Catholic homily outline for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B – Concupiscence

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Central idea: Sin and its remedy. Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery. Practical application: Lenten activities.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the 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.)

To view Lectionary 23, click here.

Central idea: Sin and its remedy

Reading 1 Gn 9:8-15

God said to Noah and to his sons with him:
“See, I am now establishing my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
and with every living creature that was with you:
all the birds, and the various tame and wild animals
that were with you and came out of the ark.
I will establish my covenant with you,
that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed
by the waters of a flood;
there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.”
God added:
“This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come,
of the covenant between me and you
and every living creature with you:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign
of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth,
and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will recall the covenant I have made
between me and you and all living beings,
so that the waters shall never again become a flood
to destroy all mortal beings.”

  • One of the overarching themes of the Bible—both the Old and New Testaments—is God’s desire for friendship between him and human beings. One of the ways this friendship is offered is through covenants—solemn, unbreakable agreements. God established a covenant for humanity through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and finally Jesus Christ.
  • According to Genesis, God destroyed every living land creature, except those who escaped in the ark: the righteous Noah and his family and the animals. This destroying and cleansing flood was due to the earth being full of irreformable wicked persons.
  • God does not need to be reminded of anything, although we do. So, every time we see a rainbow, we should use it as a reminder that God desires friendship with humanity, so long as we remember this friendship is not a free pass for us to do evil.
  • From the beginning, the Church has seen the deluge of Genesis as a “type” or image or symbol or foreshadowing of the Sacrament of Baptism, as we will see in the second lectionary reading.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9.

R. Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.

Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD,
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and he teaches the humble his way.

  • “Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.” The first Christians called God’s New Covenant given to us by Jesus Christ the Way. Christ’s way is the way of love. It is God’s love to us and our love back to him.
  • We have to learn what love is, and this takes time—for some a whole lifetime—and so we ask God to teach us how to love and to give us time to do so.
  • God’s way is for those who do not know how to love so well yet, and who sin, but who humbly acknowledge that they need to be shown the way and to be helped on the way. This way is for humble sinners.

Reading 2 1 Pt 3:18-22

Beloved:
Christ suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
Put to death in the flesh,
he was brought to life in the Spirit.
In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison,
who had once been disobedient
while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark,
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
It is not a removal of dirt from the body
but an appeal to God for a clear conscience,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

  • Jesus Christ, the righteous, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for the benefit of every one of us, the unrighteous—for those of his own generation to whom Peter ministered, to all those who had already died—the “spirits in prison who had once been disobedient”—and for all future persons, including us.
  • Just as Noah and his household were “saved through water,” we are now saved through water, too, the waters of baptism.
  • Baptism is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
  • It is an appeal, that is, we ask for it, either directly or through our sponsors. It is a request for a clear conscience, that is, that our sins be forgiven and that we be given “life in the Spirit.” But it is more than just a request. It really does that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Gospel Mk 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan.
He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.

After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

  • Our Lord ended his ordinary, hidden life and inaugurated his public life with his baptism by John at the Jordan. Then he endured forty days of penance as immediate preparation. Then he began his public ministry in Galilee.
  • We imitate Christ’s forty days in the desert with our forty days of Lenten discipline each year.
  • Christ completely fasted for forty days—the limit of human endurance—so his discipline was much more severe than anything we undertake.
  • Yet, unlike Christ, who was only tempted from without, we are also tempted from within, because we have concupiscence. Christ was physically hungry for food but when we give up anything our entire being seems to go into rebellion.
  • Christ’s reply to Satan—in our verse before the Gospel—when he was given the temptation to turn stones into bread—is useful to us when our mind, will, and senses demand we give up our suddenly, now-seemingly senseless, self-deprivation: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Doctrine: Concupiscence and self-mastery

  • Two of the ten commandments focus on concupiscence specifically: do not covet your neighbor’s wife or goods. Covetousness is the inordinate desire to possess what you don’t have a right to. It is a sin when the desire is consented to. This is why it can be a sin even if it is only in one’s mind.
  • Concupiscence is that inordinate desire. It is our inclination to 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.
  • Concupiscence is a kind of birth defect every human being has, due to original sin. It would be like being colorblind if the most important thing in life was to be a paint salesperson or to be born with one leg shorter than the other if the most important thing in life was to be a runner.
    • A most important thing in life actually is to be just—to give God and our neighbor what we owe them—but the disordered desire of concupiscence is constantly inclining us toward injustice.
  • John the Apostle 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). Sensual pleasure is not bad but the desire to enjoy it can lead to adultery and murder (in the case of King David). Earthly goods are also not bad but the desire for them can lead to beating and robbing and nearly murdering an innocent person (as in the parable of the Good Samaritan). Being highly esteemed by others is also a good thing but it can lead to telling all kinds of lies about your exploits.
  • Concupiscence is the “movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason” (CCC 2515). 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).

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. This is an opportunity for our “manful” resistance to concupiscence “by the grace of Jesus Christ.”
  • 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 some examples:
    • Examples of sins or faults to stop: criticizing others, gossiping, looking at sexually attractive images, not doing a task immediately, constantly looking at yourself in a mirror, taking God’s name in vain or using crude language, telling “white” lies.
    • Examples of a positive activity to deepen your prayer or spiritual life: making a morning offering, attending an additional Mass during the week, saying a decade of the rosary while doing some routine activity, saying please and thank you, saying “God bless you” to people, praying for each family member by name, praying at an abortion clinic, attending a parish faith enrichment class or event, reading a Gospel for five minutes each day, saying an act of contrition at the end of each day and whenever else you need to, going to Confession each week of Lent.
    • Example of giving up something you like or are attached to: Giving up Ramen, denying yourself the snooze button, stop watching a particular genre of YouTube videos, wearing your second choice outfit, only checking email or Facebook at specific times, no cream or sugar in your coffee.
  • Undertake your Lenten activities consciously. Their purposes are to remind us of our friendship with God and to strengthen that friendship through little acts of love, despite the rebellion of our concupiscence. So, if you plan to do your chores at once, say a decade of the Rosary while getting dressed, and not text anyone during the school day, offer these things up to God over and over, asking him to help you overcome your sins and to grow in freedom to love him and your neighbor.
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