This homily was given at Old Saint John’s, Silver Spring, Maryland, at a Missa Cantata in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite:
This third Sunday of Lent focusses somewhat on the spiritual warfare, of which we first spoke on Ash Wednesday. In the offertory antiphon at that Mass we recalled the words of Psalm 29, ‘Thou hast taken me under thy protection, and baulked my enemies of their will’. Today, we assess the progress of our campaign against sin and the devil, as we hear of the miracle of the Lord and his mastery over evil.
In presenting these readings the Church guides both those preparing for baptism at Easter, and those – already initiated into her life – who are called in this holy season to return to God’s friendship. Each of us, in these forty days, is challenged to bring ourselves into a deeper and more profound relationship with the Lord and his holy Church, by relying more and more on his grace, and less on our own strength. We are to turn away from our own desires, and desire only the life of Christ for ourselves and the world, in order that we might be made ready for the life of the world to come.
Through our baptism into the Lord’s death and resurrection we are already partakers in his divine life, not least through our incorporation into the mystical body of the Church. It is by means of the Church that we enter into a relationship with the Lord; it is through the Church that we are united in one communion with him, with the saints, and with our fellow men. Thus, when we choose to ignore the Church’s precepts – her laws and decrees – we cut ourselves off not simply from the institutional reality of the Church, but from her head: Christ himself.
When we do this, we become like the man possessed in today’s reading from the gospel according to Saint Luke. For when we are aware of the grip that sin and evil have over our lives, and still fail to ask for the healing and forgiveness of the Lord, we allow ourselves to be overcome by the devil himself. We call serious sin, ‘mortal’, for this reason: it kills the relationship we have with God. So, if we have put to death the life offered through the sacrifice of Christ, then we are left not with the eternal life won for us, but with eternal death – which is the fruit of sin. As scripture says, ‘He who is not with me is against me’ (Lk. 11: 23). If we do not return to the Lord, we oppose him.
In this season, then, let us turn once more from the life that leads to distance from God. Let us convert our hearts and actions back to the Lord, who wishes to redeem us from our sins and free us from the snares set for us by the devil. And let us unite ourselves more closely and more fully to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross, that through our participation in his passion we might become partakers in his divine life – the reward of the just and of the saints.