February 13, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7) Reading II (Romans 5:12-19)
Gospel (St. Matthew 4:1-11)
In the first reading today from the Book of Genesis, we hear at the very beginning of the reading how God formed man out of the clay of the earth and breathed the breath of life into him, and he became a living being. In this way, he shared in the very life of God from the very beginning of his existence. And we see that the one who had rejected God, Satan himself, now comes into the garden that God had created with perfect order and with total peace. Suddenly, Satan is there where God Himself had created life, where God’s life of grace was already present within the souls of Adam and Eve.
When the devil comes into the garden, being (as Jesus tells us that he is) the liar from the beginning, he comes and tempts them by telling them lies. And we see the way that the devil’s lie works. It sounds like it is true; in fact, there is much truth involved in the lie. He begins by asking the woman, “Did the Lord God really say to you that you cannot eat from any of the trees in the garden?” Of course, Eve has to respond, “No, that’s not what God said.” But you notice in Eve’s response that even there she embellishes what God said. She says, “No, God said we can’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden or even touch it…” God never said that they could not touch it, but you see the way things work. Satan starts to work on the mind, and, as the mind begins to work with this, we as human beings tend to embellish things so that the truth suddenly is mixed up within our own minds.
After this, the devil tricks her once again and tells her something which is true and is a complete lie at the same time. That is, he tells her that if they eat of this they will have knowledge of good and evil, and they will be like gods. The fact of the matter is they were already like God. They were made in His image and likeness, and they already shared in His life. But you can see, then, what the devil does is to play on the selfishness, on the weakness. He already got them confused with his lies, and now what he is in essence doing is telling them, “God doesn’t really want what is the best for you. God is trying to keep you down. He knows that if you eat this you will become like gods, knowing good and evil.” And they saw, as it says, that it was good for food and desirable to the eyes and desirable for knowledge and wisdom, and so they ate it. Of course, after eating the fruit, they recognized that they were naked and death came into the world at that point.
The Book of Wisdom tells us that death came into the world through the envy of the devil, and we see that is exactly what it is. Adam and Eve had grace, they had the life of God, they had the tree of life right there – they could have eaten from that fruit of the tree of life and never died – but instead, before they could even get that far, the devil was right there to try to take away from them the gift that he himself had already rejected. He rejected God’s grace and he rejected the Incarnation; he rejected everything that had to do with eternal life. Consequently, at the heart of what he rejected is not only the Incarnation of Christ, but our Blessed Lady. So what does he do? He goes after the woman to try to get even with Our Lady because he knew from the test God gave him that God Himself was going to take human form in a woman. He went after the woman to try to destroy everything that humanity was about. The woman was to conceive life, the woman was to give life, and therefore he was trying to bring death into the world in that way.
Yet what we see then in the Gospel reading is that he comes to Our Lord and tries to tempt Him in the same way that he tried to tempt Adam and Eve. But in this case, Our Lord did not give in to any of the temptations. We know too, from the teaching of the Church, that our Blessed Lady never once gave into a single temptation of Satan; never once did she sin. And so we have here with Our Lord and Our Lady a new Adam and a new Eve. Just as Saint Paul says that through the transgression of one man sin came to all, so through the one righteous act of Jesus Christ life is restored to all. What Satan managed to fulfill in the very beginning of humanity – taking grace away, taking away the life of God, bringing death into the world through his envy – he was not able to accomplish in Our Lord and in Our Lady.
Now through Baptism we are incorporated into Our Lord, so we share in His life once again. We are called, then, to live the life of Christ, and like Him to be able to reject the temptations of Satan. The temptation is always the same on the objective order: “You will be God.” That is, you can make your own rules, you can decide what is good and evil, you can decide that you know better than God, you don’t have to listen to the way that God has laid out for us in the Ten Commandments and in the various laws that are laid out for us in the Gospels. We decide that we want to do it our way. That is what the devil did; remember his motto: “Non serviam” – I will not serve. Our Lord’s motto was I came to serve, not to be served, and He was obedient, Saint Paul says, even unto death. It is the obedience of Christ that brings life back to us.
As Jesus Himself tells us in the Gospel reading today, this life is not merely a natural one but a supernatural one. He says, Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. So we are to be obedient to the Word of God, not only the Word of God that is written, but the Word of God Who is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word spoken by God in the silence of eternity. Not only that, but we receive this Word into our own selves. We hear the Word spoken to us in Scripture, but we receive the Word in Holy Communion so that we have life, so that we have everything that is given. Just as life was lost to us through the transgression of Adam with the cooperation of Eve, now life is restored through the obedience of Jesus and the cooperation of Mary. And as Mary heard the Word of God and kept it, literally she was able to not only keep the Word of God by not sinning, but she was able to receive the Word of God in her womb in order to give birth to Life itself, so that we who were made from the dust of the earth and had life breathed into us from the beginning, now once again have that eternal life of God, the life of grace, breathed back into our souls as God gives to us grace in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, as He infuses into us (when we are incorporated into His Son Jesus) the very life of His Son, so that He Who shared our life gives to us a share in His own life.
We see how all of this has been overcome in Jesus and Mary. All of the transgressions of Adam and Eve are completely reversed so that we now have the ability in Christ to live as we were created to live. If we look at the way God intended for Adam and Eve, we can do the same. We do not have the gifts of integrity that Adam and Eve had – that is, the mind and the will are not in complete control, we struggle with the concupiscence, with the desires of the flesh, we struggle with the darkening of the mind and the weakening of the will, we know that we are going to have to die one day – but we have gifts that they did not. We have Jesus Christ. We have the gifts that He has given to us: the faith, hope, and charity that is infused into our souls. We have the sacraments. We have the Word of God, not only the spoken Word of God but the living Word of God Who is Jesus Christ. We have the Second Person of the Trinity Who became man, the Word of God Who is eternal, and Who lives within us as we receive Him in Holy Communion. So we do have the capacity to live even in this world in a manner which is truly pleasing to God. We have the capacity to live even now with our hearts set on heaven.
As God created order in the garden and sin brought chaos, we who live in this world of sin that is filled with chaos have an opportunity to bring order back into the chaos. The order has to begin within our own souls. That order, the right order of creation, is to live according to the way God has created us, to be obedient as Jesus was obedient, to reject the temptation of Satan as Jesus rejected the temptation of Satan. If the righteousness of this one Man, His obedience and His righteous act, has brought grace and righteousness to us, we can live the way that Jesus lived, we can live the way that Mary lived, we can live the way that God intended us to live from the very beginning. Not in the Garden of Eden, not in a world that is perfectly ordered, but we can live a life that is ordered, a life that is ordered by prayer, a life that is ordered by union with Jesus Christ and seeking to live His life even now so that we listen to the Word of God, we receive the Word of God, and we live the Word of God. As we live that Word, it is the life of God breathed into us through the sacraments. That life of grace that we are going to be able to live in this world will help us to overcome all of the temptations of the devil and recognize that we are in the image and likeness of God already, but that we are not God. There is only one God and we will serve Him alone. We will not worship Satan, we will not be obedient to him, but we have pledged our allegiance only to the Lord and we will be obedient to Him in all things.
That is the call that is ours. That is the glory that is being offered to us. In this season of self-denial, this season of penance, this holy season of Lent, we are called to enter more deeply into this mystery of redemption to be able to overcome sin in our lives so that we can live according to the very righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself. And the new life that is infused into us, the life of grace, we will be able to live even now with our hearts set on eternal life, which is the promise of grace, as we live by the very Word of God spoken to us in the Person of Christ and received in Holy Communion.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.