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Living Our Faith in a Secular World

Our first reading today is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were preparing to cross into the promised land. It has been a long time since Jacob brought his family to Egypt in a time of drought. They lived there as an alien people. It was not home for them but over time they “became a nation, great, strong, and numerous.

As “aliens”, they did not practice the same faith as the Egyptians. They kept their faith in the one true God. When Joseph came to Egypt, he gained a great status with the Pharaoh. So, when Jacob came with the rest of the family, the Israelites were treated very well.

That was a few centuries before Moses. By the time of Moses, the Egyptians had come to despise the Jews. The Egyptians “maltreated and oppressed” the Israelites. Thus, the Israelites “cried to the LORD” and He heard their cry and brought them out of Egypt to a “land flowing with milk and honey.

Sometimes I feel like an “alien” in our world today. Western society was long rooted in Christianity. The period was known as “Christendom” for the place Christianity held in the morals and values of the people. Now,…now society has shifted away from our Christian values. The conflict between our Christian values and those of the secular world is becoming more like that of the Apostolic Age before Christianity was widely accepted (For more on this see my article reflecting on the book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age. Bismark, ND: University of Mary Press. 2020.).

The struggle to live our faith in the 21st century world is not an easy one. We cry out to God for help. He will lead us home to a “land flowing with milk and honey” if we surrender the way we live our lives to him as we “bow down in his presence.

It is difficult. We struggle against temptations that are prevalent in our society. Is it possible to succeed against temptation?

Jesus did.

Jesus faced the direct temptation of the devil. It was God’s will as Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.” In the desert Jesus “ate nothing.” Thus, by the end of the forty days Jesus was hungry. Who won’t be? The devil knows Jesus is hungry. The devil knows the power that Jesus has and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” It might seem natural for Jesus to turn the stone into bread. He is hungry. He will feed the great multitude. Why shouldn’t He use his power to feed himself? Because He knows that his Father did not give him this power to use for himself. Jesus knows there is something more as He says, “One does not live on bread alone.

Do you use what God has given you for your own gain or in service to others?

The devil is not ready to give up. He continues to tempt Jesus by offering him “power and glory” if Jesus will worship him. Jesus is not interested in worldly power. Are you? Are you motivated by pride?

The devil continues with a third temptation. This time, the devil cites Scripture to speak of God’s promise to guard his people. Jesus responds with another verse, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” How often do you run off and do whatever you want and then expect God to guard you? God does want to protect us. He gives us a guardian angel. Do we ever listen before we act?

Finding himself unsuccessful in tempting Jesus, the devil “departed from him for a time.” “For a time“…the devil will be back.

The devil repeatedly tempts us. The devil began with Adam and Eve and has been tempting people ever since. The devil does not show his face to us. Instead, he works through others. Relativism says you are free to do whatever you want. The devil loves this. The devil wants us to think it is okay to not go to church. The devil wants us to think that the Commandments are outdated. The devil is happy when we think he doesn’t exist so that we let our guard down.

It is not enough to say we believe in Jesus. As Paul writes to the Romans, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord AND believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

It is important to realize that Paul does not say that we simply need to “say” we believe. First, he uses the word “confess”, not “say.” The definition of “confess” here is to give evidence for what we are saying. Our actions need to show that we “believe” what we are saying. There, I turn to the second part of my quote from Paul, “and believe.” Believe is a verb. A verb signifies action. How does believing in Jesus shape your life? How does knowing that Jesus died for you shape your choices?

Today’s psalm calls us to acknowledge the name of Jesus. His name signifies who Jesus is for us (see Philippians 2:5-11).

Temptation is real. We cannot beat it on our own. We don’t have to for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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