Our Lord was tempted by the Devil, who even tried to trick Him by quoting Bible verses. But Jesus knew what was truly right, and resisted.
We are unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with Satan. “But the serpent was the most subtle of all the creatures God had made.” What the Devil began, the World continues. Just as the serpent questioned whether God had forbidden eating the fruit, so the world around us today questions whether our Catholic values are the right ones.
How can we know right from wrong? We might say it’s because of our conscience, and that’s partly true, but how does your conscience know the difference between right and wrong? We have a duty to train our consciences to know what God has said through the words of the Bible and the teaching of the Church.
Before Lent began, I preached about the challenge to tackle those temptations we know we have but don’t want to face up to. Today I want to talk about something different – about our hidden faults. There are things that we don’t recognise as sins because we don’t know the Church’s teaching well enough – or because we aren’t willing to recognise the Church’s teaching as correct.
When the world around us agrees with our Catholic values, that’s a mixed blessing. If we agree that a particular action is sinful, that make it shameful. The sense of shame deters some people from committing that sin, but at the same time it means that other people who did commit that sin might feel too ashamed to come to confession and make a fresh start. On the other hand, when society disagrees that something should be shameful, the church finds itself having to encourage us to swim the other way against the tide of people’s opinions.
The thing is, it’s not up to us to make the rules – that’s the point of the story of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It doesn’t make a lot of sense if you say the Eden story is about knowledge. After all, if Adam and Eve didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, how could they avoid sinning? But St John Paul II gave us a deeper way of reading the story. He explained it’s not about knowing the difference, but about who gets to decide what’s right or wrong. We human beings sometimes want to say that something is OK when God’s already said that it’s not OK.
For those of us who have responsibility as employers or managers, this Lent might be an opportunity to look at how we treat our staff. Do we treat our employees in the way we would want to be treated in their place? Maybe you’ve never stopped to see it from that point of view before, but that’s what the gospel requires. This is the heart of what is known as Catholic Social Teaching – which brings the call to “love one another” into the workplace and to wider society.
There are many reasons we might feel afraid of immigrants, from questions about whether some might be terrorists, to concerns about whether there would be fewer jobs left for British people. But it’s not OK for us, as followers of Jesus, to withhold good will from strangers, even when it becomes politically acceptable to oppose immigration.
On sexual matters, too, public views have changed. That old serpent whispers into our society that marriage is really about saving up for the big party. That’s not what we believe, as Catholics. What’s really important in Christian marriage is that a man and a woman make a public promise to each other, to God and to us that they will stay together through thick and thin. If you are a real Catholic, you will get married in church before you start a family, even if you can’t afford the wedding of your dreams. By doing that, you prove that God is more important than money, or what your friends think of you. If you think it’s OK to start a family before you’re married, you’ve fallen for the subtle voice of the serpent, which can take something beautiful – love! – and put it in the wrong place. He failed when he tried to tempt Jesus to jump off the Temple. The time for Jesus to ascend from the Earth only came after he vowed himself to his bride, the Church, at the altar of the Cross.
There’s a movie out now called Hidden Figures, telling a story that wasn’t widely know. It’s about how black women mathematicians and engineers helped NASA win the space race. That’s an example of positive cultural change – our Catholic values recognise the equal dignity of workers of all races. Sometimes society changes for the better. But society often changes to say that things are OK when they go against God’s law. We can’t always change the world, but we can always encourage one another to resist the world’s temptations. While the world celebrates hidden figures, this Lent is a time for us to find our hidden faults.
How can we know right from wrong? It’s time for us to go deeper, and ask how God’s Law asks us to behave, in areas we haven’t thought of before or where the world has made us blind. Let’s behave as the saints that God is calling us to be. Let’s change- and BE the good news!