Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nature and Mentality of the Nullity Process

Fundamentally, the nature and goal of the marriage nullity process is the seeking of truth about a particular marital bond. Having ascertained the truth, justice is applied to render a decision in regard to the “status of the persons involved within the context of the ecclesiastical communion” (John Paul II, 1996). The process of the Tribunal involves a number of protagonists, all of whom must be ever diligent that they stay true to this goal in a unified manner. Pius XII in 1944 speaks of this unity of purpose, which must “inspire and unite them in one and the same unity of intention and action.” He goes on to remind us that this unity of intent and action is a human action that proceeds at the same time from a “single purpose, a common direction and a juridical moral obligation.”

The work of the Tribunal personnel, we are reminded, is done not only in this human realm but also before the “Tribunal of the omniscient God.” This work then demands then that those who do this work of justice be “characterized by the high practice of human and Christian values particularly prudence and justice but also fortitude” (Benedict XVI, 2010). Can anyone then achieve to these characteristics? It seems that these attributes are best approached with prayer and submission to God and his Church whose goal is the ultimately the salvation of souls—which is the end point of all law.

While personal virtues are indeed necessary to carry out this work it must always be remembered that the work is not a private one. Pius XII (1941) resolutely tells us that the Tribunal ministry is one of collaboration with the Holy See interpreting the norms “according to the mind of the roman pontiff.” His thought is echoed by John Paul II (1982) who advises those involved with the Tribunal to “work, study, and judge in the name of the Holy See.”

Various pontiffs have spoken of the specific roles active in the Tribunal process. To the judge falls the responsibility to “inquire and decide according to truth” (Pius XII, 1944) and to apply justice in “view of the spiritual welfare of the souls with reference to the supreme judgment of god having God alone before your eyes” (John Paul II, 1982). Such an understanding of the role of the judge in the process alleviates him from the false sense of having to separate the pastoral from the juridical. As observed by John Paul II in 1990, this attitude of a seeming opposition between pastoral and juridical is non-existent; it is not true he says “to be pastoral the law must be less juridical.”

The defender of the bond must work to sustain the existence or the continuance of the bond. However, the pontiffs have been unanimous that the defender is not to do so absolutely by making false assumptions, to work assiduously to define a non-existent reality, or to oppose in every way a well founded decision. The role of the defender is to prevent both a false notion of compassion as well a slavish desire to make the canons over ride the “mission of Christ the Shepherd” (Benedict XVI, 2010) which is the constitutive part of any juridical act done by the Church.

The promoter of justice whose role is to present to the Tribunal any case that seems to do injustice to the good of marriage with the goal of attaining a declaration of nullity. His work is done not for the benefit of any individual but rather for the benefit of the public good. This notion clarifies that the goal of the marriage nullity process is the “protection of the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage defending it against the subtle attack of hedonism” (John XXIII, 1959).

The advocates who represent the Tribunal ministry at the initiation of the process must work diligently to win the case for their clients. However, they must never divorce themselves from the unity of purpose of the process which is “the discovery, ascertainment and legal assertion of the truth: the objective fact” (Pius X11, 1944). The role of the advocate includes reminding the parties that while they have the right to assert or defend against the nullity of their particular marriage they do not have the right to its nullity or to its validity. At the forefront of the ministry stands the advocate whose work is a “service of love” (John Paul II, 1982) who must keep to the truth with the love of the Church and the love of God ever before them.

Therefore, the role of the advocate is to intercede on behalf of the Church, advising, instructing and counseling the parties that “in accordance with human experience marked by sin a valid marriage can fail because of the spouse own misuse of freedom” (John Paul II, 2004). The advocate reminds the parties that the vicissitudes they have experienced in the course of their marriage may not be a result of invalidity but rather a result of sin, which can be overcome.
Various terms have been used to describe the work of matrimonial Tribunals. Best summated by John Paul II (1987), it is a “ministry of truth safeguarding genuine Christian concepts in the midst of cultures and fashions which tend to obscure it.” It is a “ministry of charity” toward the ecclesial community, which is preserved. Finally, it is a “service of charity” towards the parties especially if a denial avoids deception. However, they all point to a harmony of purpose.

With this plurality of understanding, the Tribunal personnel must be ever diligent to maintain a mentality congruent with the goals of ascertaining and articulating the truth. This service is not to be unduly hindered by false notions of pastoral care or human anthropology. At the same time, the workers in the ministry must not disregard the work of the human sciences of sociology and psychology.

First and foremost the ministers of the Tribunal must be aware that the consent to marry brings into existence a realty that must be fully recognized, respected and protected (John Paul II, 1982). This recognition, respect, and protection is done for the sake of those who have in the past given their word and have succeeded in giving of themselves to each other. Marriage is never to be perceived or judged purely on the subjective feelings of the spouses, rather it must always be remembered that marriage is an ecclesial act with global consequences.

Second, the ministers of the Tribunal must be cognizant of the fact that the process is a contentious process, not pitting spouse against spouse, but rather looking to the reality of the bond that they may or may not have effected by their mutual consent. In doing so an attitude of “complacency toward the parties must be avoided” (Benedict XVI, 2006). An attitude of disinterest in the process or seeing the process as merely a bureaucratic activity with little importance should be eschewed. Each case must be handled with “the depth and seriousness required by the ministry of truth and charity” (Benedict XVI, 2009).

Third, the importance of the marriage nullity process must never be diminished. Each decision made, each sentence rendered has “great relevance both for the parties and for the entire ecclesial body” says Benedict (2010). Every “correct judgment contributes to the culture of indissolubility” (John Paul II, 2002).

Paul VI notes, that juridical activity, which is the occupation of the marital nullity process, is to be guided by an “unwearyingly concern for its praiseworthy and pastoral interpretation” of canon law. To administer the law one must perceive its beauty, encourage its exercise, must not take advantage of justice to serve personal interests, and must maintain openness to the demands of truth (John Paul II, 1994).

Works Cited

  • Benedict XVI. "Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 28 Jan. 2006. The Holy See. Web. .
  • Benedict XVI. "To Prelate Auditors, Officials and Advocates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the Occasion of the Inauguration of the Judicial Year." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 29 Jan. 2010. The Holy See. Web. .
  • Benedict XVI. "To Prelate Auditors, Officials and Advocates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 30 Jan. 2009. The Holy See. Web. .
  • John Paul II. "Address of John Paul II to the Members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the Inauguration of the Judicial Year." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 29 Jan. 2004. The Holy See. Web. .
  • John Paul II. "Consent Makes Marriage, Its Defense By The Church." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 28 Jan. 1982. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 171-75. Print.
  • John Paul II. "Judges Must Be Attentive to the Particular Circumstances and Culture of the Individual Person." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 22 Jan. 1996. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 237-40. Print.
  • John Paul II. "One Cannot Give In to the Divorce Mentality." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 28 Jan. 2002. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 267-72. Print.
  • John Paul II. "Pastoral Nature of Canon Law and Respect for Truth." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 18 Jan. 1990. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 209-13. Print.
  • John Paul II. "The Splendor of Truth and Justice." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 28 Jan. 1994. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 227-30. Print.
  • John Paul II. "Unacceptable Anthropology." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 5 Feb. 1987. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 191-96. Print.
  • John XXIII. "The Church's Tribunals, Guardians of Justice and of the Christian Family." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 19 Oct. 1959. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 59-61. Print.
  • Paul VI. "Nature of the Marriage Bond." Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 9 Feb. 1976. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 133-37. Print.
  • Pius XII. "Matrimonial Trials." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 2 Oct. 1944. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottawa: St. Paul University, 2002. 23-32. Print.
  • Pius XII. "Role of the Judge in Marriage Nullity Cases." Speech. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota. Vatican City. 3 Oct. 1941. Papal Allocutions To The Roman Rota 1939 to 2002. Ottowa: St. Paul University, 2002. 11-16. Print.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C

We live in a multitasking world with multiplex theaters, multi-cultural food courts, multiple desk tops on our computer screens, picture in picture on our TVs, news being proclaimed with more news coming across at the same time in the endless scroll beneath the image.

In the first reading each week of the Easter season, we hear from the first generation of the Church in the story of the post-Easter apostles. They are learning what it means to be Church. They are learning what impact the gospel they proclaim will have on the world and times they live in. They are learning the first hard lessons about trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, still a new gift they don’t fully understand. They are confronted with the difficult task of surrendering their assumptions, prejudices, and behaviors in the face of something quite new. They are faced with what God is doing in the world.

At the same time in the gospel story each week, we are hearing from the time when Jesus was still with his disciples, both before and just after the resurrection. This “flashback” to the time of Jesus relates to the experience of the early Church quite deliberately. They are living out the truth of the advice and example Jesus gave them.

Finally, we have that middle reading, the one most easily forgotten. It comes from the Book of Revelation. If the time of the post-resurrection Church can be considered the present age—it is after all the generation we still inhabit—and the generation of Jesus is the past we hold in sacred memory, then the scenes recorded by the visionary John are of a different time and place altogether. Is it the future he sees? Often the events of Revelation are relegated to the future as an end-time scenario. What John is actually seeing is happening in the realm of God right now. The Holy Now of God is always and everywhere taking shape.

We are called to participate in this Holy Now of God. We do not just remember it as a past event and we do not just hope for it as a future event. We are called to embrace it, the Holy Now of God, in the present moment. This Holy Now comes when we join our will to the holy will of God.

It comes to us in this holy Eucharist that we are about to share. The same holy Eucharist that our innocent children recently received for the first time. This same Eucharist Pope Benedict called in his Letter Sacramentum Caritas - The Sacrament of Love. In that apostolic letter, Benedict did not limit his reflection on pieties—how to hold your hands, how to sing, how to decorate—no, he made a strong statement about being and remaining a Eucharistic people. Benedict was clear that Eucharist emboldens us to be people of charity. Eucharist forms us to be people of solidarity. Eucharist is an active agent in our lives – a dynamic agent not merely a stagnated object for us to observe, but an object of adoration. Why? Because, in that act of adoration we are compelled to act. We are compelled to act with justice and compassion, empathy, and sympathy. We are compelled to act with love.

Each of us must choose to obey the commandment to love one another. When I do, I claim participation in the Holy Now of God. When I come in love and act from love I am a participant. If you obey this commandment you can see and appreciate the Holy Now of God.

To live according to the commandment of love also means to sacrifice. For to love is to sacrifice one’s self for another, as Pope Benedict reminded us in his first Encylical Deus Caritas Est. We have to let God make all things new—starting with ourselves. To love as God loves is the most difficult yet the most profound activity in our lives. How do we go about it?

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn. He decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he was finished it was gorgeous. It was breath-taking.

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?"

The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!"

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion, mercy, or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred, prejudice, vengeance, or envy in your heart, for God's sake, for the sake of others, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like love.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Numbers. Our lives are filled with numbers. Each year we file our income taxes. Now that's an exercise in numbers to end all numbers games. Pages upon pages of numbers: earned numbers, spent numbers, invested numbers, and saved numbers. When it is finally prepared, we send it off to the Internal Revenue Service with our Social Security number on it. And the IRS takes all those numbers and puts them into a computer, along with the numbers of thousands and thousands of other people. And to them, we become a number.

The government knows us by our tax number. The state knows us by our driver's license number. The bank knows us by our account number. When we retire, we'll be remembered by our Social Security number. And it goes on and on. In fact, sometimes I wonder if anybody knows us at all without a number!

And that's why this morning's Gospel reading is so significant, because it tells us that God knows us. He knows us intimately, in fact, better than we know ourselves. That's important to remember. In spite of the fact that the image of sheep and shepherd is foreign to our experience, the words of
the Gospel this morning hearken for us a truth that our human hearts long to hear. The Old Testament writer put it even more clearly when he wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." Jesus says it this morning, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give them eternal life."

The call of our Lord is "hidden" in a whole chorus of worldly voices which beckon us. Other would-be shepherds seek to tempt us away from the Good Shepherd, the joy of his forgiveness, and the security of his love. When we are weak and confused we may fall victim to the enticements of other gods.

I am reminded of an American tourist who was traveling in the
Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, "Manah. Manah. Manah." (Manah means, "follow me" in Arabic.) Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him.

Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, "Manah. Manah." and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the
third shepherd, "I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and
turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me."

The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, "Manah. Manah." The sheep did not respond to the stranger's voice. Not one of them moved toward him. Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?" The traveler asked.

"Oh yes," the shepherd replied, "sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone."

We have seen it, haven't we? People, young and old, who are "sick." Battered by the storms of life and distracted by voices urging them to go this way and that, they have lost their bearings and they don't know where they are or where they are going. That can be more than a little frightening; it leads to despair, to hopelessness. And when someone is "sick" they will follow anyone who will promise a moment of happiness, a brief feeling of peace or forgetfulness, a sense that they are someone.

But the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd is, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no better way, no greater truth, and no happier life. Our Lord reaches out to us in love that we might follow him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter 2 Year C

Once again we have closed another Lent. Once again we have celebrated the Sacred Triduum with intense liturgical fervor. We have sung of Jesus’ victory over death. We have welcomed the newly baptized into our midst. We have noted the crowds who are drawn to the church in record numbers for the Easter Sunday. We have consumed the sweetness of the chocolate bunnies. We have savored the flowering of the earth. We have invoked the many alleluias of the Easter Season.

Easter is time filled as well as a time of fulfillment. It is because these phenomena that the Wisdom of the Church asks us to keep our focus on the resurrection stories over the next seven weeks. It is because of the fullness and the power of the Easter event that Mother Church invites us each Sunday trough Pentecost to listen and to be nurtured by the stories of the early church.

It is in the next seven week that we are asked to assimilate the gospel stories of Jesus’ apparitions and to own for ourselves the transformational stories of those who peopled the early church.

As Catholic Christians Easter is not just an event celebrated, it was, is and will always be a process. A process entered into. It is a process that entails a comparison of our personal experience with the experience of others. Others who have come to the conclusion that Jesus is not just another teacher, prophet, or guru. Rather, that through his resurrection Jesus proves that he is the Messiah, the long awaited one, the alpha and the Omega. He is the one whose death and resurrection marks the central act of history.

As Catholic Christians we recognize that history began with our being in harmony with God and that through our human decisions, our human choices, that harmony was disrupted. As Catholic Christians we recognize our role and celebrate the fact that God through his Son Jesus has enabled us to live once again in harmony with God.

As Catholic Christians we are also asked to give witness to our harmony with God, but living out a life of harmony with others. The story of the resurrection of Jesus is personalized when we allow ourselves to die, when we allow suffering to be transcended.

As Catholics we are asked to let bitterness drop, resentments diminish. We are asked to act out of compassion and not compulsion. The Easter story of Jesus intersects with our stories when we allow the words of the risen Lord, “Peace be with you” to fall from our lips.

The Easter story continues in our lives when we are absorbed with forgiveness rather than revenge. The Easter story is ours when we choose to heal rather than riot.

Easter invites us to repent. That repentance is oftentimes slow. It is oftentimes takes a lifetime, none the less it is what we are called to do. Repent and believe that t Jesus is with us on our journey back to God. His journey begins where we are. In that journey we are accepted as we are with the expectation that we will allow ourselves to be changed until one day we look to Jesus and say, “My lord and my God.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter Year C

Two centuries ago the Catholic priest Erasmus said that, “The creation of the world was a work of power.”

In our power driven world how easy it would be to confine our ideas about God to just his powerful acts. After all, we are attracted to power, we create power, and we envy power. The most powerful men and women of the world are often the subject of the media. In fact even Jesus was voted once be one of the most powerful men in the world’s history.

We have given homage to the power of God often. We sing songs such as “Our God is an Awesome God,” alluding to the power that he has in creating us and the world around us.

We pray for God’s powerful intervention to hear our prayers of intercession. “Almighty and all powerful God hear our prayers.” We teach that God has three attributes. He is omniscient, all knowing; he is omnipresent, every where; he is omnipotent, all powerful. Yes the power of God is great and greatly to be praised.

Yet two centuries ago, Erasmus also said that, “The redemption of the world is an act of mercy.”

That is without a doubt the most under appreciated, misunderstood, and least accepted attribute of God. For some strange reason we have difficulty accepting the mercy of God. We tend to link mercy with weakness, indecisiveness, a lack of power.

That is strange to me because from a biblical point of view the emet and hesed “the love and mercy of God” is by far the most talked about attribute of God. “We say that God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” We understand that passage easily in the light of the Christmas story. In reality that passage speaks more about and is better understood in the light of the Easter candle. This candle that stands newly lit amongst us today. The Christ who died was buried and is risen is the Christ whose light illuminates our journey.

It is by his mercy that we are able to walk through this life and enter into the next one.

The principle character in today’s gospel is Mary of Magdala. The Magdala, who probably throughout her life heard over and over of how the powerful God was going to punish her for her faults. The Magdala who in her own time and down through the centuries was labeled as mad woman, prostitute, and sinner. The Magdala who finally in the presence of Jesus heard and experienced the mercy of God who by word and deed accepted her and embraced her.

The Easter story is hers to tell. What she says is simply, don’t surrender to power, don’t give in to doubt, and do not be afraid of anxiety. In the resurrection of Jesus she was reminded and she reminds us that Jesus died for justice, that Jesus rose for compassion, that Jesus walks for reconciliation.

No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard any one else tries to squelch, squash or subjugate you, the empty tomb is the powerful sign of God’s mercy and love.

“Lord I am not worthy but only say the word and I will be healed.” This morning there is before you either misery or mercy. Choose mercy, for our God is a merciful one. That alone should give us reason to rejoice.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C

The familiar Gospel before us today might lead us to ask, “How much is one human being worth?”

There are many ways to measure that issue. Our financial profiles for example might be the measure of man’s worth. After all how many times have you been asked to give an estimate of your “net worth?” In legal terms the value of our future worth is predicated on the number that corresponds to our “life time earning potential.” Insurance actuaries will measure our worth and “replacement value” based on our earned income and age.

We can answer the question before us this morning, “How much are you worth?” from other points of view.

If we could somehow break down the chemical composition of your body I could tell you your worth in tradable commodities. You have within your body enough iron for a nail; enough sugar to fill a sugar bowl; enough fat for seven bars of soap (that may very from person to person); enough lime to whitewash a dog house; enough phosphorous for 2,200 match heads; enough
magnesium for a dose of magnesium; enough potassium to shoot a toy cannon; all mixed in with a little sulfur so that even in today's inflated market you are valued at about $3.50. That is how much we are all worth give or take a few dollars.

In psychological terms our self worth is measured differently according to gender. Females we are told measure their worth by the number of life affirming relationships they have. Men on the other hand measure their worth based upon the number of successful tasks they accomplish.

In today’s gospel we are confronted with a man whose worth is questioned or who at least questions his own worth. From his chemical composition he is still worth that same $3.50, but economically his earning potential has been diminished. How much do we pay a Hog feeder? His net worth is zero we are told because he has squandered all of his wealth on dissipate living. Psychologically his self worth is minuscule. The only task left for him to accomplish is the repetitive task of feeding the pigs.

Yet in spite of all these measurements this man continues to have worth. He is worth, we are told the cost of a fatted calf, he is worth the price of a new garment, new sandals. We are told he is worthy of a feast to celebrate his return.

What gave the prodigal his value is that he belonged to someone. He had a father. A father who did not burden him with expectations. A father who did not demand from him an accounting. A father who only unconditionally loved him. If I hear that there are 5,000 runaways every day in America that fact may cause me to blink my eye. The statistic hurts.

But if I hear that my child is one of them, there is nothing that I will not do to see that they are found. Why? Because, my child is not a statistic. My child is an intimate and integral part of me.

You and I are in that same kind of intimate relationship. You, I, and that lost son are more valuable to the father than an African diamond or Arabian oil.

Why? Because, we truly belong to our heavenly father. We are in his image we are in his likeness. We are one with the father through our Baptism. In the parable of the lost coin, we read where a woman turns her house upside down in search for a missing coin. In the parable of the lost sheep we read that the shepherd left his flock to look for that one significant lamb.

God does the same for each of us. Will God not literally turn the world upside down in his search for one lost individual? He has left his heavenly abode. He has turned the world upside down by sending himself into the world so that each of us can be festive in attitude. So that each of us will be receptive to the bountiful gift of newness. Each of us can be freed from the disgraces of our past as the people of Joshua were freed from the “disgrace of Egypt.”

It does not make any difference as to the number of disgraces nor the depth of the disgrace.

For God these measures of unworthiness are useless. The God of today’s gospel is not an accountant, he is not an actuary, and he is not an investment banker. God does not calculate our worth. He only greets us with words of reconciliation.

Our task is but simply to accept the reconciling, forgiving compassionate God who calls us to a renewed life. Remember his great deeds of bringing a people out of persecution as he did in the Old Testament. He lead them from wandering into a life of bountiful plenty.

First Sunday of Lent Year C

Thanks to the genre of voyeuristic television “Temptation” has become a very popular word recently. A some years ago that mode of entertainment enabled us to peek into the “committed lives” of couples who were rewarded somehow by tempting their relationship. Beautiful women, balmy beaches, and virile men. Put them together and what do you get--temptation. In the film “Couples Retreat” on an island designed to build bonds between spouses temptation inserted itself.

Temptation is of course enticing and titillating. From our Catholic point of view, however, temptation is something to be avoided. That is why we pray “lead us not into temptation.” We pray that because we innately know that temptation is easy to fall victim to. It matters not whether the temptation comes from a demon in a red suit or whether it comes from another individual or whether it come from within us. It is easy to fall victim to temptation.

In today’s gospel we are given insight into the humanity of Jesus. It was in that humanity that Jesus was taken into the dessert. It was in his humanity that Jesus was tempted. The gospel is given to us today so that we might have a measure of our own temptation and our ability to resist. Like Jesus our abilities to resist temptation of any sort is based on the decisions we make.

In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for all people by providing them with food. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for himself and for us by making use of political power. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus make himself the ruler of the center of his world, Jerusalem.

What is Jesus response to all of these suggestions? He goes back to the Book of Deuteronomy. It is from that ancient text that Jesus finds his answer. He will put his life in God’s hands and God’s hands alone.It is not unimportant to the Christian life to note that temptation comes more often when we, like Jesus, are in the midst of a desert experience. By that I mean an experience where it appears that all of our support is gone, an experience of utter aloneness--An experience of getting lost and not being able to decide the proper direction to take. Some of you may be going through an experience like that right now.

Perhaps you are the forty year old who has just been laid off due to corporate downsizing. The desert experience is being without a job and filled with confusion, resentment and the utter sense of failure.

Perhaps you are a widow whose husband died after only 18 years of marriage. You are left bereft of the warm relationship you had. You are filled with grief. You are entangled in a world of decisions to be made by you alone where once you had a partner.

Or, is the desert experience that you are going through the experience of being a high school senior. You are getting ready to leave home. You are filling out applications, going for campus visits, and interviews. You are waiting, waiting for letters and acknowledgments, so that you can get on with life. But at the same time questioning, “Am I ready for this? Do I really truly want to grow up?”

Desert experiences are abundant in our lives and with them come the temptations. Of all the temptations that are available to us there is one that is most evil. It is not sex, it is not power, and it is not wealth. The most evil of all temptations is despair. The despair that comes from deciding to let go of God. The despair that come from deciding to not grow from your desert experience. The despair that comes from deciding not to love, when a loved one is taken away, the despair that comes from deciding to let fear of the future overrule you.

The same spirit that accompanied Jesus in his desert decision making is the spirit that accompanies you through the joys and anguish of life. Lent calls our beings into the desert to discern what God call us to. Lent is the time to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble.”

Desert experiences are all too frequent. But they allow us to refocus, recenter, and renew our hope in God’s compassionate promise of new hope and new life in, through and with Jesus.