Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Are You A "Not Really" Disciple?

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

In our Gospel we heard about Satan's temptation of Jesus. Notice that Satan didn't beat around the bush with Jesus. He didn't try to get into subtle arguments; he came at Jesus "head on" and offered him power, dominion, and the rest. Now usually Satan is more subtle with us - he tries to seduce us, to trick us. That's what we heard in our first reading, from Genesis. Satan says to Eve "Did God really tell you not to eat from the Tree?" And the implication is clear: "Oh, no, God didn't really mean for you not to eat of the fruit..." And it all went downhill from there.

This is what I call "not really" kind of thinking. We've all heard that sort of thing: "Surely God didn't really mean that." "Of course, nobody really believes that sort of thing anymore." Notice that when people say that sort of thing, they don't actually make an argument or give reasons why one shouldn't believe this or that. No, the trick here is to imply that such beliefs are stupid or silly, and that if you believe them, it's because you're silly or just not very bright.

A few years ago I was on airplane flying out East on vacation. I usually wear my clerics when I fly. Not that it gets me any special treatment - in fact I'm more likely to get put in the "special" security line at the airport when I am wearing my clerics than if I'm dressed in lay clothing. Go figure...

But after we took off and had been flying for a little while, the gentleman across the aisle from me leaned over and said "Excuse me, but are you a Catholic priest?" "Yes, I am", I answered. He then said "Wow, I haven't actually met a Catholic priest in years. And to meet one so young! I figured all you guys were getting old and dying out." I answered saying, "well, no, there are quite a few of us still around." We talked for a few more minutes, (it was clear he was not Catholic) and then went back to our own pursuits. After a few more minutes, he leaned over again and said "Excuse me again, I'm sorry to bother you, but I just have to ask, do you really believe all that stuff?" I was somewhat put-off by this, but I figured he wasn't trying to be offensive, so I answered him, saying "I'm not sure what you mean by "all that stuff", but yes, I believe in the Catholic faith. I wouldn't be dressed like this if I didn't." He then said "well, you know, heaven, angels, the devil, sin, all that stuff." I responded "Yes, I believe that the Catholic faith is true." We chatted for a few more minutes, and then he went back to his magazine.

As soon as I read our first reading from Genesis, I thought of that gentleman and our conversation. But the fact is, that kind of "not really" thinking has permeated, has filtered into, even our thinking as Catholics. You don't have to look very hard or very far to find it. Unfortunately, you can even find priests here and there that will talk that kind of "not really" talk. I'm sure we've all heard it, and maybe we've even said things like this ourselves: "Oh, the Church doesn't really teach that anymore". "You don't really have to do that." "You don't really have to go to confession". "We don't really have to do what the Church asks of us in the liturgy." And so on. A few weeks ago, I read that in a survey of Catholics, again, let me stress these are people who identify themselves as Catholic, that over 70% of them said that you could be a good Catholic without attending Mass regularly. There it is: "You don't really have to go to Mass on Sunday. You can stay home, or go play golf, and still be a good Catholic."

Now, that's not the thinking of a disciple. A disciple doesn't ask "how little can I get away with doing?" A disciple asks "how can I be more faithful?" And this season of Lent is the antidote to "not really" thinking. "Not really" thinking is just one more way we try to put Self in front of God. It's just one more way we try to shape the Gospel according to my priorities and desires. And Lent, and the disciplines of Lent, are given to us to get our attention off of our Selves and on to Christ.

By our Prayer, we draw closer to Christ. We learn not only to talk to Him and give ourselves to Him, but we learn to listen to Him, so that His mind and will become my mind and will. By our almsgiving we do without things for ourselves in order to serve the needs of others, in whom we serve Christ. And by our fasting we join ourselves to Christ's Passion, and train ourselves to put aside the clamor of our appetites and desires, in order to allow Him to become more truly our Lord.

The challenge before us this Lent is this: Will I put my self aside for Him? Will I refocus my heart, mind, and will, on Him? Will I be a more faithful follower of Christ?

What are we going to be? Wholehearted disciples of Christ, or "not really" disciples?