This may be one of the oldest excuses in the book, but it is a false excuse. As we learn through the story of the temptation of Jesus in today’s gospel, the devil cannot make anyone do anything. Why? Because God created us with free will. This free will God has endowed with a sovereignty which even he respects. God permits no one to relinquish this sovereignty but us ourselves. The devil may entice and even deceive, as in today’s First Reading; but only we can decide to give in to his enticement and deception.
Unfortunately it is from the exercise of freedom that sin is possible. Along with the sovereignty of our freedom comes the responsibility for our free choices. The responsibility for good choices is called merit or virtue; the responsibility for evil choices is called guilt or sin. Of course, to make a truly free choice we must understand the choice we are making. We may be mistaken, in which case we are not guilty of deliberate sin. An honest examination of conscience is the only way to separate sin from virtue. A good confession in the sacrament of penance is the way to open the soul to the grace of divine forgiveness and reconciliation.
This Lent is time again for us to “turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) The sacrament of penance is the most powerful means of persevering in this resolve, because its grace is the result of Christ’s obedient sacrifice for the redemption of the world. The Lenten discipline of prayer and penance finds its completion in a good confession and act of contrition. The prayer of absolution frees us from the sinful entanglements into which we fall. Take advantage of the opportunity for confession and the conversion it affords.
Lent originated as a season for catechumens to complete their final preparation to receive the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and holy communion—at the Easter Vigil. For us already baptized it has become a season of prayer and penance offered for those who are coming into the Church, and also for our own ongoing conversion and purification from sin.
This afternoon catechumens from throughout the diocese will be formally enrolled at the Cathedral as candidates for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and eucharist this coming Easter. Pray for them. Pray also for the many baptized persons from throughout the diocese who will be called to continue their preparation for confirmation and/or holy communion. Our Church will be enriched by their presence as they will be enriched by their participation in the sacraments of the Church.
The penitential aspect of Lent is characterized by liturgical simplicity. The Gloria and Alleluia are omitted. The sanctuary is devoid of flowers and other decorations. All this noble restraint will give way to the joy and solemnity of Easter.
While fasting and abstinence are good Lenten penances that enhance our self-discipline, they go hand in hand with works of charity or almsgiving. The children of our diocese traditionally have their “mite boxes” in which they may put a daily offering. These proceeds go to support our diocesan mission parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This year we have something similar for adults called Operation Rice Bowl. The idea is that what we save by fasting or “giving something up for Lent” we can use to feed the poor. Since its beginning Operation Rice Bowl has funded development projects that improve people’s ability to access food around the world and in local diocesan communities in the United States. If you did not get a Rice Bowl on Ash Wednesday, they are still available in the church entrances.
Pray the Rosary this week for Father Allen Jakubowski, who is seriously ill, and for my recovery from rotator-cuff surgery. Pray for all participating in our Alpha series and those preparing to enter the Church at Easter. Pray for people in our own country who are suffering from the devastation of floods and tornadoes; and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.