A rabbit, a priest, and a minister walked into a bar. The bar tender asked each what he would like to drink. The priest said, “I’ll have an Irish Whiskey, but mix it with water; I don’t want my parishioners to think I’m a heavy drinker.” The minister said, “I’ll have a bourbon, but put it in a coffee cup; I don’t want my congregation members to think I’m drinking alcohol.” The rabbit said, “I’m here only because of AutoCorrect.”
If you don’t understand the joke, that’s probably an indication that you don’t send lots of text messages. If you do send lots of text messages, you are aware that you must monitor closely what you type because, if you accept passively the words suggested by AutoCorrect, your message will be unintelligible. Passivity is often a poor choice, regardless of the circumstances.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard Luke’s version of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. (As I was typing this, MS Word’s AutoCorrect feature tried to relocate Jesus’ temptation to the dessert.) The devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, but Jesus proclaimed the surpassing value of following God’s will. Then, the devil tempted Jesus with political power, but Jesus gave witness to the infinite goodness of God. Lastly, the devil tried to entice Jesus into egoism, but Jesus professed the sovereignty of God.
Jesus resisted the devil’s temptation, but he did so by countering each temptation with an affirmation of faith. Jesus would not have fared so well if he had been passive in the face of temptation.
This year, three members of our parish will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. For those three individuals, Lent is proximate preparation for taking the vows of Baptism. For those of us already baptized, Lent is a season of repentance to prepare us to renew our baptismal vows. Baptism is another of those events in which passivity is never sufficient.
It is insufficient to be able to go into the Confessional and say that you have nothing to confess. Jesus didn’t sit silently while he was being tempted; he responded both by resisting temptation and by professing his faith in God. The baptized are obliged to imitate the Jesus’ example; we are obliged to resist temptation and then actively practice virtue.
Not coincidentally, the penitential practices of Lent include both sacrifice and the practice of virtue. During Lent, we fast, abstain from meat, and choose a personal penance. These practices alone, however, are insufficient. In addition to making those small, passive sacrifices, we dedicate extra attention to reading the Scriptures, praying, and almsgiving. Lent is not a time of passivity; rather, it is a season of active preparation for taking the vows of Baptism at Easter.
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “The one believes with the heart is justified, and the one who confesses with the mouth is saved.” (Rm 10:10) At the time Paul wrote these words, the affirmation seemed valid, but Paul was proved wrong. Not more than a decade passed before Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome; both were probably betrayed by fellow Church members. Despite the optimism expressed in the Letter to the Romans, not all the baptized persevere to salvation. It is only those who grow in their baptismal vocation, who actively pursue God’s will by both resisting temptation and practicing virtue.
It might sound strange to say “Unfortunately,” but unfortunately, there are many opportunities to practice virtue during this Lenten season. FEAST Food Pantry is in great need of non-perishable food and funding. FEAST serves several thousand families who struggle to provide food for themselves in northern Pinellas County. The Pinellas Hope shelter for the homeless is also in need of non-perishable food for the residents. The Kimberly Home is always in need of baby items and diapers for its clients and residents.
There are a great many unfortunate situations in our immediate environment. We can become a blessing for those in need by practicing the virtues that are incumbent on all the baptized. If the most impressive thing that can be said about you is that you’ve managed to avoid mortal sin recently, that is saying too little; you have been too passive in your relationship with God. Central to your baptismal vocation is the obligation to give alms, grant forgiveness, promote justice and peace, and console those who suffer.
Lent can be an exercise in passivity; it can be allowed to pass by with no great effort expended. Lent is intended, however, to be a call to renewed action by growing in faith and expressing the Faith through virtuous choices. There are many people around you whose lives are less than blessed. You can be a blessing to those who suffer; you can do so by imitating Jesus who was not satisfied with passive resistance to temptation but, rather, gave active expression to his trust in God.