1st Sunday of Lent A

You shall not put God to the test

Perhaps the bible phrase with which our Lord answered Satan in the desert, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” is better known in its older translation, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” No matter. Either version tells us “Don’t shake your fist at God!” One American of yore who did “shake his fist at God” was Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), a freethinking lawyer, politician and public speaker who rejoiced in the monicker, “The Great Agnostic.”

Ingersoll, born in Dresden, N.Y., south of Geneva, was a self-educated man, the rationalistic son of an orthodox Congregationalist minister. After studying law, he was admitted to the Illinois Bar. During the Civil War, he formed a regiment, was named its colonel, saw action, and was also held for some months as a prisoner of war. After the War he turned Republican and served as attorney general of Illinois. As a delegate to the 1876 Republican National Convention, he was given the honor of nominating the party’s presidential candidate, James G. Blaine. Blaine lost, but Ingersoll’s nomination speech was such a classic that he was much in demand afterwards as a lecturer. Indeed, he could earn as much as $3,500 for a single talk.

Col. Ingersoll spoke on many things, but preferred religious (or rather, irreligious) subjects especially exposés of God, Moses, the Devil, and Superstition. He attacked common belief with scientific “proofs.”

As a speaker, he loved shock. When he lectured on God, for instance, he started by taking out his watch and declaring, “If there is a God, I will give him five minutes to strike me dead.” This was truly “shaking his fist at God.”

Of course, Ingersoll always won – not because God was dead, but because He was infinitely patient. Robert Ingersoll meanwhile had high hopes that Republicans in power would promote him to important civil office. They never did because, very sensibly, they didn’t want to raise to a position of power one who so delighted in offending the religious sensibilities of the majority of Americans.

As Lent begins, we who believe in God can only pray the He may be as patient with us as He was with Robert Green Ingersoll.

-Father Robert F. McNamara.

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Q462: The temptations that Jesus experienced (Matt 4:1-11) seem to parallel those of the Israelites when they were journeying in the desert. How does that affect me?

It’s the age-old story: we always encounter temptation in its three major forms. Those are the “three P’s” – the categories of power, prestige, and prosperity (one can also come up with different labels). You might even substitute two qualifying terms: “more” and “control.” The selfish person is never satisfied; he always wants “more” of everything. Above all, he wants to “control” his destiny, feeling that only he knows what is best for himself. There is no room for unselfishness in that picture. But now Jesus shows us the way out of that self-destructive behavior. He turns to prayer, fasting and scripture to sustain him, showing that he represents the “true Israel” who is always faithful to the covenant.

I just finished a presentation to a bible study class in which I stressed the importance of grace in our lives. All is grace. The foundation, the center, and the direction of our lives must always be focused on our dependence upon God. It is our loving relationship with God that needs the most attention, because it will always lead us to a loving relationship with others. The Evil One, of course, will try to lead us away from that; and in our pride we sometimes don’t even need his help in leading ourselves away from that loving relationship.

Jesus fasted and prayed in our Gospel story. A friend, Deacon Jim Bodine points out that true love is all about sacrifice. In fasting we sacrifice our love of “Self” so that we can become free to love God and others. In prayer we sacrifice our love of “time” to make time for the love of God. In almsgiving we sacrifice our love of “stuff” to make room for the love of others. With these three, we fulfill the Great Commandment. More importantly, without these three penitential actions operative in our lives, we will not be able to resist temptation. Think about that!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The evil one is a lying seducer who tries to lead humanity into disobeying God (CCC #394). God will never let you be tested beyond your strength, and will show you a way out (CCC #2848). Pray for the gift of discernment, which unmasks the lie of temptation (CCC #2847).

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What is Our Choice?

Today’s liturgy gives us some examples of choices to reflect on as we begin this Lent. The first looks at Adam and Eve, created to live in harmony with God, nature and each other. They have the choice of accepting themselves for what they are, God’s children by creation, or of trying to be what they can never be: God. We know what they chose and we know the consequences — alienation from God, from nature and from each other. In contrast we have the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Each time the tempter urges him to be a self-serving messiah, Jesus asserts the need to be self-giving and in doing so he gives us a clue to another example. Each time the devil tempts him Jesus responds with a quote from the Book of Deuteronomy which describes the experience of Israel during her forty years in the desert. Liberated from Egypt by the passage through the Red Sea, Israel has to choose between trust in God’s loving care or grumbling and complaining because He doesn’t do what they want. This is the choice we have this Lent: to follow Christ on the road of prayer, abstinence and concern for the poor, or to follow the wisdom of this world and “do it my way.” Let us meditate on these examples the liturgy gives us today and make the right choice.

Holy Father, give us the grace to discipline ourselves to live in humble imitation of your Son. Help us to see when we have failed so that, aware of our own weakness, we may not judge others harshly. Father give us eyes to see and the strength to respond as we follow the example of Jesus.

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