HOMILY FOR FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT: THE ANATOMY OF TEMPTATIONS

1ST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR A

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Psalm 51; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1:11

Theme: The Anatomy of Temptations

Our Lenten journey has begun in earnest, beginning on Ash Wednesday, and today, the 1st Sunday of the season, the Church presents to us, the reality of our Christian struggles. The gospel reading, which shall be the focus of our reflection today, recount to us, the familiar story of the temptation of Jesus. From this reading, a number of things are revealed to us about temptations, which is a reality we all have to deal with. We shall attempt therefore, an anatomical study of temptation with a view of how to deal with it on our Christian journey. Anatomy is from the Greek word “anatomē”, which means “dissection.” It is the branch of biology that deals with the study of the structure of organisms and their parts. Hence, by reflecting on “The Anatomy of Temptations”, we shall be dissecting the whole thing about temptations to understand its structure/components parts.  

1. All temptations of the devil have one or more of three elements, which I call “The devil’s 3 Ps”.

These are Pleasure, Pride and Power. All of the devil’s temptations pull us in one or more of the direction of any of these three elements. We see these present in the temptation of Jesus too. Let’s look at them closely.

Pleasure: Jesus was tempted with bread, which gives the pleasure of eating.

Pride: Jesus was told to prove that he is really God’s son by jumping off a height, in other words, to show off his ‘class’.

Power: Jesus was offered authority over the kingdoms of the world (something which is beyond the devil to give anyway).

These three elements are also present in our own temptations.

Pleasure: We are tempted with food, drink, money, sex, fashion, etc

Pride: This is often shown when we move with an air of superiority over others; when we disrespect and disregard our subordinates; when we practice caste system and racism, etc.

Power: We see this when we always want to dominate others; when we crave authority at all cost; when we think we must tell others what to do at all times.

We must therefore watch out for all of these; when we notice the presence of any of them, we should know that the devil is around the corner.

2. Temptations do not begin with hostility.

The devil’s trick is usually to come to us as a helping friend; he comes subtly as though he is proffering a solution to a problem and he presents evil as though it were good. He knew Jesus was hungry, so he suggested to Jesus a way of dealing with his hunger problem. He knows that if he comes in a hostile manner, we will become defensive, so he comes gently. It is not every voice that sounds like a friendly voice that we should listen to; it is not every suggestion of a “solution” to a problem that we should heed. We must first test every spirit (I John 4:1).

3. Our biggest temptation will come from our greatest need.

We can say that Jesus’ biggest problem after his forty days fast was hunger (Matt 4:2), and consequently, his greatest need was food. That was exactly where his temptation began. At a time when we are in great need of anything, be it physical or emotional or psychological, we must be very vigilant, because at such times, the devil is never far off.

4. We must instantly resist temptations or risk falling.

The longer we ‘romance’ a temptation, the greater foothold we give to the devil, and the more likely we are to sin. Jesus knew this and he promptly told the devil off. Scripture says “resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jam 4:7). We must reject, rebuke and banish every tempting idea from our minds the very instant they come. If we don’t, we are offering the devil a chance to convince us of the need to sin.

5. The Word of God is a powerful weapon in the fight against temptation.

Jesus refuted all of the devil’s temptations with a reference to a passage of Scripture. This mighty weapon is still available to us to wield, but sadly, many who profess Christianity have very little knowledge of the Bible. Little wonder Scripture says “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). We must do well to spend time in reading and studying the word of God. Notice from the temptation story that even Satan quoted the Bible for Jesus, hence, we must be on top of this game, if we want to triumph.

In this Lenten season and beyond, we pray that the grace of God will continually grant us victory over the devil and his many tricks. Amen.

HOMILY FOR 7TH SUNDAY, YEAR A: HOLINESS AND PERFECTION

7TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-38

Theme: Holiness and Perfection

In the first reading of today’s Mass, God asked Moses to say to the people of Israel, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” and in the gospel reading, Jesus said to his disciples and the people around, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Today’s readings therefore, calls us to a life of holiness and perfection, and this call is at the heart of the Christian message, as the practice of Christianity is meant to lead us to a life of holiness.

What then does it mean to be holy? The Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is ‘Kadosh’, which means “different from.” To be ‘kadosh’ is to be different from others. It was in this light that Saint Peter says “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, A PEOPLE SET APART for God…” (1 Pet 2:9). This implies that God is calling upon us to live a life that is different from that of the world around us; God is calling us to make a difference in our world; God is calling us to set a standard for the world to follow, and not following the standards of the world. As Saint Paul says, we must not “be conformed to the standards of this world” (Rom 12:2). As we often hear it said, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” But this should not be the philosophy of a Christian. We should rather adopt the approach of “If you can’t beat them, don’t join them, rather, make a difference.” Hence, people around us may be stealing, cheating, lying, fornicating, gossiping, backbiting, and being adulterous as though it were the norm, but we must not be like them; we must rather be ‘kadosh’, be different from them, for we serve a God who is holiness himself.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we must be perfect. The Greek word for perfect, which Jesus uses, is ‘teleios.” This word is often used in a very special way and it depicts full maturity in one sense. Hence, a full grown man who is tall is teleios in comparison with a dwarf; an experienced driver is teleios compared to a learner. In another sense, teleios can be used to depict proper functionality. Thus, when a thing serves the purpose for which it was made, it is said to be ‘teleios.’ Hence, a clock is teleios if it tells the time correctly; a screwdriver is teleios if it fits perfectly into the screw; a shoe is teleios if it fits the leg very well; a microphone is teleios if it does not break intermittently; and a man is teleios if he fulfills the purpose of his creation.

At creation, God said about man, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Gen 1:26), which means that man was created to resemble God. The simple catechism tells us that “God made us to know him, to love him and serve him in this world…” So when we do these simple, basic things of knowing, loving and serving God, then we shall be teleios. How then can we be holy and perfect? We find simple and straight answers in the readings of today’s Mass.

  1. The first reading says do not hate, do not seek nor take revenge, do not bear a grudge against no one, love your neighbor as yourself
  2. The second reading says preserve the holiness of your bodies, for you are God’s temple, and God’s temple is meant to be kept holy and pure
  3. The gospel reading admonishes us against taking revenge or being partial and encourages us to be generous and pray even for the wicked.

When we do these and other similar basic but good things, then we shall attain the level of holiness and perfection.

It is important to note that God is the One who is set before us as the measure/standard for holiness and perfection, not our father or mother or priest or prayer leader or any human being. “Be holy, FOR I, THE LORD YOUR GOD, AM HOLY.” You, therefore, must be perfect, AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER is perfect.” This means that it is God we should look up to and try to be like. While human beings can inspire us, we must not set any human as our standard for holiness and perfection as we are all struggling on a journey together, and human beings can fail/disappoint us.

Let us not keep in mind, dear friends, that the major call God puts across to us today is to transform our world from where we are by being different from the world and by making effort to fulfill the purpose of our existence. Let us make the effort therefore, to be holy and perfect like our heavenly father. May the Lord Jesus supply us the grace of holiness and perfection. Amen. Have a blessed Sunday.

6TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A: FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

6TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37

Theme: Freedom and Responsibility

At creation, God gave man freewill; man was imbued with the ability to choose. This freedom however, comes with certain responsibilities. God told Adam and Eve, concerning the one thing he gave them, and by extension, all humanity, a choice, that they may freely eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden except one. However, they are still free to eat of it, but under pain of death (Gen 2:16-17), implying that they will be responsible for the outcome of their free choice. So, with freedom and freewill comes responsibility, and every free action has a consequence, whether good or bad, and this is what the First Reading reminds us of.

The creation story tells us that when God created everything, including man, he saw that they were very good (Gen 1:31). We then ask the question: “how then are there bad people?” God created goodness, but as we have shown above, he did not compel it on human beings. They are free not to do the good, but they will be responsible for the outcome. So, evil therefore, is simply the absence of good. This is because we are only responsible for what we freely and willfully decide to do. For instance, a marriage, by both civil and ecclesiastical laws, contracted under any form of coercion is ipso facto, invalid, null and void. Hence, being intrinsically a good person or a bad person is a consequence of the little choices we make everyday. And so, in the First Reading, Ben Sirach says “If you WILL, you CAN keep the commandments (free act, and they will save you (consequence).”

Sirach uses water and fire to represent good and evil, life and death respectively, and he repeats what those before him have said before. Moses once told the people of Israel, “I place before you, life and death, blessings and curses, choose life (free act) so that you and your descendants may live (consequence) (Deut 30:19) and Joshua in his days, told the same community of Israel, “Choose today, whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15). All these points us to the fact that obeying and keeping God’s commandments is a thing of choice and by implication, whether a person goes to heaven or hell is also a thing of choice. However, it is God’s desire that we choose good, obey Him, and live.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we also have the freedom to remove the causes of sin far from us. He says if your eyes will cause you to sin, if your hand or your leg will cause you to sin, pluck them out and cast them off. The eye is the seat of desire.Most of the sins people commit are to satisfy the desires of the flesh. Greed, avarice, lust, fornication, adultery, masturbation, gluttony, and many others are all driven by the desires of the flesh, arising from what the eyes have seen and the mind has craved. The hand is symbolic for relationships. There are certain relationships that do you no good whatsoever, whether temporal or spiritual. Many people are on the path to hell today because of the kind of relationships they keep. It could be with friends, colleagues or even family members. Jesus says they are not worth losing your soul for. And the leg is symbolic for activities.  Some activities are hindrances to our salvation; some are barriers to having healthy relationships; some are home breakers. Any form of activity that will prevent you from doing what is right, Jesus says, is not worth it, even if it is your work or business. And Jesus prescribes a radical, difficult, painful but very effective remedy: he says, leave such things; cut them off; surgically remove them from your life as cancerous cells are removed from the body. All these too, are choices that we must have to make from time to time, and whether we choose to cut them off or let them stay is something that we have the freedom to do, but we must be responsible for whatever the outcome may be.

So today, dear child of God, the big question before us all is: what fundamental choice will you make? Will you choose for God or against God? As for me, myself and I, we have chosen to serve the Lord and there is no turning back. May the Lord Jesus help us to daily make the right choices. Amen.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: JESUS THE SIGN OF CONTRADICTION

FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Theme: JESUS THE SIGN OF CONTRADICTION

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus, in commemoration of the time when he was presented in the temple at Jerusalem according to Jewish law. By law, this is done after a woman’s time of purification (Lev 12:1ff) and it is 40 days after the birth of a male child and 80 days if it is a female child. The law also prescribes the sacrifices to be offered for the ceremony: a one year old lamb for burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering. If the couple are poor, then they are to offer two pigeons or turtle-doves, one for burnt offering and one for sin offering (Lev 12:8). The parents of Jesus brought two pigeons (Lk 2:24), implying that they are poor people who could not afford a lamb. There are three things we should note from this.

  1. It is child presentation, not child dedication – Many Catholics today talk about child dedication whereas they should be saying child presentation. Children are dedicated to God in the Sacrament of baptism when they are anointed with the Oil of the Holy Chrism to become priests, prophets and kings. When they are brought to church, the proper term then is presentation. The Catholic Church celebrates two presentations: of Jesus (February 2nd) and of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21st), not dedication. Please learn the difference.
  2. Child dedication (baptism) and presentation (bringing to church) should be done as soon as possible – We now see a practice where people wait for three months before bringing their new born children for baptism and presentation. This practice is foreign to scriptures and to Catholic teaching. As soon as a child is born, the child is already due for baptism and as soon as the woman is strong enough, having recovered from the lost strength of pregnancy and childbirth, she is good to resume her church activities. The practice of waiting for three months is therefore neither scriptural nor in line with the teachings of the church. As shown above, even scripturally, the time of seclusion for the woman is a maximum of 80 days, which is less than the 90 days in three months. So where did this practice come from? Funny enough, the same women who say their time is not yet due to return to the church are strong enough to go everywhere else except to the church. Besides, the law of purification which secludes the woman for 40 or 80 days is a Jewish and not a Christian law, meaning that it is not binding on Christians.
  3. Child presentation is not an expensive affair – I have seen people who have refused to bring their children for baptism and presentation because they claim not to have money. But child presentation does not require money! As scripture prescribes in the gospel reading, the offering to be brought by the parents of the child is according to their financial strength. In the same vein, whatever Christian parents of today wish to bring to the church as they present their child should depend on what they can afford. There is no law that specifies what parents must bring to the church, neither is there any law that says there must be a party at home after the church activity. If you can afford it, by all means, do, but if you cannot, do not kill yourself! Just bring your child and the little gift you can afford to the church.

 We shall now draw two lessons from the gospel text for our reflection.

Lesson 1: Jesus understands our difficulties

The inability of Jesus’ parents to afford a lamb indicates that they were poor. So Jesus, to whom everything belongs and through whom all things were created, was born into a poor carpenter’s family, without a silver spoon. He had no luxuries and he knew the difficulties of making a living by working as a carpenter (Mk 6:3 – Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?). Scripture says that Jesus had to become like us in all things in order that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest, and because he himself was tempted by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are going through tough times (Heb 2:17-18). So dear children of God, whatever it is that we are going through, Jesus understands it all because he knows human nature first hand. Normally, it is difficult to understand a pain we have not personally experienced. For instance, it is difficult to understand the pain of a grieving parent if you have never lost a child. But whatever it is that we are going through as human beings, Jesus perfectly understands and he has promised that he will be with us through them all (Mat 28:20). This should be a big consolation and encouragement to us all, knowing that we are never alone, for the merciful Jesus is in it with us. All we need to do is to answer his invitation, take it to him in prayer and allow him to give us rest.

Lesson 2: Jesus the sign of contradiction

Let us begin here by asking the question: In which direction does a stairway go? Up or down? The answer depends on which side we stand and in which direction we want to go. The gospel reading tells us that Simeon describes Jesus as a sign of contradiction, a sign which shall cause the rise and the fall of many. This is very strange and hard to accept, but it is very true. Indeed, Jesus is and has been the sign of contradiction for all generations since his incarnation. Whether a person rises or falls on account of Jesus isn’t so much about God’s judgment of the person; it is more of the person’s judgment of himself which usually happens in his reaction and response to the invitations of Jesus Christ. Jesus has taught and left us his word/commandments. If we accept it, we rise; if we reject his message and commandments, we fall. Jesus offers us his mercy: if we accept it, we rise, if we reject it, we fall. Many people use Jesus’s name to help people and they rise: many others also use the same name of Jesus to deceive and mislead others, and they fall. Jesus therefore is like the stairway by which we can either rise to higher floors of a building or descend to lower floors. It all depends on where we stand and whether we want to go up or go down. If we accept the command of Jesus and live by his precepts, we shall rise, but if we do the opposite, then we shall fall. We therefore ask ourselves today: in relation to Jesus, am I rising or falling? May the Lord help us to realize this truth and work hard to rise in Jesus. Amen.