I'm at Cardinal Stritch Retreat House these days, giving a retreat to 25 priests and one auxiliary bishop of Chicago. Here's what I said about today's readings: James 1: 12-18 and Mark 8: 14-21.
According to James, God "tempts no one." But God does allow temptation. The Father allowed His own Son to be tempted as we hear every year in the Gospel for the First Sunday in Lent. The Letter to the Hebrews also states, referring to Jesus, "because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested" (2: 18) and that he "has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin" (4: 15). Temptations are really occasions or opportunities for us to exercise virtues and grow in God's gifts.
The greatest gift or virtue, according to St. Paul (see 1 Corinthians 13: 13) is love or charity. Today, Valentine's Day, is a celebration of love and we see hearts everywhere we go. But the love that is declared with the heart symbol on T-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers is often the opposite of love. That symbol declares: I love something because it makes me feel good or gives me pleasure. And when the feeling disappears, so does the love. It's really all about "ME". Real love, on the contrary, is about the "OTHER." In his encyclical God is Love, Pope Benedict writes that "our definition of love must begin" "by contemplating the pierced side of Christ," that opening to the Heart that symbolizes the truest and deepest love the world has ever known.
Love is not so much about getting but giving. The greatest love entails a total gift of oneself to the other. Jesus did this on the Cross and anticipated His total offering or gift of Himself on the night before He died when He took bread and broke it, saying "This is my body, which will be given up for you" (Luke 22: 19).
In another place at another time Jesus had declared "I am the bread of life. ... I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6: 48, 51). We eat the Bread of Life and become bread ourselves.
Today's Gospel speaks of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Leaven can be considered as "motivation." Jesus talks about what motivates or makes the Pharisees and Herod grow. What is their leaven? Not love. Ultimately it is their SELF. They are leavened or motivated by self-interest. They are full of themselves and unable to love. Herod is full of pride and power and possessions. The Pharisees are also full of pride, seeing themselves as the perfect followers of the Law and above everyone else. They are not able to be bread for others because their leaven of self-interest has corrupted them.
Jesus, on the other hand, is true and life-giving bread because He is not full of Himself but filled with love--the love of the Father and of the Father's love for all of His human children.
We are called to be bread. At a Diocesan Conference in Rome on June 15, 2010, Pope Benedict spoke eloquently of this reality:
The Eucharist celebrated obliges us, and at the same time enables us, to become in our turn, bread broken for our brothers and sisters, meeting their needs and giving ourselves. For this reason a Eucharistic celebration that does not lead to meeting people where they live, work and suffer, in order to bring them God's love, does not express the truth it contains. In order to be faithful to the mystery that is celebrated on the altars we must, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us, offer our bodies, ourselves, as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God (Romans 12: 1) in those circumstances that ask us to make our "I" die and that constitute our daily "altar."
Along these lines, I will always remember something that Sister Dorothy, my field education supervisor told me during my theology studies:
If we are not bread for one another, it's all baloney!