First Sunday in Lent
March 10, 2019 – Year C
Readings: Dt 26:4-10 / Ps 91 / Rom 10:8-13 / Lk 4:1-13
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
Although the beginning of Spring is still ten days from now, the fact that we have already made the “spring forward” of our clocks tells us that Spring is here. As you all know, Lent is the ancient word for Spring. This is the time when we members of the mystical body of Christ take a closer look at our relationship with our God and our neighbor. The good news is that even if we had a long hard winter in our spiritual life, our good and merciful God is always giving us a new springtime, so we can start all over and leave the past behind.
Last night, one of our church leaders asked me about the “monkey” story. For those of you who were not here for the 7:00 PM Ash Wednesday Mass, here is the gist of that story, which has elicited a response greater than more than ninety percent of all of the stories and anecdotes in all of my homilies, combined!
A little more than fifty years ago on the island where I grew up in the Pacific, we used to catch monkeys and sell them to tourists and visitors to our island. But how did we catch those monkeys? We had lots of coconuts, and monkeys love coconut meat. All we did was put a little hole in the coconut and scrape the meat inside so the monkeys could see it. For them, that coconut meat is irresistible. The younger monkeys (our main target since the older ones would not fall for it) would insert their hand in the hole to grab the coconut meat. When they tried to remove their hand from the coconut fruit, they realized that they couldn’t—and they panicked. For as long as their fists were clenched for holding the coconut meat, they would be dragging the coconut, which was too heavy for them. That was the time that we moved forward to capture the monkeys. It was beyond their ability to realize that all they needed to do was let go in order to be free.
It is understandable that monkeys do not have the ability to figure this out. But we human beings are more than a trillion times more intelligent than monkeys. But somehow, many of our brothers and sisters in our human family can’t let go of something that enslaves them, making their lives miserable. It could be anger, addictions, immoral activities or relationships, or other forms of sins. I’d like to make this clear. As I’ve said before, this homily is not so much for you, who are here in this church right now. But you have relatives and friends somewhere out there who are holding on to something they can’t let go. Our Lord is counting on each and every one of us to help them, or at least pray for them, if they will not listen to us.
Now going back to our monkey story: About half a decade ago, I saw American GIs who had been there during the war fighting the Japanese in the Philippine Islands. They went back there to visit their friends. When they discovered at least five monkeys for sale there, they bought them. They then went out into the boondocks and set them free. (By the way, for the record, we don’t capture and sell monkeys on the island anymore.)
My dear friends, during the season of Lent, our Holy Mother Church will continue to remind us that God loves us so much that He gave and sent His son, Jesus, to save us and set us free from our sins. He redeemed us with the price of His blood, His suffering, and death. All He needs from us is our faith, our trust, and belief in Him. In today’s second reading, which is taken from the letter of Paul to the Romans, the apostle said, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”