March 1, 2017

Homily for the First Sunday in Lent, March 5, 2017, Year A

Christ tempted in the wilderness

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Recently I was traveling south on Route 91 in Vermont. After a winter storm, the roads were slushy. Cars and especially trucks kept spattering my windshield, and at a certain point my windshield washer reservoir was empty. Fortunately, I always keep a small reserve in the trunk, and that was enough to get me to my destination safely.

This episode suggested an image, a parable if you like, for Lent. What occurred to me was this: What if we compared ourselves to a car?

Lent is a privileged time for confession. That is something like going to a car wash. A good thing, an excellent thing, obviously.

But Lent is more than that. Every year at this time our spiritual OBD light (on board diagnostic) light goes on, so to speak, advising us that something needs attention. We need to take our souls in for service.

This is a time to renew our spiritual energies, to recharge our battery. We usually adopt certain practices—prayer, penance, charity—designed to help us accomplish this.

It is a time to see better where we are going. So, while you are charging the battery and the hood is up anyway, fill up the windshield fluid reservoir. This might involve reading or study, a retreat or other forms of spiritual guidance.

It is a time to improve quality of the ride. A realignment is in order, of our priorities and values. Proper inflation of tires will help, carried out, ironically, by a proper deflation of our pride.

It may be time for an oil change, as we seek and find ways to help a virtuous life function as smoothly, as naturally as possible.

It is a time to observe the various warning lights: brake fluid (self-control), temperature (usually too cold), transmission problems (adjusting to changes in life).

Maybe the fuel light is on. This is where prayer and the Eucharist come in: more, if possible, but in any case better, deeper, richer.

Modern odometers do more than indicate your mileage. They can tell you your average miles per gallon (are you getting all you can from your fuel?), your average speed (too slow? too fast?), and your current range, i.e. how far you can go on the amount of fuel in your tank, or how far will your current spiritual reserves be able to take you?

And while you are at it, clean out the trunk! Get rid of the junk and excess baggage that takes up too much space in your life.

The very next verse after today’s second reading reads, “What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!” It is a variation, if you will, on Deuteronomy 6: 16, the verse quoted by Jesus during his temptation: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test!”

Most people don’t take chances with their cars. We prefer not to put them to the test. Why would we take chances with our souls?

So, this Lent let’s go back to the dealership, better still the manufacturer, the Creator, maybe not for a complete overhaul, but for annual service, all covered by a warrantee that never expires! As St. Paul says: “For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.”

But while you are at it, go to the car wash, too.

If I may be permitted one more image, I have another little driving story. Some months ago I was heading towards Manchester, New Hampshire. I had programmed my GPS for my destination, but took back roads to get to the highway. Unfortunately, the lady in the GPS didn’t know the back roads and every minute or so she said, “Turn around at the first available opportunity.” Finally, she announced that she was “recalculating,” and we were friends again. Maybe that is what Lent is all about.

So switch on your spiritual GPS, and recalculate.

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