ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
SATURDAY 12 MARCH 2011
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
This evening we have a very interesting and different element in our celebration. We have in our midst a number of people who are preparing to be initiated, that is, to be introduced into the Sacramental Life of the Church this Easter. In other words, they are adults who have been preparing to be baptised, confirmed and make their First Confession and First Holy Communion this Easter.
This evening two of them come to ask that their names be officially enrolled among the candidates for these sacraments. It is up to all of us – the Christian community – to give our approval to their admission to our Christian community but we are also expected to give them good example and to support them with our prayers on the journey they are making.
You may say: Why do they want to be baptised and to be confirmed and receive Holy Communion? Are they not OK as they are – as so many others appear to be – who have, in fact, been baptised and confirmed and nourished by their First Communion but who unfortunately no longer bother to approach the table of the Lord. The answer to that question could take a lot of time but briefly we can say that these candidates for initiation in the Christian Life, have felt the need to share in the fruits of the victory won by Christ over temptation and sin. They want to have the help of Jesus Christ in their struggle against Satan. Satan, sin and temptation are at the centre of this evening’s Mass.
At the beginning of Lent, the Church summons all of us to take a closer look at our lives. Sin is always at work here on this earth. The danger of our faith being undermined is always present. The temptations which Jesus met in the desert never go out of date. Those temptations concern all of us. They come to the good Christians and the not so good. The devil is real. The devil is dead set against Christ and His kingdom. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Satan – the Great adversary and his minions, do all they can to upset Christians who are trying to build up the Kingdom of God. Satan and his servants stir up opposition to Christ and his followers. They multiply difficulties. They put up plenty of road blocks.
Christ was led by the Spirit out into the desert to be tempted. Temptation is not sin. Christ is the spotless lamb – the new Adam – who had not sin. And yet, he experienced temptation. Christ was invited by the Father of Lies to disobey the will of the Father. Naturally, he refused point blank.
As followers of Christ, we should expect nothing less. We too will be tempted. But by battling against temptation, we grow in our love for God. We show our love for God and, in fact, we give God glory. By his all-out attack on Christ – the devil shows his hand. The three temptations put to Jesus expose the devil’s favourite tricks.
To turn us away from God’s way, the devil will appeal to our desire for comfort and pleasure. ‘Turn these stones into bread or into chocolates or into jelly donuts’. I have to confess that this afternoon I was often tempted to watch the rugby match in comfort and leave the sermon to the last minute.
We are all obliged to do penance, each in his or her own way. Days of penance are laid down. On these days we are to devote ourselves to prayer and works of charity or piety. We are also to deny ourselves by carrying out our duties more faithfully and we are to observe fast and abstinence. Now the days and times of penance are every Friday and the season of Lent and if we ignore them we are, in fact, giving in to that first temptation.
The second temptation is to give in to our desire for recognition and fame and popularity. For Jesus it came in the form of an invitation to do a swan dive off the top of the temple. That will impress them. For the preacher it could be the urge to always say what is popular and pleasing; and to avoid, at all costs, anything that is not welcome.
The third temptation is our desire for greatness. Just go ahead and do it. It will make you rich and powerful. Our desires for comfort, fame and influence run deep. They are powerful, but they are not all-powerful. To be able to resist them successfully we have got to set our hearts on something even greater. That is what Christ did. He met every one of them with the words of Holy Scripture – the words of His Father in Heaven. He advises us to do the same. ‘Set your hearts on His kingdom first and then everything else will fall into place’.
The three temptations are really variations of the same temptation – the temptation to ignore God and to put our trust in ourselves and, in the process, to become self-seeking, self-absorbed and self-indulgent.
Even in our prayer we can become self-absorbed. That is why in the Mass we pray, in a special way, for the people in Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami yesterday.
This week we celebrate the Feast of our National Apostle. St. Patrick was often tempted by Satan but rejected temptation and turned to Christ.
This year it is special because on the afternoon of St. Patrick’s Day we welcome, into our midst, the Bell which has been chosen as the logo – the emblem – the symbol – of the International Eucharistic Congress.
On 17 March it will be blessed in Dublin by Archbishop Martin and then it will be despatched post haste to Armagh where it will stay in our diocese for two weeks. While it is here we will consecrate an icon which will form part of the of the base on which the Bell is carried. It is an icon representing Jesus dying on the cross – watched by his blessed mother and beloved disciple. His side is pierced by the soldier’s lance from which poured blood and water. The blood and water are symbols of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments which our two candidates seek from the Church. We wish them God’s blessing in their preparation and we hope that our prayers and example will both inspire and support them on their way.
RITE OF ELECTION
I welcome you to this Mass of the First Sunday of Lent. In Lent we are invited to join Jesus in the desert. There he is tempted to disobey his Father. He has to choose between human means and the means of being at the disposal of God, His Father.
The First Reading describes the first sin – of our first parents – the sin of pride, the pride of setting oneself up against God – the refusal to admit that we depend on God. Sin entered the world through one man and through sine, death.
• By one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners.
• So, by man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.
We are called in Lent to seek God’s will for us more clearly and to follow it more nearly.