- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. John Hurley at St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral in the District.

Our God is a mighty God. He is our creator, redeemer and sanctifier, all in one. Those who have already seen the film “The Passion of the Christ” cannot help but be impressed by the suffering and sacrifice of our Lord as a sign of his great love for us. Through the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) we have been blessed with many gifts, as well as with responsibilities to share these. The 40 days of Lent, paralleling the 40 days of prayer and fasting that Jesus spent in the wilderness, are a time to firm up our trust in God and our ability to live out our Christian heritage.

Christ’s example of fasting and enduring temptation remains one of the chief witnesses of his humanity and of his love for the Father and for us. For, the three temptations endured by Jesus mirror three which we may often encounter in our own ordinary lives: temptations to material wealth, to popularity and to worldly power.

There are many temptations to lure us away from the way of life for which we have been created. While temptations may vary, yet all of us are subject to them. We are aware of the recent reports on priest failure to respect the relationship with children, of the reports of stock and corporation management fraud, of the readiness of political candidates to charge into name-calling contests, of the opportunity shared by all those preparing their tax returns to doctor items on the forms, of allegations of sleaziness in attracting young athletes to this or that college, of the many negative side effects of pornography, not to overlook the irritation behind the wheel that can lead to road rage.

We are tempted in ways that strike the vulnerable spots of our character. Lent provides the opportunity to scout about and determine where the weaknesses in our character may lie and how to try to do something about it. …

This holy season provides an opportunity to use the special Lenten instruments of prayer, fasting, and alms giving to counter those temptations in our lives that are obstacles to happier relations with ourselves, with others and especially with our God.

Prayer is communication with God. Lent is a time to listen and meditate on what God has done for us and continues to do.

Lent is also a time when fasting is accorded special significance, an exercise to balance overdependence on material goods, foods or whatever so as to establish clearer insights into the principal questions and qualities of existence. Fasting is a wonderful means to disciplining ourselves, so as to build up the power of resistance when temptations come along.

While a typical fast might involve giving up Starbucks, that extra pancake or candy, there are certainly other areas of our lives that call out for fasting, not just during Lent. We realize that pornography has joined alcohol and drugs along with other destructive addictions in our society. In other words, when it comes to fasting, don’t just consider giving what we like and may be good for us, but give at least equal attention to fasting from what we may be attracted to but which is bad for us.

The third instrument that we are encouraged to consider during Lent to improve our relationship to our God is alms giving — assisting those in need, whether by financial, material or other means.

There are most definitely many worthwhile recipients of our sharing, whether we consider the homeless fellow or woman we pass on the street, or whether we consider the several pleas that we may receive in the mail each week. …

In sum, as we ponder how to spend the next six weeks of Lent, let us resolve to utilize this opportunity to increase our strength of character to counter temptations to what is wrong or hurtful. This will mean a daily test of self-discipline and self-denial, in order to make us better prepared to meet headlong our sinful weaknesses. If we fail as we go along, remember that just as Jesus struggled to lift up his cross after collapsing, so too we are reminded that, when we fall, his mercy toward us endures forever.

Can this Lent be marked by a deepening of our awareness of a loving God in our lives? It is God’s desire that we use this Lenten period to leap over those temptations that block off the peace and happiness which only he can give. Yet, while the wiles of the devil continue to be at work during Lent, we rejoice as this is a time when God’s loving grace is even more active.

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