Breathing In and Breathing Out 2020-3-1 Lent1 Year A Fr. Roberto
Homily for First Sunday of Lent – Year A
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic’s Church, Los Angeles, CA
March 1, 2020
Title: Breathing In and Breathing Out
Theme: Breathing in and out spiritually helps God change our hearts.
Readings: Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
All of us human beings have something important have in common. It’s something we all do every day. In fact, we all do it thousands of times every day. What is it? We all breathe! Older children and adults, when resting, usually breathe about 12-20 times per minute. Over the course of a day, that adds up to 17,000-30,000 breaths per day! That’s a lot of breaths! And, when we are active we breathe even more, up to 50,000 times a day or more. So, right now, in order to emphasize how important breathing is for us, I would like all of you to let all the air out of your lungs and don’t breathe for a few seconds. Okay, now you can breathe again. We can only last so long before we have to take a breath. Breathing in is essential for our survival, isn’t it? And the opposite is also true – we also have to breathe out to survive. To show you what I mean, I would like you all to breathe in and hold your breath for a few seconds. Once again, at some point we will all have to breathe out in order to make room in our lungs for our next breath. My point is that breathing in and breathing out are both essential for our physical well-being.
Well, the same thing is true for our spiritual well-being: we have to “breathe in” and “breathe out” spiritually in order to be spiritually healthy. What does it mean to breathe in spiritually? Basically, it means filling ourselves with God and the things of God. It means to take into our hearts, minds and souls things that nurture us spiritually like prayer, reading Scripture, coming to Mass, receiving the sacraments, and doing acts of kindness for others. All those things are like breathing in oxygen for our hearts, minds and souls; they sustain us and help us grow and thrive spiritually. But, in addition to that, we have to “breathe out” spiritually by emptying ourselves of ourselves which means letting go of things that are of lesser importance, or things that can be distractions or even obstacles to our spiritual lives. As in our physical breathing, we have to breathe out spiritually to make room in our hearts, minds and souls for our next spiritual breathing in. We continually have to empty our hearts, minds and souls so that God can fill us.
In today’s very familiar Gospel, Jesus shows us that he too had to breathe in and breathe out spiritually in his life. Thus, he goes into the desert and prays for forty days and nights. In this way he “breathes in” spiritually by praying and communing with the Father. He focuses intensely on his relationship with the Father and feeds his heart, mind and soul by spending this time in prayer. But Jesus also fasts during those forty days in the desert. By doing this, he “breathes out” spiritually by physically emptying himself of food so that he can also empty his heart and make more room for the strength, courage, inspiration and peace the Father wants to give him. Both his breathing in and his breathing out give him the strength to fight against the devil’s temptations.
As we begin this season of Lent, the Church, in her wisdom, challenges us to imitate Jesus by “going into the desert” ourselves, so to speak. In other words we are called to focus on our spiritual lives more intensely, like Jesus, for the next forty days. So, we need to keep the idea of breathing in and breathing out in our minds. For example, during Lent we can “breathe out” by giving up something like chocolate, watching TV or some other favorite activity or food or drink. This sacrificing and letting go of something we enjoy is an emptying of ourselves and shows us that we can live without that thing we thought was so important, and it reminds us of our ultimate hunger and need for God. Breathing out spiritually in this way is very important for us all the time and not just during Lent, because you and I always need to empty ourselves of ourselves. We always need to let go of something that is holding us back from a deeper relationship with God or with others. At the same time, we cannot forget that we always need to fill the emptiness we have created in letting go by “breathing in” spiritually, by doing something to nurture our hearts, minds and souls. For example, we can do some act of kindness, make a retreat, come to Mass more often, read the Bible, a good spiritual book or magazine or say some extra prayers.
This year, our parish’s Lenten theme is “Change Our Hearts.” As you can see on the first page of your homily reflection guides and on the cover of our bulletin, there is a picture of a heart that is divided into different pieces. It is an image of our own hearts that at times can be divided, hardened, misguided, or broken by our sins, apathy and bad habits. Each week during Lent, we are going to look at the Gospel and see how it can inspire us to change our hearts. More specifically, we will challenge you to perform the traditional Catholic Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are three important ways we can breathe in and breathe out spiritually. You can see some ideas about how to do that in the table on the back side of your homily reflection guides. Anytime we do any of these things, or anything like them, it changes our hearts.
You see, ultimately, God’s lifelong project for each of us is to change our hearts and make them more like his. And that is also the ultimate goal of our breathing in and breathing out spiritually especially during this season of Lent. God wants to change our hearts to be more like his by bringing wholeness to our divided hearts, compassion to our hardened hearts, wisdom to our misguided hearts, and healing to our hearts broken by our own sins, apathy and bad habits. My brothers and sisters, during this Lenten season, let us breathe in by filling ourselves with God and the things of God, and breathe out by emptying ourselves of ourselves so that God can fill us with himself and change our hearts.
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