of man to know by degrees, some of us knowing more than others. Whereas it is to God’s nature to be omniscient. Omniscience is not a degree of knowledge – it knows no degrees. Therefore, by desiring to be “like God”, to be omniscient, Adam and Eve rejected their nature and thereby rejected the Creator/creature relationship: God’s and ours.

Still confused? Let’s push on because there is good news. This question of nature, desire and temptation takes on a new perspective, a redemptive perspective in the Gospel. Whereas Adam and Eve desired to be like God, Jesus, without losing his divine nature, having become fully human at the incarnation, is confronted in the desert with the limits of his and our human nature.

He entered the garden, now a desert, and was tempted just like Adam and Eve. The form of his temptation was different to that of Adam and Eve, but like them he was tempted to act against human nature. Were he to give in to his hunger he would legitimise every human passion. Were he to reject death through the embrace of the angels he would live without a sense of mortality. And were he to worship the devil he would have dominion over all the world, but without the cross and the redemption this offers.

The good news is that Our Lord did not give in to any of these temptations and thereby began the work of redemption he would complete on the cross:

So then, just as one trespass brought condemnation for all men, so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19).

These temptations were presented to Our Lord as ways to achieve a good. But remember what we said about nature, desire, and temptation: when the devil tempts us to pursue a good that does not correspond with our nature, and we consent to the temptation, we fall.

I would like to place this reflection into the question of gender identity which our Life Teen children asked me to speak about. What follows will not exhaust the subject and further reflection is necessary and encouraged.

From the Scriptures today we can see the following:

  • our nature is given us by our loving Father to be received: “male and female he created us”.
  • This nature has limitations: a boy is not a girl, and a girl is not a boy.
  • From these differences arise within us a desire and longing for something other than ourselves: “it is not good for man to be alone”.
  • These desires are natural, that is to say, they correspond with our nature: male and female.
  • After The Fall, these desires became disoriented. They are no longer always for good, and we still don’t know good from evil.
  • The devil tempts us to think that the discomfort sometimes accompanied by these desires is a fault of our nature, in other words, a fault with how we were created.
  • Next, the devil promises that if only we would act on these desires, act against our nature, we will find relief from our discomfort.
  • This is another lie that leads to a personal fall.

For the Christian, the way forward is (always) the path of Our Lord. By rejecting the temptation to change his circumstances, even though he could, he embraced the longings that correspond with human nature. In doing so we see the beginning of the redemption he would accomplish on the cross where his participation in our fallen nature is evident in his sharing in our death. What a remarkable union Our Lord has made with us, “like us in all things but sin”.

It should come as no surprise that our young people are struggling this way. Their struggle is rooted in the culture where it has become the norm to prioritise desire over personal responsibility. Manifestations of this include the normalisation of: no-fault divorce, re-marriages, artificial birth control, gay marriage, abortion, and the rejection of priestly celibacy often by priests. Where this has become the norm in our society, desire is prioritised over personal responsibility. It follows that the current generation will be tempted to act on desires inconsistent with nature.

In the context of Lent, Our Lord invites us to trust him, by accepting that God has creates us good, despite the limitations and longings of our nature. He invites us to think about our vocations, to the priesthood, marriage, religious life, or as a single person and to orient our actions to strengthening these. Desires that pull us away from our vocation are to be seen for what they are, temptations. Finally, we think of Our Lord, who in the desert did more than give us a better example that did Adam and Eve – he entered into the desert of our heart, so that he might redeem us on his cross.