Christ in the Wilderness: Lent – the Season of Preparation – Luke 4: 1-2.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)

In the extraordinary painting  below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.

This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.

What do we see?

Let us examine His face.

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We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.

We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.

This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.

His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.

What do we see?

We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.

He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.

This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.

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Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.

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Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.

The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?

Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power  – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.

Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.

Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.

But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.

I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.

If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy.  We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.

Let’s remember the  words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)

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The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Portions of this essay may be used in accordance with correct notation and bibliographical insertion; contact deaconiacono@icloud.com for more information or questions.

The Gospel of St. Luke 12: 49-53 – The Sword of Christ

The following is a homily that will be delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island on the weekend of August 17/18 2013.

In our first Scriptural reading for this weekend (Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10) we see the prophet Jeremiah thrown into a well as a result of his faith-filled preaching. He was lowered into a mud filled cistern in an attempt to shut him up and tame his ability to disturb the people’s apathy.

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A month ago we witnessed the spiritually uplifting events of Steubenville East held here in South Kingstown, in which Catholic teenagers and young adults from all over the Northeast gathered together to worship God and share experiences in a faith-filled setting.

The following week we saw Pope Francis travel to Brazil, express his love, teach, and witness to as many as three million people at World Youth Day.

But when these young people returned home you can be sure that advice was given to some of them, by well meaning people, who said, “Its great that you had an uplifting experience but don’t get carried away and go off the deep end.”

What does that kind of talk do?

It throws cold water on the fire of enthusiasm – it attempts to tame and control a person’s faith.

All people, regardless of age, who desire to live out and practice the Holy Scriptures in their daily lives must guard against being tamed by the world, and even at times, by some well meaning people within the Church.

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The message of this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53) is counter cultural. The Gospel does, at times, cause trouble. It can set a soul on fire with love for God and fellow man, and that soul then understands through wise spiritual counseling, the mission it has been given by the Lord to continue His work here on earth.

The saints all experienced this fire, this blaze of mystical love and desire for God that not only consumed them, but – by their witness –  those around them, too.

Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel that He wants to inspire a mystical fire – a blaze of faith, love, and action, and yet, He knows this will cause division; Jesus is exclaiming that His peace is not the peace of the world.

The peace and love that Jesus offers to us is often at odds with the frauds, shams, and counterfeits of this world: the politics, economics, and religious expressions that do not lift people up in love, unity of purpose, and individual liberty, but tear them apart, in anger, stress, and confusion.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a blaze roaring in our souls the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of fortitude and perseverance. These gifts strengthen us to stand up to pagan society both in a public and private way. This strength makes us dangerous, and historically has been a cause for division in the eyes of societies – from the time of the Roman Empire to the world today. Why else would members of the entertainment world and the news media attack the Catholic Church’s beliefs, its clergy, religious, and laity alike?

They attack a Church weakened by the public and private sins of her people but still bold enough to proclaim the Gospel.

They attack because they know the Gospel message is dangerous to their agenda.

They attack because they know that a core group of faithful followers, that cross denominational lines and who truly still number in the millions, cannot be bought off or intimidated. 

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ’s Redemption of mankind brought us salvation, peace, and love; but the sword He carries does have two sides – for it sharply divides those who take the Cross and the Gospel seriously from those who do not.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to know that like Jesus, Jeremiah, and the saints we must expect misunderstanding, ill treatment, and possibly even death when we glorify God by living a Gospel centered life.

Our faith provides us with the grace and love of God. Yet, the Cross refines our perspective to see that God’s love is a purifying fire of salvation and covenant that demands that  His people not compromise with the world, or declare a bogus truce with evil. So when you stand before society proclaiming your faith – do not be afraid. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the witness of His Blessed Mother and the saints – in the end all will be well.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The first image of Jeremiah in the cistern was painted by the artist Marc Chagall; the second image is by Paul Hardy. Thanks to Wikipaintings for the images.