Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 3 Great Fears Of Human Beings, And The 3 Temptations Of Jesus In The Desert

Fr. Benedict Groeschel

(First Sunday of Lent (C): This homily was given on February 25, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 4: 1-13.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Lent 2007]

Fr. Benedict Groeschel is not only a priest, he’s also a psychologist with a doctorate from Columbia University. That means he understands the workings of the human mind pretty well.

In this regard, Fr. Groeschel makes a very interesting statement in his newest book, The Virtue Driven Life: “Human beings,’ he says there, ‘have three great fears—to be no one, to have no one, and to have nothing—and they cause people to be self-centered and ungenerous.”

I read that line the other day as I was in the process of preparing for this homily, and I said to myself, “That’s amazing! Those are precisely the 3 temptations Jesus faced after his 40-day fast in the desert!” Fr. Groeschel doesn’t make that connection directly in his book, but it’s true nonetheless.

This means that in dealing with these 3 temptations from the devil, Jesus was actually facing the 3 greatest fears that we face in our lives.

Let’s take them in the order Fr. Groeschel mentions them (which is actually the opposite of the order that Jesus experienced them in this Gospel story).

Human beings, he says, have 3 great fears. The first is the fear of being no one—that is to say, the fear of being a nobody; the fear of not being recognized and appreciated for who we are. Satan mistakenly thought he could find this fear inside of Jesus and use it to lead him into sin, and so he took our Lord to the very top of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”

Satan was saying, “Jesus, I know who you are—I know you’re one of those really important people that God the Father will protect. But the men and women here in Jerusalem—they don’t know that. They think you’re just an ordinary man. So show them who you are; throw yourself down from here! Just like it says in the 91st psalm, God the Father will send a whole flock of angels from heaven to catch you—and everybody in the city will see it! They’ll say, ‘Wow, this guy can fly! He must be a special person.’ Then they’ll listen to you; then they’ll take your words seriously!”

Jesus was able to resist this temptation, because he had a PERFECT relationship with his heavenly Father. He knew exactly who he was; he knew he was loved by God the Father with a perfect love—and he was completely secure and at peace in that knowledge. Consequently, he wasn’t afraid of being a nobody.

But sometimes, we can be! And it’s important for us to be aware of that, because this kind of fear can easily cause us to compromise our moral principles: “I want to be accepted by my friends—I want them to think I’m cool like they are—and so I’ll drink with them on weekends”; “I want my co-workers to like me, and so I’ll talk and act just like they do.”

The fear of being a nobody.

This is probably the fear, incidentally, that drove Anna Nicole-Smith to do many of the things that she did in her very short life of 39 years.

Here we have a young woman, who—aside from her appearances in Playboy magazine—was basically famous for being famous!

And you have to ask yourself: Why? Why did she live the kind of life she lived: a life of substance abuse; a life of shallow, broken relationships; a life of moral degradation and sexual promiscuity?

I think it’s all tied in with this kind of fear. People like Anna Nicole-Smith desperately want to be loved; they want others to see that they’re special—that they have value. They’re deathly afraid of being nobodies, and so they’re willing to engage in all kinds of bizarre and even dangerous behaviors for the sake of getting noticed—for the sake of having “15 minutes of fame” (as Andy Warhol would put it).

It’s the same reason a lot of people with terrible voices audition for The American Idol!

The antidote to this kind of fear is a deep, personal relationship with the Lord. (That’s not pious drivel; that’s reality!) This is why our relationship with Jesus—nourished by prayer and the sacraments—needs to be our top priority in this life!

Because the more we know and love Jesus—and even more importantly, the more we really know and understand his love for us—the less this fear of being a nobody will control us.

Put it this way—if Jesus Christ is my best friend; if I really know that he loves me just as I am; and if I know he will always be there for me, then I don’t have to be afraid of being a nobody! Ever! I’ll know—I’ll always know—that I’m a somebody! I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. As long as I’m striving to be faithful to Jesus, I have nothing to worry about.

The second fear according to Fr. Groeschel, is the fear of having no one. Once again, Satan mistakenly thought he could find this fear within Jesus, and use it to get him to disobey his Father. So he showed our Lord all the kingdoms of the world, and said to him, “I’ll give you all this power and glory, if you just worship me.” In other words, “Jesus, you don’t have to worry about your future; you don’t have to be concerned that someday no one will care about you. Just worship me, and I’ll make you the ruler of all these countries. Then you’ll be all set! You’ll have lots of servants—thousands of people at your beck and call at every moment of every day. You’ll never be alone; you’ll never be neglected!”

Once again, this fear—the fear of having no one—was not in Jesus. He knew he was never alone; he knew the Father was always with him. And so he said to Satan, “You shall worship the Lord, your God; him alone shall you adore.”

Jesus didn’t give in to this fear, but we can. Pretty easily.

Politicians who support immoral laws even though they are “personally opposed” give in to this fear. They’re afraid that if they support the right laws, they’ll lose the support of those who helped to put them into office.

Priests who are afraid to teach EVERYTHING that the Church teaches in matters of faith and morals also give in to this fear. They fear their parishioners won’t like them anymore.

Whenever a Catholic fails to speak up for what’s right and true when he knows that he should speak up—be it at work or at school or among his friends—that Catholic gives in to this type of fear.

And we’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I have!

The last fear Fr. Groeschel mentions, which ties in with the very first temptation of Jesus in this scene in the desert, is the fear of having nothing (or the fear of not having our needs met). This is similar to the second fear in some respects, but the second one related more to persons; this one concerns possessions.

Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to turn to bread.” His message there was, “Jesus, you’re pretty hungry right now, aren’t you? You’ve been fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in this awful desert. Aren’t you worried about your health? Aren’t you afraid of starving? You should be! Well, then, do something about it; satisfy your urge! Give yourself a good meal! You deserve it!”

Jesus, of course, knew that his Father would provide for all his needs, so he rejected this temptation immediately and said to Satan, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The fear of not having enough wasn’t present in Jesus Christ; but sometimes, once again, it can manifest itself in us. Why, for example, do people steal? Why do they cheat on their taxes? Why do they cut corners in their businesses? Why are they sometimes less charitable than they should be—or could be?

In many cases, it’s simply because they’re afraid! They’re afraid that they don’t—or that they won’t—have enough!

So there they are—the 3 great fears we face during our time on this earth: the fear of being a nobody; the fear of having no one; the fear of having nothing.

As we’ve just seen, Jesus was able to overcome every one of these fears, in and through the loving relationship he had with his heavenly Father.

But the good news is that we, too, can overcome them! We can overcome these 3 fears by finding our strength, our security and our peace IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS!

So let’s resolve today to work very hard at improving our relationship with the Lord during this holy season of Lent—by prayer, by reading Scripture, by attending Mass more frequently, by coming to the parish mission in a couple of weeks, and, of course, by going to Confession. Let’s resolve to improve our relationship with Jesus in these very practical ways, and get rid of the fears that afflict us.