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No one gets a free pass in this life. Nobody. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what position you have, what accomplishments you have done, you don’t get a free pass. Not even Jesus.

Because of original sin, because of that first “no” to God, we are all tempted and struggle to say “yes” to God because it is so easy to say “no.”

Last week at the 9:30 Mass when I was in the middle of my homily, I used a question from the YOUCAT, that is, the youth catechism based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It posed the question which I read, “Are we all called to be saints?” The answer the YOUCAT was “Yes” with an exclamation point.

Well, there was this little boy in the second row off to my right who was standing on the pew looking rather intently at me who, when I asked the question, “are we all called to be saints,” shouted in a loud voice “NO!”

It caught me off guard and garnered lots of laughs from folks. Yet, out of the mouths of babes…

Isn’t that often our answer when faced with the choice to resist temptation, to do the good that we know we should do? Rather than saying “yes” to grace, we say “no.” Rather than choosing the good, we say “no.” Rather than resisting our prideful selves, we say “no.” Rather than laying down our lives and putting our spouse and children first, we say “no.”

It can be so hard at times to say “yes” to virtue, to choosing the good, to following Jesus, to following the teachings of his Church, to confronting our pride, our arrogance, our self-righteousness, our selfishness and on, and on, and on.

No one gets a free pass, not even Jesus. I hope that this brings both consolation and a greater awareness of why we have Lent and why the stewardship of our time, of every moment of our existence which is freely given by God, needs to be rooted in prayer, that is, in our relationship with God.

Our first reading shows us in stark contrast the goodness of God’s creation and the temptation to go against God’s plan for humanity’s joy. The garden is a symbol of that goodness, a place where everything flourishes, a place of abundance and of joy.

Where do we find the devil? Yes, in the desert, the exact opposite of the garden, the world that human sin has wrought. The desert is a place of desolation, of thirst, of no food, of harshness and heat in the day and darkness and coldness in the night. This is what sin looks like.

This is where the Spirit leads Jesus after his baptism, after the revelation that, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” From the garden to the desert, from blessedness to forsakenness, from grace to the heart of darkness, from the place of “yes” to place of “no.”

Nobody gets a free pass, not even Jesus. You see, Jesus enters into that very place of the eternal “no” of evil and sin with all of its manifestations that tear apart our human dignity, in order to save us and free us to be able to embrace the image and likeness in which we are created.

We proclaim in the Apostles’ Creed, which we pray during Lent, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell…” Into hell, meaning – into the bowels of evil so as to save us from eternal damnation, from our own worst selves.

This is why we need Lent. This is why we were marked with ashes at the beginning of our Lenten journey and told, “Repent, and believe the gospel.”

Yes, we all need to repent. We all are faced with temptation and rather than saying “no,” to temptation, we say “yes.” 

Sometimes or even many times, you and I make bad, foolish, and selfish choices.

It’s not just eating the ice cream right out of the carton until the spoon scrapes the bottom, or for me, pigging-out on Doritos. It’s much more serious than that.

It’s failing to show courage when it’s time to take a stand. Talking when we should listen. Buying things we don’t need just because the price is right. 

Clicking on that website that will suck us into sexual sin and perversion. Staying in our comfort zone and keeping a distance from our friend’s distress and muted cry for help.

The serpent sings in our ears, and were lulled into agreement with the devil’s plan.

No one gets a free pass. We have to enter into the battle. We must realize that this is truly a battle, a fight, and spiritual warfare!

To be a Catholic, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ has always been difficult, has always been a challenge, has always called us from complacency and mediocrity to self-sacrifice and sanctity. Yes, we are all called to be saints, each and every one of us!

The Church invites us on this first Sunday of Lent to buckle up, or as St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: 

“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 

“Therefore, put on the armor of God that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. 

“In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 

With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”

That is great wisdom. That is sage advice that we need to take seriously.

I really like the fact that we can now ride the intercity buses for free and I am glad that ridership is up almost 20%. 

But it’s not like that when it comes to the spiritual life. You have heard me say in the past, “Sin is easy. Virtue is hard.” Developing virtue takes effort and often, lots of it.

The devil wants us to think that it’s all free, that we can do whatever we want without any consequences and repercussions, especially if we don’t get caught. Ridership will always be up if we listen to the devil’s sale pitch.

Jesus doesn’t buy it. He shows us what it takes. Who are we going to believe? Who are we going to follow day in and day out, and not just during Lent. 

The challenge is before us. May our prayer, fasting and almsgiving lead us to life and give us the grace and the strength we need to fight against temptation, just like Jesus.