First Sunday of Lent

Dominica I in Quadragesima C

10 March 2019

In a few minutes in the preface of this Mass of the First Sunday of Lent we will hear the following about Jesus and the Gospel scene just proclaimed: “he consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance.”  In our faith and religious use the term “consecration” refers to a solemn act by which something or someone is set apart for God.  For example, a church is consecrated by a bishop in a solemn act, its walls being anointed with the Sacred Chrism that we also use in baptism, confirmation, and ordination of priests and bishops.  Thus, the whole building is a place set apart for privileged encounter with God, distinct and separate from the profane world around it.   This means that secular use of the space is inappropriate, at the very least awkward, and potentially sacrilegious.  A thing once set apart for God is never to be used for any profane purpose.  A sacred object – a thing consecrated – is definitively set aside for God.

But when the thing consecrated is not an object, but a person, there is more to consider.  A person can be set aside for God by a solemn act.  For example, this takes place when a man is ordained.  It takes place when a man or woman takes solemn vows in religious life or a person is consecrated to a life of virginity.  A more fundamental level of consecration takes place when a person is baptized and then confirmed.  The person is anointed, the sign of the Holy Spirit, by which that person belongs to God and is set apart for Him in a special way.  A critically important distinction between the consecration of a person, as distinct from an object, is that a person’s free will must be involved and must cooperate to live in accord with consecration.  An inanimate object does not have free will and so its consecration is accomplished merely by the solemn external act by which it is consecrated.  But a person must use his free will to desire consecration, to pursue the solemn act by which consecration takes place, and – very important – a person must live in accord with his or her consecration for it to bear fruit.  Just as profane use of a consecrated object is inappropriate and even sacrilegious, consider the added weight of moral gravity when a consecrated person set apart FOR God chooses to live apart FROM God by choosing sin.  We can say with good reason that the sins of a baptized and confirmed person, the sins of an ordained person, take on an added gravity of sacrilege because it is the refusal of the consecration of one set apart for God.  While all sin is sin, there is a unique gravity when a consecrated person sins as compared to the same sin committed by a pagan.  So, when we speak of the consecration of a person we are not speaking only of the external act by which he or she is set apart for God; rather, we must also speak of the person’s internal disposition by which he seeks to live for God and to live in accord with the mission given by God.

The Gospel selection about Jesus shows us both dimensions of being consecrated by a solemn, external act, AND the interior disposition, the use of free will, to live that consecration in his mission as the New Adam, the faithful Israel, the Son of God who comes to save us.  The Gospel begins by reminding us that Jesus had just been baptized and consecrated by a solemn, external act in the anointing of the Holy Spirit when it says, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan.”  And the bulk of the Gospel selection shows us the other dimension of the consecration of a person, by which interior freedom must be used to live in accord with one’s consecrated mission.  We see Jesus’ interior disposition, the use of his free will, in his response to the devil’s temptings.  Jesus chooses to live as set apart for the Father by rejecting the devil’s ideas and choosing to live his true identity as the Beloved Son of God.

Why this focus on consecration?  The Preface of the Mass tells us that Jesus’ fasting consecrated the pattern of our Lenten observance.  Fasting for Jesus and for us results, if we are doing it seriously, in a strong visceral reaction and that serves to teach us that we so often respond to even the slightest need, provocation, or physical prompting from the body while it is easy to ignore the soul and our spiritual reality and needs.  When we fast as a spiritual practice we can’t help but be more alert.  We know we are doing something to live more deeply our consecration to God.  We feel and hear the cues from our body in fasting, but we immediately use our higher faculty, our mind and our will, to direct our attention to our deeper hunger to live apart for God, and not simply to fill the belly.  This connection between our Lenten observance and consecration sheds some light on a special opportunity our parish will have in two weekends.  I am using the homily this weekend to encourage us to prepare for a parish-wide consecration to the Holy Family.  Our parish Knights of Columbus presented this idea to me and they are taking the lead in making this rich opportunity happen.  Knights serve and protect things, right?  These knights in our parish see the need to support and to protect living the faith in the family and so they are providing us with this special opportunity.  By means of prayer, confession, fasting, and spiritual preparation in these next two weeks, we have the opportunity to use our freedom to live more deeply the sacramental life that sets us and our families apart as the domestic Church, the place where God dwells in the family home.  As the spiritual father of this community I will personally lead us in the formal prayer by which we will effect this consecration at all Masses the weekend of March 23 and 24.  But it is up to each family, and especially the parents, to prepare for this consecration and to freely engage in what it means to be a family set apart for God, a family who lives the sacred mission of being a domestic Church, a place where prayer happens, where God is welcome, where the moral life is observed, and where the Gospel is proclaimed by the way your family lives its life.  This consecration is, in a certain sense, the call to simply be who we are called to be, who we were made by baptism, confirmation, and which the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony has made your homes to be.

I ask each family to choose to prepare for this consecration and so to be ready to freely engage in the consecration prayer we will say together in two weeks.  Beginning on March 15 for a novena of days, or at least for the week leading up to the consecration, we should be engaged in preparation by family prayer, fasting, and making a confession.  Some of you may be away over Spring Break the week before the consecration, which is why I want you to hear about this now so that you may be alerted to use preparation time well.  Our Knights of Columbus will be present after all Masses handing out preparation materials.

In the spirit of the Gospel I want to warn you, however, to expect some temptations and obstacles to arise leading up to this consecration.  Just as the devil hoped Jesus would not live in accord with his consecration, so he will see to it that temptations come your way too.  Maybe the temptation comes from troubles dealing with a child in the “terrible twos,” or maybe the teen years, who doesn’t want to cooperate and who needs to be reminded who is in charge of the household, especially when it comes to prayer, attending Mass, or formation classes.  Perhaps the temptation will come to simply live Spring Break as if it were a vacation from Lent.  Maybe the temptation is to avoid confessing sin such that we are not renewed in our baptismal life, our most basic consecration.  Maybe the temptation is that there is silence where family prayer in the home ought to take place.  Whatever the case, the Gospel shows us we need to prepare.  Expect to be mocked by the devil and to have obstacles come your way.  Respond with Jesus, using the words of Scripture, “One does not live on bread alone,” “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve,” “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  One final scriptural help is Psalm 91, today’s responsorial.  It is the same psalm the devil himself quotes to Jesus in the Gospel.  And it is a stunning thing for him to quote it, though like a bad scripture scholar he does so out of context.  It shows us how much outright mockery we should expect when we determine to live our consecration.  Psalm 91, you see, was used by Jewish exorcists as the primary exorcistic psalm to drive a demon out of the possessed.  The psalm is still used today in our Catholic exorcism ritual.  Of all the 150 psalms that’s the one the devil chooses to quote!  You can just hear and see the mockery dripping from his lips.  When you are feeling distracted from preparation for our Holy Family Consecration or when you feel pulled from the mission that is yours as a Christian you might pray with and use this psalm.  Where the devil’s promptings seem heavy and impossible to defeat, remember his weakness before God and pray with the hope of that psalm: “You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.”  May the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire us and protect us as we seek to serve God more faithfully, to be the people we have been consecrated to be!