First Sunday of Lent – March 10, 2019
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 92:1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13
My greatest happiness is to be before the Blessed Sacrament, where my heart is, as it were, in Its center. (St. Margaret Mary)
Every year we begin Lent by meditating on the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Like I have said before, Lent was originally, and still is, the final preparation for those who were going to be baptized at Easter. But back in the day, and to some extent even now, being a Christian often involved being rejected by your own family, persecution, and death. When you became a Christian, you were making a radical decision. Nowadays, we think about how nice it is to get baptized and we have a party and the whole family gathers around. But throughout the history of the Church, that wasn’t the case. Getting baptized was a serious commitment, it was a commitment to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ, to hand your life over to him, and sometimes quite literally. And so we begin Lent by meditating on the Temptation of Jesus just like those preparing for baptism did in order to strengthen us and help us overcome our temptation to give up.
But really “there is only one temptation. All particular temptations are expressions of this one original or ‘primordial’ temptation. [And] this is the temptation to believe that the fulfillment of the desires of the human heart depends entirely on us. Dependence on another leaves us at the mercy of what we cannot control. [And so] we are tempted to reject all forms of dependence” (Albacete).
Our Lord spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted. And over and over again, the temptation was the same: Jesus was tempted to reject his dependence on the Father. He was tempted to reject the plan the Father had for him, to take destiny into his own hands, and to depend only on himself. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus was faced with this temptation. Why? Because this is what the devil does: he tempts us to deny our need to depend on another and to depend only on ourselves, our own ideas, our own will, our own everything. What we see, though, is that throughout his life Jesus continues to point back to one thing, over and over again. He always points out that he is doing not his own will, but the will of the one who sent him (e.g., John 5:30 and 6:38).
And to the very end Jesus struggles with this. From forty days of being tempted in the wilderness all the way to the one hour in the garden. He is tempted to the point of sweating blood. And in a final submission he prays, “Not my will, but your will.” The forty days of temptation, the lifetime of temptation to reject his dependence on God culminate in that final hour in the garden. He asks the disciples, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” In that final hour, all he does is affirm that everything he has comes from the Father. That hour is an hour of complete dependence on God.
The adoration chapel here at the parish is set to open on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. And my challenge for you today is to make the commitment to sign up for one hour of adoration a week. Just like Jesus, we make this journey through these forty days of Lent enduring the temptation to give up and depend only on ourselves. And yet with our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we make a commitment to depend not on ourselves but on the Lord himself. Lent is going to end, though. And as we all know, once Lent ends it is a lot easier to slip back into all of the stuff you were doing before Lent began. And so again, just like our Lord, we need that constant reminder, that constant source of strength. We need to renew our act of dependence on the Lord. Jesus would constantly take time to go off and pray alone (c.f., Mt. 14:23). And this culminated in the garden with his hour of prayer, his complete abandonment to his Father. And just like his disciples he asks us, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” Spending an hour in prayer each week can seem hard or like a waste of time, but that is exactly the temptation to depend on yourself. An hour of adoration a week continues to renew within us the strength to give our entire life to the Lord.
Now, I get it, committing to an hour of adoration a week can seem like a lot, but it can change your life. Adoration can change your life. Case in point. As I’ve shared before, I first heard the call to the priesthood while in adoration. I was at Totus Tuus camp one summer, and one night was set aside for adoration and confession. I had not been to confession in eight months, and so I was pretty nervous about going. But I went. I got up and went. Instead of depending on myself, I made the act of turning everything over to the Lord. And when I came back to the chapel, when I came back and was giving thanks to God, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it is there that I first heard, in the depths of my heart: “Michael, I want you to be a priest.” It was in front of the Eucharist. Throughout high school I would often stop at the adoration chapel at my parish, just for a few minutes. When I was coming home from a lesson, or from running errands, even when I was on my way home from hanging out with my friends: I would just stop at the chapel and pray, just for a few minutes. When I was deciding where to go to college, I remember biking to the parish every day just to spend time in prayer and adoration. And all throughout this time I knew what the Lord was asking me to do, but I was still looking for the courage, for the strength. I was caught-up on the idea that fulfillment of the desires of my heart depended on me: I was caught-up in the primordial temptation. And yet it was in adoration that I constantly tried to affirm that my happiness did not depend on me, but on Another.
It was during my freshman year at Benedictine College that I decided to enter seminary. And lo and behold, guess what was at the center of the story: adoration. I played rugby at Benedictine, and one thing the rugby team would do once a month was help the Monks with all night adoration on a Saturday night; we would take the slots throughout the night. And so on this particular Saturday night I was in adoration. The next day was Divine Mercy Sunday, and I was helping my friend with a holy hour he was organizing for Divine Mercy Sunday. And so that weekend, spending two hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament—it was at that time that I was finally able to accept the call of the Lord. Literally the next day I called the vocation director and went to meet with him to begin the process of joining seminary.
But look, at the center of it all was one thing: Adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist. Now, God isn’t calling all of you to be a priest, I get that. He is calling some of you! He is calling some of you to be a priest or to be a religious sister. He is! But he is calling all of us to holiness, to discipleship, to follow him. My dad, for as long as I can remember, has had a holy hour. For most of my life it was at three or four a.m. Do you think he got the strength to raise his family, to be a husband and father by depending on himself? No. My sister who is a nun, do you think one day she just decided to go to the convent? No, she spend many hours in prayer, many many hours in adoration. Following the Lord doesn’t happen magically, it takes a commitment, it takes prayer, it takes time. But especially in Eucharistic Adoration. Thank God that we have this opportunity here at the parish, in the new chapel, beginning in just a few short days. Will you allow the Lord to change your life and spend one hour with him in adoration?
Finally, I just want to close with this: Discipleship. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, being his follower, his student, his companion—being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves many things. But just like those who were risking their lives in order to be baptized, just like those who were alienating themselves from their families by being a follower of Jesus—just like them, being a disciple involves a commitment. Just like any relationship, being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves a commitment. But also, just like any commitment, without a constant strengthening and renewing of this commitment, it all falls apart. If a couple never talks to each other, never spends time with each other—if they are always doing their own thing and talking with other people, their commitment to one another falls apart. In Adoration, we have time to talk with the Lord, to spend time with him.
But most importantly, we give the Lord the opportunity to speak to us, to work on us. Our patroness, St. Margaret Mary once said, “My greatest happiness is to be before the Blessed Sacrament, where my heart is, as it were, in Its center.” When St. Margaret Mary was before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration, she placed herself in the center of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And within His heart, she could experience the happiness and joy that her heart was truly in search of. She knew that it was in the Eucharist, in the Sacrament of Charity, in the Sacrament of Jesus’ total outpouring of love on the cross—she knew that in the Eucharist there in the monstrance was everything. And so she also famously said, “All for the Eucharist, nothing for me.” All for the Eucharist, all for the love of the Lord, all for his Most Sacred Heart.