God is merciful to sinners: Doctrinal Homily Outline for the First Sunday of Lent

Icon of the Crucifixion from the Modovita Monastery (16th C.)

Icon of the Crucifixion from the Modovita Monastery (16th C.)

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline for the First Sunday of Lent (Year A), March 9, 2014, (1) provides insights into the Sunday Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

Central idea: God is merciful to sinners. Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery. Practical application: Lenten activities.

To view the Lectionary 22 readings, click here.

Central Idea: God is merciful to sinners

Reading 1 Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7

The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,
and placed there the man whom he had formed.
Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow
that were delightful to look at and good for food,
with the tree of life in the middle of the garden
and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
“Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?”
The woman answered the serpent:
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
it is only about the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden that God said,
‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman:
“You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it
your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods
who know what is good and what is evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food,
pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.
So she took some of its fruit and ate it;
and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her,
and he ate it.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened,
and they realized that they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together
and made loincloths for themselves.

  • Satan compromised Adam’s filial attitude toward God (CCC 538). That is, Satan exposed Adams’s relationship to God to danger. Satan introduced into Adam’s mind a doubt about God being a good father who was worthy of Adam’s trust. The serpent said to Eve that what God told Adam was “certainly” not true and he implied that God wanted to keep Adam in the dark about “knowing what is good and what is evil” to prevent them from being “like gods.” Eve believed the serpent’s lie that she could gain wisdom through this act of disobedience.
  • Adam and Eve had no reason to distrust God who made them and supplied them with everything they needed. And being children of God they were already “like gods.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17

R/ Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

  • What knowledge of good and evil do we gain by sinning?
    • When we realize we have done evil we see a stain on ourselves which we want completely removed, but we cannot remove it.
    • We see the difference between the goodness of God and our ugly transgression.
    • We see that only God can restore us to his friendship by removing the sin and healing the wound the sin caused.

Reading 2 Rom 5:12-19

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.
But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one, the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned.
For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation;
but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.
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.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act,
acquittal and life came to all.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one,
the many will be made righteous.

  • Contrary to the serpent’s lie “You certainly will not die!” death did enter the world through Adam’s sin. As St. Paul says, through Adam’s disobedience “sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.”
  • But one came who was obedient even to the point of death and this “one righteous act” has brought “acquittal” from sin and eternal life.

Gospel Mt 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God
.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone
.”
Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve
.”

Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.

  • According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in these three temptations Satan seeks to compromise Christ’s “filial attitude toward God” which “recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and Israel in the desert” (CCC 538).
  • Adam was the son of God (Lk 3:38). Israel as a whole is God’s “first-born son” (Ex 4: 22). Now Satan says three times to our Lord, “If you are the Son of God . . ..” The devil attempts to tempt Jesus by saying, in effect, ‘This God you fancy is your father will not provide for your material needs, will not protect you from death, will not give you everything’. Adam fell from trust in God his father. Israel fell countless times in trust in God in the desert. But Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God the Son, could not fall, even though he could suffer great hunger, face an evitable painful death, and be rejected by those who owed him everything.

 Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery

  • An important consequence of original sin is concupiscence or an inclination to sin. This inclination to do evil is also called the fomes peccati or “tinder for sin” (CCC 1254).
  • Concupiscence comes from sin, leads to sin, is an evil, but is not itself a sin (CCC 2515).
    • It comes from sin because it is a consequence of the sin of Adam. It leads to sin because it tempts us to sin. It is an evil because it is not good for us to desire something that is wrong. And it is not itself a sin because to have a desire or impulse is not morally blameworthy without consent.
  • St. John identifies three kinds of concupiscence: “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life” (CCC 2514). These refer to the “pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason” (CCC 377).
  • Concupiscence is the “movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason.” You desire something so you act according to that desire, without thinking or even despite your reason telling you it is wrong. It is essentially the tyranny of one’s passions over one’s reason.
  • This is why the Christian life calls for the self-mastery that comes through growth in virtues.
  • A simple example is dieting. Using your reason you have decided to diet. Many times a day, especially at certain times, you will have the impulse to eat. Which voice will prevail over your will? The voice of reason which says to stick to your diet, or the voice of desire to eat? Of course, going on a diet is not usually a moral matter, but gluttony or a refusal to fast when the Church has required it of a Catholic is.
  • While concupiscence is an evil we have to deal with every day of our lives (CCC 2516), “it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ” (CCC 1264).
  • The body is not bad. It is often the right time to do what the body wants: to play, to sleep, to eat or drink, to enjoy sexual pleasure, and so on. But often it is not the right time for them.
  • We grow in virtue or self-mastery by submitting to “the saving action of the Holy Spirit.” This is why St. Paul wrote, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (CCC 2516)

Practical Application: Lenten activities

  • Every Friday of the Year and every day of Lent except for Sundays the Church calls us to self-denial or self-discipline in order to root out sin and grow in self-mastery.
  • Father James Shafer has a simple but very practical plan for us to get a lot out of Lent:
    • “To keep it simple this Lent, try the ‘1-1-1 Plan’: one sin, one add-in, one give-up. Concentrate or focus on one sin or fault that is getting in the way of your relationship with God and with others. Add one positive activity that will deepen your prayer and spiritual life (especially if you think you are too busy to put anything more into an impossibly busy schedule!). Deny yourself something you really like or are attached to.”
  • There are countless ways you can apply this plan and it is up to you what to do. Here are three sets of examples:
    • Stop criticizing others—make a morning offering—deny yourself a serving of starch at dinner.
    • Stop gossiping—attend the noon Mass every Wednesday during Lent—deny yourself the snooze button on the alarm clock; instead get up exactly at a set time.
    • Stop looking at sexually attractive images—say a Hail Mary each time you find yourself tempted to do so—Give up watching YouTube mixed martial arts videos.
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