Bottom line: Jesus wants you and me to turn to God, to focus. Or as he says succinctly: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve".
Today St. Luke tells us the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert for 40 days "to be tempted by the devil."
Who is the devil? The word devil come from a Greek word that means throw apart, scatter or divide. He's the opposite of God - not in power or being - but in purpose. God brings together, the devil tears apart.
In the first reading we see God bringing his people out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. God brings together.
The devil on the other hand tears apart. He wants to tear apart our world, our nation, our church, our families. He does this by working on souls. He tries to tear us apart inside.
I have to admit many times I feel scattered, torn in hundred different directions. The devil loves that. He loves to scatter, divide.
Jesus allows himself to be tempted by the devil so he can help us. Against the devil's temptation he says, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve." What we see is that Jesus wants us to focus. Instead being pulled in a hundred directions, he wants us to focus on God, serve him alone.
As I mentioned last Sunday and on Ash Wednesday, I want to do something about being scattered and to better focus my mind. I'm doing this for a personal reason. I've noticed that as I get older, I seem to be losing certain mental abilities: memory, organization and follow through. I seem more scattered and distracted. I had consoled myself that this is a natuarl part of aging and maybe it is to a degree.
However, I've been learning more about brain science. It used to be said that the brain reaches its peak about age 26, then starts to decline. It seems to me that in my case it started about age 10. Well, new brain science talks about "plasticity" and says that the brain is more like a muscle. I may not have the same muscles as when I was 40 or 20, but I don't have to resign myself to atrophy.
Brain science has been linked to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Studies do show we can learn from the Buddhist tradition. At the same we Catholic have a rich tradition to draw from. A book that explores this is The Mindful Catholic by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. He gives explanations and exercises for learning how to focus. Dr. Bottaro wants to help us do what Jesus says in today's Gospel: worship God and serve him alone.
To focus on God every moment is something you and I can aspire to. Back in the seventeenth century a monk named Brother Lawrence wrote a book called The Practice of the Presence of God. It's actually a collection of short letters written to people seeking spiritual advice. Brother Lawrence shows how to practice the presence of God not only in formal prayer but also in daily work and during trials. Like today's Psalm says, "Be with me Lord when I am in trouble."
To practice the presence of God is not easy. The devil wants to use our troubles to separate us from God and from each other. He scatters and divides. Jesus wants to bring us back into focus.
It's interesting that St Paul says everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. I'd to now recommend some simple ways to do that, to call on the Lord, focus on him. The Easter monks use this prayer, "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner." They repeat it to the rhythm of their breath. In doing this they strive to pray constantly. Try a short prayer: Father, help me; Jesus I love you.Say it as you breathe in and out.
Don't ignore a prayer that we Catholics have used for centuries - the rosary. Some brain science studies show that praying the rosary can actually rewire the brain - for example, if someone has fallen into addictions like porn, alcohol or excessive video games. Here at St. Mary of the Valley a group prays the rosary between the 9:30 and 11:15 am Masses. The rosary has great power to regain focus.
We're going to learn more as Lent advances. Keep returning. The best is yet to come. Next Sunday we have Luke's account of the Transfiguration. We will hear Peter say, "It's good for us to be here." We'll see the role of gratitude in rewiring the brain. Every book about mindfulness that I have read (or listened to) emphasizes gratitude.
That's for next weekend. Today I want to emphasize that my goal is not brain development. My goal is God. At the same time, I do want to serve as well as I can and for as long as I can. As we will see, brain science can help us. The bottom line is that Jesus wants you and me to turn to God, to focus. Or as he says succinctly: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him alone shall you serve." Amen.
From Archives (Ash Wednesday Homilies):
Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru