My dear brother and sisters in the Lord,
As we begin the season of Lent, the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent is perhaps one of the highlights of the Liturgical Year in the Diocese of Brooklyn. For those who are to be Baptized and fully initiated on Easter, their journey begins in earnest during this 40-day period.
On this first Sunday of Lent, we gather them together and challenge them with the Word of God which always, on the first Sunday of Lent, concerns the temptations of Jesus. Those who wish to be Baptized will be departing from a life dominated by Original Sin, and offer themselves up to the grace of God. Those to be fully initiated will receive Communion and Confirmation on Easter. It is truly a life-changing experience for them.
In our own diocese, the statistics are overwhelming, as they are nationally. In our country each year, almost 250,000 people are Baptized, or fully initiated. In this diocese, the numbers are normally 1,000. This year, we have 480 Elect, those who will be receiving baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, 555 will be completing their initiation through Confirmation and Eucharist, and 44 will be coming into full communion into the Catholic Church, as well as 79 children, for a total of 1,079.
It is truly amazing to see, in our two ceremonies of initiation, over 1,000 people attending each. Catechumens and candidates are accompanied by their sponsors and the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) representatives who have assisted them in coming to this point. They mirror the ethnic diversity of our diocese, its languages and its racial diversity. It is one of the most heartening days of the year for me as your bishop.
Perhaps, it might be good for all of us here in Brooklyn and Queens as we begin this Lent, to meditate on the temptations of Jesus because in so many ways they proximate our own.
The ordinary works of the devil, which are necessary to understand the temptations of Jesus, I like to call the 4Ds. Just remember the 4Ds. Like my name DiMarzio. Many times I was called Father D because my name was too hard for some to pronounce. The 4Ds are the things we need to be careful about in life.
First is deception, the false promises, the information that is not truth. So much information comes to us today over the Internet. It is not truth, it is deception and we see that sometimes we look for deceitful remedies for pain, using drugs, alcohol, or other pain killers.
Another ordinary work of the devil is division, or disunity. We are divided in ourselves and we are divided from other people. Our interpersonal relations sometimes break down. This is also part of his work.
Then there is diversion. Diversion, in that sometimes we are absorbed in the ordinary tasks of life, sometimes good things, that need to be done, but at the same time this diversion can distort our view of life. We can become anxious and fearful. We tend not to understand the unity that is so important to our own lives and that of others.
Finally, there is discouragement. Yes, at times we are discouraged. It comes out in words, like, “I can’t do it anymore,” “I don’t care,” “I can’t take it anymore.” This is a regression of the progress we made in our spiritual life. We become paralyzed, tired, overwhelmed. We feel nothing can change.
All of these are the ordinary works of the devil. But if we apply them and see the temptations of Jesus, we recognize that He underwent the same problems, the same temptations that we experience. But because He is God, He was able to overcome them. Because we believe in the power of God and His Goodness, we too can overcome them.
In the Gospel passage that describes the temptations of Jesus, we learn the details. The first temptation is to turn stones to bread. Here we see both deception and diversion at work. Jesus was tempted to satisfy His hunger just as we are. Sometimes we satisfy our hunger with addictions to food, alcohol and drugs that deaden our openness to God.
Then Jesus was tempted by the devil to jump off the pinnacle of the temple so He could test God’s love for Him. There again, we find deception and division, dividing the Father from the Son. The sin we experience is presumption and curiosity. Our own temptations sometimes cause us to hold onto, covet what we have, thinking somehow that we deserve all that we have.
In the final temptation of Jesus, the devil tempted Jesus to worship him and He would be given all the kingdoms of the world. Again, we observe deception and diversion, testing the pride of Jesus. Our temptations of pride are many. We assert ourselves. Sometimes we even worship ourselves. We do not recognize our dependence upon God.
So as we put out into the deep of this Lenten season, let us beware of the ordinary temptations of life and how, with the grace of God, we will be able to overcome them. Our works of penance, prayer and almsgiving during Lent strengthen our will and help us to reach Easter to come.