As Lent Begins
Cardinal reflects on sin, forgiveness and the Father of Lies
(Excerpted from: Cardinal O'Connor's homily at Sunday Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral Feb. 21,1999)
"In past years when my duties permitted me to engage much more frequently in working with couples whose marriages were in great difficulty, I recall one of the saddest cases of all, a situation in which a man was admittedly guilty of adultery. When his wife learned, she was, of course, crushed, feeling totally rejected that someone had been chosen in her place. But there was an added problem that went far beyond her sense of rejection. As the two of them sat talking with me she said, "I will never be able to believe him again. I won't know when he is telling me the truth and when he is lying."
"It is fascinating to recognize that lies are at the root of all sins. It is not by chance that our Divine Lord called Satan, the devil, "the Father of Lies." In the first reading today [Gn. 2:7-9; 3:1-7] we read that the origin of all sin initiated in a lie perpetrated by Satan. We will reflect on that in a few moments.
"It is not strange that this should be so, that all sins are rooted in lies. We are fashioned after our Divine Lord, made in his image and likeness, and he described himself "as the way, the truth and the life." Every time we deviate from him, therefore, we are deviating from the truth. Every sinful act is a lie. We are disfiguring, we are perverting the image in accordance with which we are made. The real person that we should be, the true, authentic person, is the person who walks always in the way of truth following the One in whose image and likeness we are made, Christ Jesus, the Lord. So when we deviate by any kind of sin at all we are deviating from the truth and we are engaging in a lie. It is a fascinating thing to remember.
"Why am I talking about that this morning? Because of the Scriptures today, of course, but also because during the Sundays of Lent I will be reflecting on forgiveness, on reconciliation, on compassion, on understanding. The very term forgiveness is music to our ears, to all of us: forgiveness within families where there has been estrangement, reconciliation with ourselves, reconciliation with Almighty God, reconciliations between husbands and wives based on forgiveness. But it is impossible to think intelligently and practically about forgiveness, about reconciliation if we do not understand the meaning of sin. Everything begins in this. There would be no need for forgiveness were there no sin.
"In my column in Catholic New York this week I reference a book by a famous psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger. Dr. Menninger wrote a book called "Whatever Became of Sin?" There is much in the book with which I disagree. There are some things which disagree with Church teaching. But the title and the general thrust are certainly on target. Psychiatrist Dr. Menninger makes the point that what we once thought of sin we now think of so often as an illness, an emotional disturbance. So frequently, he says, we look to psychotherapy when we should be looking to the confessional. We look for curing when we should look for that healing that can come only through repentance and forgiveness by Almighty God.
"Once again, we have to think in terms of sin. It is true, I believe, that one hears this term far less frequently in our "enlightened" age, in what our Holy Father has called this "culture of death." He is speaking not simply of abortion, not simply of physician-assisted suicide, not simply of other violence against human life. He is speaking of that cancer which eats into our very beings, which numbs the intellect, which dulls the reason, so that sin becomes a word of the past, a concept to be ridiculed.
"In our Holy Father's very beautiful "Mystery of the Incarnation," which is his document on the great Jubilee of the year 2000, he talks about reconciliation:
"As the Successor of Peter, I ask that in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters. All have sinned and none can claim righteousness before God. Let it be said once more without fear: 'We have sinned' (Jer. 3:25), but let us keep alive the certainty that 'where sin increased, grace abounded even more' [As St. Paul said to the people of Rome] (Rom. 5:20).
"The embrace which the Father reserves for repentant sinners who go to him will be our just reward for the humble recognition of our own faults and the faults of others, a recognition based upon awareness of the profound bond which unites all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Christians are invited to acknowledge, before God and before those offended by their actions, the faults which they have committed. Let them do so without seeking anything in return, but strengthened only by 'the love of God which has been poured into our hearts' " [Rom. 5:5]. ...
"When we look at the first reading today we see the meaning of that concept, that all sin begins in lies. We tend to take lies very loosely, don't we, many of us? Verbal lies that slip from our tongues almost thoughtlessly. But what is spoken of here is a much more profound form of lie, a complete breaking from the truth, a distortion of what we call the "natural law." So, for example, when we read in today's Gospel that the devil, tempting Christ in the desert, told him, "Leap down from this high parapet, this mountain, and angels will bear you up lest you dash your foot against the stone," it was a lie, a violation of natural law. If we jump from a mountain we are almost certainly going to be killed. Here was the devil trying to tempt the Living Truth, Christ Jesus, the Lord, with a lie.
"The Father of Lies features prominently in this story of Adam and Eve. We will not go into today who Adam and Eve were, how much of this story is symbolic, how much of it is literally the truth. We know only that we had first parents. We are all descended from first parents. That makes us members of the human race. We inherit many, many characteristics from our parents. Tragically, in the case of Adam and Eve, we also inherit what we call Original Sin. Adam and Eve lived in splendor. Their lives were magnificent, luxurious beyond imagining. They had no wants whatsoever. They could not die. They could not suffer. They could not be tempted against the flesh with impurity. They had everything.
"We are told Satan, the Father of Lies, pictured as a serpent, asked Adam and Eve, "Why is it that God told you that you may eat of every fruit that grows in the Garden of Eden except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil? I will tell you why. Because if you eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil, then your eyes will be opened and you yourselves will become like gods. You will know the difference between good and bad just as God does. You will know for yourselves what is right and what is wrong. [In Hebrew the word 'know' means to own, to possess, to control.] You will be masters of your own fate. No one can tell you what to do--no authority outside yourselves, no god, no church in time to come, no government can tell you what is right and wrong. You determine that for yourselves. That is what it is to be God.
"Your eyes will be opened," said Satan.
"And, of course, precisely the opposite happened. That was the first great lie. Instead of their eyes being opened, Adam and Eve were blinded so that all the beauty, all the glory, all the richness that had been theirs vanish. Instantly they discover, for example, that whereas they had lived without any temptation of the flesh, now they learned that they are naked. They are ashamed and embarrassed so they hide and cover themselves with leaves. That is what the first lie did. They lost the great privilege of no longer suffering in any way. They lost the privilege of not dying. They lost the privilege of being freed from confusion. They lost the privilege of being free from what we call concupiscence, temptations of the flesh. They lost the Garden of Eden.
"It was required of God's justice that they be ejected from the Garden of Eden. But God's justice is always matched by his mercy, by his compassion, by his forgiveness. So what did God do? He promised a Savior, a Messiah, a Redeemer who would be born of a woman. We know that that woman would be Mary. That Savior would come and make it possible for them to be redeemed from this Original Sin that has afflicted the human race ever since, the sin that has brought every kind of corruption into the world, the sin that has brought wars, the sin that has brought every manner of killing. They would be free. They would be forgiven for committing this Original Sin, but they would have to follow the will of God as it unfolded for them. When the Messiah, the Redeemer, came then they would have to live in accordance with the pattern as he gave it.
"That is what the coming of Christ, of course, was about and that is what today's Gospel is about. [Mt. 4: 1-11] We are told that Christ Jesus, the Lord, comes now to bring about their redemption and ours to make it possible for all of us to get into heaven when we die. Nonetheless, he had to give us a blueprint, a pattern, to offer us the means whereby we could remain free from sin, and he did so in the sacraments: the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, of penance for forgiveness, if we did sin, and so on.
"Christ showed us the way by going into the desert. Here he was, Christ, the Son of God, all truth. He had been declared such when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan and the light shone from heaven, and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and the voice of God was heard saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
"Yet Jesus was not simply divine, not simply the Son of God. He was a son of Mary. He had taken upon himself our humanity. Therefore he had taken upon himself our sins and, in a sense, even more, he had taken upon himself our temptations. We commit a sin and we can have that sin forgiven. That sin is over and done. But our temptations are always with us because we are human beings, because we were inflicted with and afflicted by Original Sin. Consequently, we are constantly tempted. So Christ took upon himself not only our sins but our temptations. He went into the desert specifically to be tempted. We are told that for 40 days and 40 nights he ate nothing. It was at the end of this period, perhaps when he was physically exhausted, perhaps when his spirit was at his lowest ebb, then the devil, the Father of Lies, came.
"What were the temptations? The first would have been a lie. "Command these stones to turn into bread. Prove that you are the Son of God." It would have been a lie for Christ to do this. He was the Son of God. It would have been a denial of his own divinity. He would have been catering to the Fathers of Lies. "Throw yourself down from this high mountain and you will be saved. Angels will lift you up." That would have been a lie.
"Then came the greatest lie of all and the lie perhaps to which so many of us are so easily tempted. "Fall down before me," said the Father of Lies to Truth personified "and I will give you the world." That is the great temptation, isn't it, in this "culture of death," that if we turn our back on Christ, if we abandon our faith, we will have the world, we will have everything. That is what Adam and Eve thought they would have. "We will be as gods"--the ultimate temptation.
"During these Sundays of Lent we will be reflecting on these temptations, we will be reflecting on the responses given by our Divine Lord, we will be reflecting on the response given by our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He reminds us above all:
"The Sacrament of Penance offers the sinner 'a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification' won by the sacrifice of Christ. The sinner thus enters the life of God anew and shares fully in the life of the Church. [As the Scriptures tell us, 'If your sins be as scarlet I will make them white as snow. If they be as crimson I will cast them behind me and forget them.' God says, 'I will forget them.'] Confessing his own sins, the believer truly receives pardon and can once more take part in the Eucharist as the sign that he has again found communion with the Father and with his Church. From the first centuries, however, the Church has always been profoundly convinced that pardon, freely granted by God, implies in consequence a real change of life, the gradual elimination of evil within, a renewal in our way of living. The sacramental action had to be combined with an existential act, with a real cleansing from fault, precisely what is called penance. Pardon does not imply that this existential process becomes superfluous, but rather that it acquires a meaning, that it is accepted and welcomed.
"Here it seems to me is our blueprint for Lent. Last week I suggested that if we do nothing else during Lent that we enter into this sacrament of reconciliation, the sacrament of penance, the sacrament of forgiveness at least once. Confession, the sacrament of reconciliation, is truly a desert, not a desert in which we find danger, not a desert in which we run risks but a desert into which we enter leaving behind everything else, abandoning all sins and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God. It is a desert in which, as was the case with Christ, the angels come and minister to us."
His Eminence † John Joseph Cardinal O'Connor, (1920 – 2000) was the eleventh bishop (eighth archbishop) of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, serving from 1984 until his death in 2000.
Reflection by Fred Schaeffer, ofs
Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving: a the remedy to the rupture between God, man, and creation caused by sin. (fr. Pope Francis' Lenten message) The Season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6th. This Liturgical season of Lent lasts until Holy Thursday Services, whence the Easter Triduum begins, and with it, the culmination of the entire liturgical year. Lent is an experience if one follows the Readings and Gospels of Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, and particularly if your participation includes some form of self-denial (fasting, abstinence, good works).
What is this thing about self-denial? Well, our culture, particularly the American culture isn't about self-denial at all. In fact, most people aren't particularly happy being told by churches what they should or should not do. But people who call themselves Roman Catholics, have been brought up with the understanding that we must do something to stem the flow of sin, and that's where self-denial and inner conversion really come in. We deny self because we know it pleases Our Lord. We know this because Holy Scripture tells us about it, but also, the Catechism and lifestyle of Saints and Blessed people who have gone before us, all show a life of self-denial. If you have heard the expression "All for Jesus and Mary" you will recognize a little personal prayer that might be on our lips constantly, for all we do, we do for Jesus and Mary.
The changes of the Second Vatican Council, when we went from Latin to the vernacular took place from 1963-1965, pivotal years for most of us. Some souls, including myself at the time, left the Catholic Church, and it took me 20 years to return, but return I did. If you haven't returned yet, I recommend that you look into your soul and see what you can do about it. Only you have the answer to that question. As for those who do not believe in the lessons of the Council, it is about time that you do! If you cannot reconcile with it, go see a priest but don’t argue with the rest of us!
Let's get back to Lent 2019! The world around us has gone mad. There is rampant materialism, growing secularism, irrational hatred, there is an out-of-control greed, a total lack of brotherly love, an Abortion rate that is sickening, a Congress that is out of control on that subject, and what are we doing about it? Some of us, nothing. And that's a crying shame. We can do so much. We can and should ask forgiveness and pray! We can repent, as Scripture states in Mt 4:17, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Many people tell us to sin no more, but the important thing is that Jesus Himself said so! So, let us use this Season of Lent to get on the ball and rejoin the Church (whatever church you last went to, for my aim is to bring you back out of sin, if I can). If you were raised a Roman Catholic, come back to us. If you are genuinely penitent and willing to go see a priest, ANY priest, then it will happen. Some people tell me, but it has been so long ... so what? Our Lord is merciful and loves us - He is overjoyed to welcome you back and the priests nowadays don't yell anymore. They never did, but many remember old scenes like that because we cannot forgive the Church or ourselves. Walk this Lenten path and you will find Peace!
Some who have been away too long, may need more help coming back, that is, some sort of review of the Ten Commandments and the tenets of the Catholic Faith. If something like that is suggested, please follow the priest's advice. I am sure it is given with love and understanding of your problem. Practicing Catholics may also need clarification of points of Faith now and then. If I did not have the monastic experiences in my life 25 years ago, and be a Secular Franciscan, then the last review of Catholic doctrine might have been CCD or a more recent Lenten Retreat, and so there isn't much Catholic teaching for adults. With diminishing vocations (it is picking up again!) the priest to parishioner ratio is very small and there just aren't enough possibilities for personal education. This has become better in recent years with the increased use and ordination of Deacons, and my parish has eight Deacons now who do make some formation studies available to Catholics in the area. So where one needs reminders of what the Faith is all about, that possibility is available. The Internet is a good source of Theology, Catechism, Catholic resources, spend some time on the EWTN website for starters, at http://ewtn.com/
During this Season of Lent, let us try to come to grips with our responsibilities in life. That means getting back to the Sacraments where there is a lack of same. Self-control and self-denial in order to become better at repressing sinful acts. Don't let the devil get the best of you - fight him tooth and nail. Break that bondage of sin - it can be done if you want it to be done, especially and only with God's help. He is so eager to help us!
Thank you, and may God bless you!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS