[1st Sunday of Lent, Year B, Feb, 22, 2015. Gen 9:8-15 / Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Pet 3:18-22/ Mark 1:12-15]
“AT once the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:12-13).
And so begins the Gospel on this first Sunday of Lent. The setting is Jesus being driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit. Jesus goes into the desert and has “a serious battle with the tempter” (Pope Benedict XVI Lenten message 2009). He goes there for us and for our salvation. He conquers the enemy. Often we remain with the fact that Jesus was tempted. This is true, he was tempted in a serious battle with the tempter. But he won, he overcame the enemy. He was victorious.
This is the Good News. CHRIST OVERCAME THE TEMPTATIONS. It is not just that he was tempted. He overcame and was victorious, for us and for our salvation.
In our human condition we too will be tempted. But we too can be victorious. There are many people who live life’s trials closely united to Christ. Like Jesus, they experience being in the desert. Desert in Greek is heremon. It can mean desolate, lonely and uninhabited. I met a man who is very elderly, over 90 years old. A priest in hospital. Sickness and ill health can be a real experience of desert, an experience of isolation, and being tempted by sadness and discouragement. What is amazing is how this priest lives this experience. He told me that sometimes when a visitor plans to come and then in the end can’t make it, instead of claiming attention and being discouraged he tells himself “Take it easy!” Instead of being discouraged by his situation, this man I saw really living life to the full.
This life is not improvised. It is the fruit of a life of prayer, serving others, denying one’s own fickle desires. It is a life of prayer, fasting and denial and of being generous to others. In short, a life living the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Lent is a privileged time to intensify these practices. As St Leo the Great reminds us, “And so dearly beloved, what every Christian should always be doing must now be performed more earnestly and devoutly.” Pope Benedict wrote in his Lenten message that it is a time of “more intense spiritual training…to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power.” How are you intensifying your spiritual practices this Lent?
In the desert Jesus was praying and fasting. He was well trained to encounter and fight off the tempter “who prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). This is one meaning of Jesus being among the wild beasts. Once when visiting a school to give a talk about life in the mission I was asked by one of the children, “As a missionary going to various countries, what is the wildest animal you have ever encountered?” The question took me a little by surprise!
Probably he was expecting me to recount a story of meeting a lion in the jungle. But actually some of the wildest animals can be encountered within us such as fear or discouragement. This wild animal can easily frighten us and stop us in our tracks when he tells us “Give up!” or “You cannot do it!” In front of a difficult exam or a challenging life situation the tempter can try to dishearten us with these kinds of thoughts. We need to be vigilant. We need to be well trained and ready to do battle. Let us unite ourselves closely to our Lord who will teach us how to overcome all situations.
Let us not be afraid to enter into the desert this Lent. Let us not be afraid of the difficulties or temptations. We have the means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a time to intensify these practices. What can you do concretely to step up your prayer, self-denial or being generous? Sometimes we are so ambitious and aim so high that we are not realistic! Or we let the tempter discourage us as we think there is no point doing anything.
For example, in almsgiving we desire to help all the hungry in the world but then realize it will cost billions and in the end we give nothing! But as Mother Teresa said, “If you cannot feed one hundred children, then just feed one.” Step by step we can increase our love and self-giving this Lent right up to the greatest proof of love on the cross at Easter.
Let us step into the arena with Christ this Lent encouraged by the words of St. Augustine “We cannot win our crown unless we overcome and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest and there is no contest unless we have an enemy and the temptation he brings.” In the battle we can prove our love for Jesus and discover how much he loves us. He was tempted but he overcame. Staying close to Jesus we can do the same…