March 5, 2017 – First Sunday of Lent
The following is a homily I am delivering at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN this weekend:
I did a lot of dumb things when I was a kid. Today I will share just one example.
When I was a freshman in high school, I participated in track and field in the throwing events – shot put and discus. For those who may not know what a shot put is, it is a 12-lb steel ball that is thrown for distance.
I would often bring a shot put home the day before a track meet so I could get in some extra practice. After practicing on one such occasion, my dad stopped me as I walked toward the stairs with my shot put. I explained to him that I wanted to put it with my uniform because I was afraid I would forget it. He explained to me that bringing a 12-lb steel ball upstairs was an accident waiting to happen, and instructed me to leave it in the garage.
I did as I was told, and sure enough, I forgot it the next morning. This did not make my track coach very happy.
So the next time I brought my shot put home, I quickly and quietly brought it upstairs and put it with my uniform. The next morning, I concealed the shot put in my sweatshirt and headed for the stairs. As I took the first step onto the stairs, I stepped on one of the sleeves of my sweatshirt, causing the sweatshirt, and the shot put, to be pulled from my hands.
I learned several things that day.
I learned physics. I learned that the force of a 12-lb steel ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was sufficient to propel that steel ball completely through the drywall and the insulation and actually loosen some of the bricks on the exterior of the house.
I learned how loud my Mom could scream. I don’t imagine there could be a louder scream than the one coming from a mother who believes her son is falling down the stairs.
Finally, I learned finance. Did you know that in 1975 it cost $87 to hire a professional to repair a 5-inch hole in drywall and re-mortar three exterior bricks? I know because I had to pay the bill.
In this situation, I gave into temptation and sinned. Dad made it very clear what the expectations were, but when tempted with something more expedient, something more desirable, I chose my own path. My sin was not the act of taking my shot put upstairs to my room. My sin was one of arrogance. My sin was thinking I knew better.
Such was the case for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The sin was not eating the apple; the sin was the arrogance it took to even approach the tree. Despite God making His expectations very clear, they were arrogant enough to think they knew better.
It is the root cause of our sinfulness. We fall victim to our own arrogance.
We know right from wrong. We know what God expects of us. However, when tempted with something we want to do but know is wrong, we play the arrogant “free will” card: “I can choose. No one can tell me what to do.”
We are like children. Have you ever tried helping a young child do something for the first time – like tie a shoe or button a button on a shirt? He will pull away and say, “I can do it myself” although he clearly cannot.
We show the immaturity of our faith when we give in to temptation. Sin is rarely defined by a specific behavior. It is most often defined by an “I-can-do-it-myself” arrogance. When we say, “I can do it myself,” we are telling God we know better.
This is the type of attitude that caused Adam and Eve to approach the tree in the first place.
It is the type of attitude that puts us in harm’s way. It is how “harmless flirting” with a co-worker turns into much more. It is how “just checking out a website” becomes a pornography addiction. It is how “a little white lie” makes lying on a regular basis so much easier.
This is why, when we pray the Act of Contrition, we resolve “to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads us to sin.” It is not about the apple; it is about never approaching the tree in the first place.
Pope Francis recently spoke to a gathering of priests in Rome, and his words offer us hope. He said, “One thing is clear: Temptation is always present in our lives. Moreover, without temptation, you cannot progress in faith.”
In other words, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It is OK to fall victim to our own arrogance, as long as we learn from it and grow stronger because of it. As we progress in our faith, our relationship with God is strengthened, and we become more resistant to temptation.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus offered us the ultimate example of fighting through temptation. Three times the devil offered objects of desire to Jesus – food, power, and worldly possessions. His humanity made Him vulnerable to temptation just like any of us.
When Jesus was tempted to turn the stones into bread, He did not say, “Maybe I’ll turn one stone into bread and see how it tastes.”
Jesus was told that all He had to do is prostrate Himself and worship the devil and He would be given all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus did not respond with, “Maybe I’ll worship the devil one time, just to see what it’s like to have so many worldly possessions.”
He avoided what would lead Him to sin. He never took a bite of the apple because He never approached the tree.
He could have given in to temptation. He could have said, “I know better than my Father,” but He did not.
Instead, He chose the path that conformed to the will of God.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we make a commitment to do God’s will. Temptation is inevitable. We will constantly be offered things the world tells us are better or easier or more desirable. However, we cannot allow arrogance to distract us from God’s will.
The Lenten season calls us to get back on the right track. It calls us to prayerfully acknowledge the fact that we do not know better than God. It calls us to Reconciliation – “to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads us to sin.”
We won’t put a hole in the wall if we never take the shot put upstairs.
We won’t take a bite of the apple if we never approach the tree.