Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana 

February 26, 2012
Rite of Election

“[Jesus] remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”  Mark 1:13

Why in the world would Jesus want to be tempted by Satan?  The Gospel of Mark tells us that He was (Mark 1:13).  Jesus, as Son of God, has a mission.  God the Father sent Him for a purpose, and this purpose is directly opposed to the work of Satan.  The desert is Satan’s territory.  Jesus goes out to meet Satan on his own ground.     

I think we can safely say that the temptations are part of God’s plan.  But how?  The answer perhaps comes in the verses that follow.  Coming out of the desert, the first proclamation of Jesus is, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  There is indeed a plan.  Satan must encounter the One who will confound his plans.  Satan has been having “fun.”  Now is the time for the reckoning.  “Fulfillment” has come.  “The kingdom of God” is to be established, and proof of it will come through repentance and faith.  Faith is the greatest sign of all.  You know in the Gospels people were asking Jesus for signs all the time.  Often Jesus would not work a miracle because they lacked faith.  Faith was the sign that prompted the miracle, not the other way around.

Repentance and faith in the gospel are the primary marks of the Christian.  Nothing has changed.  This is as true today as it was then.  What does this say to you? 

You are here because you are either seeking full communion in the Catholic Church or you are seeking to become a baptized Catholic Christian.  Either way, you will profess your faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.  This act of faith will come as an act of conversion.  A change will take place, in fact, must take place.  You will leave behind quite a number of things, old beliefs, old practices.  Some of them will be quite innocent.  Some may be more serious.  Some may even be sinful, old habits and old prejudices.  This is as it should be.  Becoming a Catholic is serious business.  It is not like becoming a member of a club.  You don’t just meet the entrance requirements and get initiated.  Catholicism requires conversion. 

I have had the blessing of knowing many converts to Catholicism.  Many of them were remarkable people.  They were heroic men and women.  In some cases, their families ostracized them for becoming Catholics.  In other cases, becoming Catholic meant they had to lay aside years and years of living in an old habit of sin.  In all cases, they gave up something to possess Jesus Christ.  That is the way an act of faith works. 

The journey to the Easter Vigil for you is something of a desert.  Certainly the Forty Days of Lent should be.  When Jesus entered the desert, He knew His Father had given Him a mission.  The fact that He proclaims the “Kingdom of God” immediately following the desert experience demonstrates He knew.  Did He think it would be easy?  Certainly the temptations of Satan made it clear that it would be very difficult.  Did He think for one moment that the crowds would accept the ultimate consequences of the gospel—namely to die to self, to take up the cross daily and follow in His steps?  I think not. 

How shocked Satan must have been in the desert to encounter the Son of God who would be willing to embrace death in order to save.  Don’t forget that in the Gospels the demons are the first to recognize who He really is?   Death, after all, was Satan’s tool.  What greater fear do humans have than to die?  And Satan knows it, so he uses it often.  To live as though death were the end of it all, that is the great temptation.  It leads to every form of despair or self-indulgence known to human beings. 

Jesus, however, will preach a gospel that will say something quite the opposite.  He will say that unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  He will say that in order to find one’s life, one must lose it.  This is such a shocking message that his listeners could not believe it, until He showed them how true it was. 

He showed them this truth by the cross.  Jesus died on a cross.  Our Catholic crucifix reminds us of this.  After all, don’t we preach Christ crucified, as St. Paul told us to (I Corinthians 1:23)?  Oh, it is indeed a scandal.  Satan’s mightiest weapon has been turned on him by God himself.  The cross has been made a victory symbol because the grave could not contain Jesus Christ.

You are becoming Catholics at a challenging time.  Secularism and materialism offer us many challenges.  Please allow me to mention one.  One threat —yes, it is a threat—that troubles me as a bishop at the moment is how religious liberty is jeopardized.   A government mandate that would obligate Catholic institutions to service abortion inducements, sterilization and contraception should trouble us all.  It is an incursion into the right of the Church to practice what it preaches.  Paying a penalty to be allowed to follow one’s conscience—I would never have thought such a thing possible in the United States.  Will Catholic Charities or our local Catholic schools pay a penalty in order to continue operating?  These are the indelicate and uncomfortable questions that we are being forced to ask in these challenging times.  However, Jesus did not shy away from the indelicate.  He even fasted in the desert and endured the temptations of Satan.  We should not be surprised that the Christian is asked to do the same.

Freedom of conscience and religious practice are fundamental rights.  They help make the profession of faith possible in a civilized and democratic society.  When one professes faith, there are consequences.    If you believe, you act.  And the one who is willing to make an act of faith must be willing to face the consequences of the desert.  He or she must be willing to face evil and ultimately to embrace God’s will.  Jesus did so with strength and courage.  We should do the same.  In that we find hope. 

In all this we have confidence.  To quote St. Paul, “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).