Father Martino Nguyen Ba-Thong
(St. Anne Catholic Church - Columbus, GA)
1st Lent - Year B - (2009)
Genesis 9:8-15 1 Peter 3:18-22 Mark 1:12-15
The name of the game is: use what you have to get what you want. I am sure you have heard that before. Many people indeed take it as their philosophy of life. I remember visiting a family one day and watching two little boys fighting over who gets the last cookie. The mother sees this as an opportunity to teach her children a lesson. She stops them and explains to them that if there was only one cookie left then Jesus would give up the cookie and offer it to his disciple. The older brother ponders what his mother has just said, and his face lights up with understanding. He turns to his younger brother and says to him, "I will let you . . . be Jesus!" In our Gospel reading today, however, Jesus shows us that the principle of using whatever you have to get whatever you want is not always right. In fact, when that principle is applied without putting God first, it becomes a philosophy of the world, of the devil, a philosophy that must be rejected as Jesus did - Fighting against temptation!
The First Sunday of Lent always presents the temptation of the Lord. This makes sense because the Lord fasted for 40 days, rebuffed the temptations of the devil and then began His public ministry. We spend forty days fasting, in self denial, forty days doing everything we can to come closer to God so we also can do the work of the Kingdom
Temptations are always there and are difficult to overcome. As I often say, the day we feel that we are no longer subject to temptation, we really should take our pulse because we will probably be dead.
We all know, temptations are out there - waiting to catch us any time! So it is so easy for us to say to others, "Just say no," but it is difficult when we are the ones who are tempted. The complex aspect of temptations is that they all contain an element of attractiveness, an element of good. All of God's creation contains beauty. We human beings pervert that beauty and turn something that is good into bad. For example, the human body is beautiful; pornography is a perversion of the beauty. Another, example, there are wonderful medications to help people who suffer from anxiety attacks, depression, etc. The same medications are used by addicts to destroy their lives and the lives of those around them.
Believe it or not, all sin is attractive, if it weren't attractive we wouldn't be tempted by it. When someone says, "If it feels good, do it," what they are saying is that sin is acceptable as long as you are getting selfish pleasure from it. That is the way of the world. That is not the way of Jesus. Nor can it be our way.
Jesus is the conqueror of sin. But the battle was not a simple task. Jesus was tempted to save His own life and to give up and not go along with the Father's plan. But His love for the Father and His love for us were more powerful than anything the devil or the world could must up.
He beat off temptation, and then told us: "entrust your pain, your temptation and even your sin to me. I have conquered and will continue to conquer evil." When we choose Christ, the devil really doesn't stand a chance. In the Battle for the Kingdom, Jesus fights with us, finding a way for us to win, even though we are weak and often sinful.
God refuses to give up on us. Even when evil makes inroads into our lives. "See I have set my bow in the skies as a sign that I will never destroy my people." That was the promise made to seal the covenant with Noah after the flood. The bow, by the way, is the rainbow. For people of faith, the rainbow is not just a beautiful natural occurrence. It is a sign of our hope in God. When we are overwhelmed with our own human weakness, our own continual sinfulness, the rainbow reminds us: God refuses to give up on us. We can't give up on ourselves. Look at the rainbow. God is the Compassionate, the Merciful One.
The 40 days of Lent are really about loving Jesus. We spend this time looking for ways to grow in our love for our Savior. We fight off temptation with Him. We give Him our sins in confession. We unite ourselves to Him through the Eucharist and all forms of prayer. We do everything possible to allow His grace into our lives. And we recognize, as the praise and worship song goes, "His grace is enough for us."
On this First Sunday of Lent I would like to offer you a prayer that I think might help all of us to fight off the temptation to be closer with God! And here it is - entitled Heaven's Grocery Store
As I was walking down life's
highway many years ago
I came upon a sign that read
Heavens Grocery Store.
When I got a little closer
the doors swung open wide
And when I came to myself
I was standing inside.
I saw a host of angels.
They were standing everywhere
One handed me a basket and said
"My child, shop with care."
Everything a human needed
was in that grocery store
And what you could not carry
you could come back for more.
First I got some Patience.
Love was in that same row.
Further down was Understanding,
you need that everywhere you go.
I got a box or two of Wisdom
and Faith a bag or two.
And Charity, of course,
I would need some of that, too.
I couldn't miss the Holy Ghost
It was all over the place.
And then some Strength and Courage
to help me run this race.
My basket was getting full but I remembered I needed Grace,
And then I chose Salvation for
Salvation was for free
I tried to get enough of that to do for you and me.
Then I started to the counter
to pay my grocery bill,
For I thought I had everything
to do the Masters will.
As I went up the aisle I saw
Prayer and put that in,
For I knew when I stepped outside
I would run into sin.
Peace and Joy were plentiful,
the last things on the shelf.
Song and Praise were hanging near
so I just helped myself.
Then I said to the angel
"How much do I owe?"
He smiled and said
"Just take them everywhere you go."
Again I asked "Really now,
how much do I owe?"
"My child" he said,
"God paid your bill a long, long time ago."
Father Martino Nguyen Ba-Thong