Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of March 5, 2006
1st reading: Gen 9:8-15; Psalm 24; 2nd reading: 1 Pt 3:18-22; Gospel: Mk 1:12-15
Immediately afterwards the Spirit pushed him into the desert and remained there for forty days, tempted by Satan; he was with the beasts and the angels served him. After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the gospel of God and said: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news”. (Mk 1:12-15)
Let us examine the brief passage from the Gospel of Mark. With respect, humility and faith, we will try to lift that veil of discretion, reserve and silence that for so many centuries covered Jesus' stay in the desert. From the doctrinal point of view, regarding the presentation of the truths of faith, there is nothing to add to what has already been said. However, concerning the actual facts, relationships and interactions that have taken place, not everything has been written in the Gospel. Just think that the miracles that Jesus worked or the encounters of Jesus with people were more numerous than those described in the Gospel and, as John himself recalls, "Not everything has been written". The Lord, however, centuries later and when the moment that he establishes arrive, shares things, facts and events in his life that for so many centuries have been covered by silence and discretion. We are at the beginning of Jesus' public life, the Lord left Nazareth and went to where John the Baptist was baptizing. There, in a depression zone, between Jericho and the mouth of the Jordan, he was baptized and there he called his first disciples and there the miracle of Cana took place; later, Jesus withdrew into the desert in silence, detached from everything and everyone, for forty days. Forty is a symbolic number: the Jewish people traveled for forty years before entering the Promised Land; forty are the days that Moses prefaced the encounter with God; it took Elijah forty days to get to the mountain of God. This number is repeated numerous times, it is extremely significant. The desert represents the privileged place where man can meet God in prayer, meditation, silence, penance and fasting. We must keep in mind that Christ, in his person, the only person, has the double human and divine nature, therefore he is true God and true man. He has everything that belongs to God but also everything that belongs to man, except sin. In these forty days, Mark tells that he was tempted by Satan, was with the beasts and that the angels served him. These three hints are enough to highlight that Christ is true God and true man; as man he is tempted, as God is assisted by angels. This situation allowed him not to be attacked by beasts because in those days, probably, there were lions in the deserts of Judea. He is therefore true God and true man. What has Jesus done in these forty days? I believe you are curious and eager to know. First we clarify some theological and dogmatic matters. Jesus is true God and where the Father is, there are the Son and the Holy Spirit; where the Son is, there are the Father and the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is, there are the Father and the Son. God is one and triune. He loves, acts, works and forgives. God is the subject and each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity do not act in opposition to the others and loves every creature in the same way and with the same infinite intensity. Each of us is the object of God's love, in the same way and in an infinite way, without taking anything away from anyone. Jesus is God, and as God he is where the Father is and where the Holy Spirit is. We can ask: what is the Heaven? The true and only answer is: Heaven is God. All this in the eyes of God. Instead, for us Heaven is the condition of loving, seeing and enjoying God. In the light of this, Jesus, second person of the Most Holy Trinity, as God, he is also Heaven, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. I don't know if you can follow me, I'm trying to make these higher concepts as accessible and as simple as possible for all of you. This concerns the talking linked to Jesus true God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit do not need angels, or anyone else. Angels are creatures who had a beginning, but from eternity until the moment of the creation of the angels, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were alone and did not need anyone. In this passage, however, Mark says that the angels served him. The translation is not a happy one because the most exact translation is that they "assisted" him. God does not need assistance, men do. Jesus the man wanted the assistance of the Mother, the legal father, the high priests when he went to the temple, of the apostles and pious women. He was also assisted by an angel in the dramatic moment of Gethsemane. How did Jesus, a real man, live? Immersed in prayer and tempted by the devil. What type of temptations could the devil have unleashed against Christ? Pride, haughtiness, impurity, selfishness? No, none of this, because Christ in his human nature is perfect, he has no inclination towards evil. Therefore for Him there is not even the most remote possibility of being initiated and inclined towards the smallest human imperfection. So what was the temptation? In order to understand the gospel, we must always keep the gospel in mind. At the end of the forty days, the devil says to him: “Throw yourself down, the angels will assist you”, then he shows him all the kingdoms of the earth and says: “If you adore me I will give you all this”. (Lk 4:1-13) The devil anticipated, even if in a gross, massive and evil way, what Peter did, albeit with love, sometime later when Jesus said: "It is necessary for the Son of man to go to Jerusalem and be judged, condemned and killed there”. Peter said this would never happen, but he said it because he loved him, because he wanted him to stay alive. Jesus' response was: "Go away Satan, go back Satan!" (Mt 16:21-23) Jesus spoke these words because, even if with good intentions and unconsciously, Peter had opposed God's plans. In the same way, the devil, during the forty days, tried to oppose the realization of the plan of God and tried to prevent Christ from fulfilling his mission by showing him kingdoms and powers, revealing to Jesus all the betrayals, starting with Judas’, the wickedness, offenses and sins that would have been committed by men towards him. Here then, in my humble opinion, and I hope it will be confirmed from above, in those moments Jesus lived the same dramatic experience of Gethsemane: he felt betrayed and forsaken. God comes to Earth and incarnates, but many men turn their backs on him! Indeed, the same men who will be called to continue his work and his mission, unjustly, will rise up as judges against him and will condemn him, offend him and continually oppose him. All this caused massive suffering in Christ, although he knew all these things very well. The man Christ, for these reasons, needed to be assisted; the Gospel says "by the angels", but we also add from the Queen of angels. Certainly, Our Lady in bilocation was close to her son all the time when Jesus took refuge in the desert, and with her son she prayed, talked and encouraged him. This has been told to us in the messages that represent a burst of God's love and which are read by everyone and at all levels and degrees, some with courage and some with fear, but they are known. Our Lady confided to us so many times that Jesus said to her: "Mom, am I a failure?" Turning to her mother, there, in the desert, and faced with all this wickedness and betrayal of men, Jesus will have asked her: "Am I a failure?" She will have replied: "My son, you are not a failure, because if men are lost it is not because You have not done all you could, but because they, in their freedom, have decided to follow the devil". Our Lady was there, she wept with her son in the desert; Jesus is God and knew, he saw everything that would follow his passion, death, resurrection and ascension to Heaven. He saw a troubled, torn, soiled, besmirched, ruined Church, destroyed by men; this was the reason for the great suffering of Christ in the desert, supported by his mother.
Miters glittering with pearls, sumptuous dresses, crowns, bank accounts with several zeros, intelligences that did not serve good: all this wounded the Christ. We too were certainly seen by Jesus. There was his word: "Father, I thank you because you revealed the secrets of your kingdom to the little ones". (Mt 11:25-27) Behold, we are the little ones, we are the ones who in those dreadful moments, days, weeks, with our confessed sins, we gave a little joy to Jesus. Jesus suffered and cried because he saw a host of traitors following Judas, but at the same time he rejoiced to see another host of friends following the apostles. In this long line of friends, Our Lady also pointed to our faces: here, there are Francesco, Maria, Nicola. In those moments Jesus felt consoled.
My brothers, I am not telling you fairy tales, this is the truth and you will find confirmation of it in the Gospel; I have not told you anything different and more than what is contained in the Gospel itself or what is contained in the letters of God.
So, if we have been a cause of consolation for Jesus during his Lent in the desert, let us continue to be so during our Lent. Jesus continues to feel alone, betrayed and abandoned, he needs souls, he is thirsty for souls. So, especially in this period, let's give Jesus to drink. When, tired, fatigued and thirsty, at the well of Shechem he asked the Samaritan woman "Give me to drink", she replied: "You who are Jewish ask me, Samaritan woman, to drink?" But he clarified: "I don't want the water from the spring, I want your soul". (Jn 4:4-26) This is why we must give our soul to the Lord, a vital soul, a soul in grace, which lives, beats and is daily nourished by the Eucharist. This is Lent, this is the program of our Lent and it is the way we absolutely must live it. Then, also for us the words of Jesus will resound: "The time is fulfilled"; all that had to be done was done. This means that the time foretold by the prophets has arrived, the Messiah is operative and begins to manifest; the kingdom of God is near. Do not give this expression a technical and material connotation, give it a spiritual connotation. "The kingdom of God is near" means that God has given us everything we need for our spiritual growth. The sacraments, the word of God, the presence of God, God's help are within our reach, it is up to us to take advantage of them. We need to change the way of living and thinking. This is the meaning of being converted, because only when we change our way of reasoning are we able to accept the Gospel in an integral and total way. If Christ is not within us, we will not be able to accept the Gospel; if Christ is within us, we can live the Gospel.
Our Lady, Mother of the Eucharist, was close to her son and she will always be close to each of us. She said it, she promised it and she will do it, if we allow it, starting from this moment where, close to the Bishop, she is assisting him, to make his brothers understand what Christ's stay in the Israeli desert meant. From the desert, life will come, the desert will flourish; this desert will blossom for the blood of some of us, for the tears of many of us, for the prayers of all of us, for the love that each of us will have and must show every moment, every second of his life.
This is how Lent is lived, this is how we are getting to live Easter, to the glory of God, for the rebirth of the Church, for the salvation of souls.