Fr. Joseph A. Pellegrino

 

 First Sunday of Lent: Integrity

 

            He was alone in the desert.  No one would see Him.  No one would witness His giving in to the devil.  He had plenty of excuses available.  He was hungry.  He had been fasting for forty days.  Why shouldn’t He do it?  He needed to eat.

 

            He felt within Himself the call to lead His people from oppression.  With one meaningless action He could become powerful.  Wouldn’t it be worth it if He could establish Israel as the greatest empire in the world?   He knew that He was special, chosen.  What would be so wrong with His grasping at power when it was offered to Him? Maybe this is what He was chosen to do. 

 

            Then there was that third temptation.  He believed in scripture.  Isn’t it reasonable that He should demand a sign from Father?  The Father certainly was demanding a great deal from Him.

 

            There were plenty of excuses Jesus could have made if He had given in to the devil’s temptations.  But there was something that would be demanded of Him.  He would have to sacrifice His integrity.  He would have to sacrifice that spiritual part of Him that said, “Trust in God,” for the sake of the physical part of Him that said, “Seize the moment.”

 

            In the wilderness, where no one could observe, Jesus chose not self but service of God.  He quoted Deuteronomy 8:30 and 6:13 to the devil’s first two temptations, using the Torah to assert that human life is defined by more than physical subsistence, not by bread alone, and that service is owed only to the ultimate source of life, the creator, God.

 

            The third testing from the parapet of the Temple was the most severe, for in it the very support for Jesus’ opposition to the devil was subverted.  The devil quoted scripture.  It would certainly not be the last time that evil would use scripture as a weapon.  The devil told Jesus to test His son-ship against the promise of God to protect Him.   Jesus rebuked the devil with Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall not test the Lord your God.”.  He will not force the Father’s hand.  He will be the servant of Isaiah 50:10 who walks in darkness yet trusts in the name of the Lord.  Later on, Jesus will leap from another high place.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus leapt into his Father’s hands as He cried out in the words of Psalm 30: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

 

            After the temptations, the devil left Jesus--for a time.  He would return when once more the Lord was severely weakened, this time during the emotional turmoil of the Agony in the Garden.  The devil would return, but again he would find the Lord strong in faith.  Jesus’s integrity was intact.

 

            We are both physical and spiritual.  We have the capacity to encounter the love of God. We have the ability to love as God loves.  We also have free will.  We are capable of  compromising our existence, our integrity.  When we sin, when I sin, when you sin, we lose the union of our body and soul; we plunge into turmoil.  Sure, we might make believe that there is nothing wrong with us.  We are certainly  expert at rationalizing our actions, but inside, inside we are torn up.  When we sin we are in turmoil.  When we fight off sin, we are in peace.

 

            Every priest has had the humbling experience of walking with people on their journey from turmoil to peace.  The experience takes place in the sacrament of penance.   The priest is both an intermediary with God forgiving sins, and a witness to a person becoming whole. This is humbling because the priest is acutely aware of his own sinfulness, the times that he has chosen the physical over the spiritual, chaos over integrity. At the same time it is a beautiful experience for a priest to walk with a penitent towards peace.  The priest is privileged to be part of a person becoming fully human, integrating the physical and spiritual dimensions of his or her life, trusting in God to be whole.

 

            This Sunday’s Gospel reading demands that I take the blinders off my heart and see where I am in turmoil.  The reading demands that I listen to the Word of God within me calling me to be the person the Lord created me to be.  The reading offers me peace over turmoil.

 

            The reading offers you peace, also. Where is your turmoil?  Where do you lack integrity?  Is it in your relationship with family and friends?  Are hatred and grudges destroying you?

 

            “But Father, you don’t know what he or she said to me, did to me.”

 

            Again, are hatred and grudges destroying you? Is your lifestyle wholesome? Are you rationalizing your way through immorality?

 

             “Look, Father, things are different now.  This is the way that everyone does this.”

 

            Are you rationalizing your way through immorality? How easily we sacrifice our wholesomeness to turmoil.  How quickly we allow ourselves to be torn up inside. Sin is chaos.

 

            Human integrity, the wholeness of body and soul, physical and spiritual, is the focus of the first part of Lent.  You and I have to begin Lent by looking within ourselves.  Am I in peace, or am I in turmoil?  If I am honest with myself then I have to admit that over the last year certain things  have crept into my life.  They might seem small, “Hardly worth noting,” I rationalize,  but they can create havoc within my being, and bring chaos where there should be peace. Unless I am careful, my integrity can be compromised.  Perhaps, if you are honest with yourselves, you also will recognize that which has crept into your lives that can reduce you to someone who is less spiritual, less human.

 

            When we feel disjointed, torn up inside, just not happy with ourselves, then we need to be aware that something is wrong.  We also need to know that the Lord does not want us hurting this way.  He wants us to be whole and at peace.  He gives us His power and strength to preserve and integrate our body and soul.  “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me Lord my God,” we sing in Psalm 91.  He is with us.  “He is on our lips and in our hearts,” St. Paul tells the Romans, and us.  With Him we can conquer any enemy.  With Him we can scale any wall.  With Him we can fight off temptation.  With Him we can preserve, or if needed, restore our integrity.

 

            If we want to make a good Lent, our main focus should not be on what we give up, what prayers we say, what charity we practice.  These are all good, but if we want to make a good Lent, more than that, if we want to be better Christians, our focus should be on our integrity, the harmonious union of our physical and spiritual lives.

 

            Jesus Christ offers us dignity. Jesus Christ offers us peace.  Jesus Christ offers us integrity.