First Sunday of Lent: Enter the Desert and Fight the World, the Flesh and the Devil
The Gospel passage for the First Sunday of Lent in the Catholic Liturgical cycle this year is taken from Mark: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” ( Mark 1:12)
Our priest led us in the opening prayer: “Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son´s death and Resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives.”
Lent invites us to journey in Jesus, into the Desert.
It is there, in that pace of struggle, the field of engagement, where we can learn the root causes of our wrong choices. We all struggle with disordered appetites and unconverted ways of thinking and living.
We demonstrate in our daily lives a lack of charity in our relationships with others. We too often embrace, unhealthy habits which cause us untold sadness and impede our progress in virtue.
None of these set us free or help us to flourish as human persons. They are the bad fruit of sin.
The Desert of Lent is where we can learn to conquer in the One who both shows us the Way – and is Himself the Way, Jesus Christ. These forty days challenge us to become more effectively equipped with the weapons of our warfare to fight what the Scriptures and Tradition refer to as the “world, the flesh and the devil.”
This ancient practice of setting aside 40 days in order to enter – in Jesus – into the desert places in our own daily lives and confront the temptations and struggles we face can be a gift. IGod does not need Lent, we do.
Lent becomes a gift, if we choose to unwrap it and apply its remedial and healing prescriptions.
The Lord in whom we now live through Baptism, is Risen from the Dead. He is walking through time now, in his Body, the Church, of which we are members.
Jesus wants to save us and set us free as we live our lives in that new world which is the seed of the Kingdom to come. However, as another priest friend so often says, “Lent won´t work unless you work it!”
Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the desert, for us! There, he did battle with the world, the flesh and the devil, for us!
The leaders of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church reminded us “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” (Gaudium et Spes, # 22, Second Vatican Council)
The world, when used in this context in the Bible is NOT referring to the created order. Creation is good and given to us as a gift. Rather, the “world” refers to the system which has squeezed the primacy of the Creator out of daily life.
When we succumb to its seduction we give ourselves over to the idolatry of self.
The flesh, when used in context in the Bible is not our body – which God fashioned and which will be raised from the dead, made glorious by the Resurrection. Remember, the Word became flesh and was raised BODILY from the grave. Jesus is the first fruits of the new creation (Col. 1:15) and we will also be raised in Him.
Rather, the flesh refers to the disordered appetites which are one of the bad effects of sin at work within us.
The devil is not some figment of our imagination, but a malevolent fallen angel who, just as He tempted our first parents and tempted the Lord, the devil now tempts us. We must fight him with the weapons of our warfare. (See, Eph 6:10-18)
These 40 Days of Lent are meant to become a classroom in which we learn to conquer the “world the flesh and the devil” so that we can live differently, beginning now.
The Author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “ we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)
Jesus, the Word made flesh is our Model.
The temptations He engages in the desert are the prototype of all of the challenges we face as we respond to the continuing call to conversion in our own Christian lives. After all, the Christian vocation is just that – a continuing call to conversion.
The first temptation Jesus faced was to His identity. After all, he IS the Son of God! We, through our Baptism, have also now become Sons (and daughters) of the Father in Him.
The next temptation was to idolatry. We regularly commit the horrid sin of idolatry, succumbing to its lies almost on a daily basis.
Like the Christians in ancient Rome, we live in an age which has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiping created things rather than the Creator. (Rom. 1:25)
Finally, there was the subtle but deadly temptation to violate integrity, to use the gifts and power of God improperly and put the Lord to the test. How clearly this poisonous serpent lurks in our daily life!
In each of these encounters with the Tempter, Jesus shows us the method by confronting the lies of the truth of God´s Word. He is the Living Word, and we, through our Baptism, now live our lives in Him.
That is why I say that we enter the desert IN Jesus Christ. We are never alone!
We do this by living within the communion of the Church which is His Risen Body on earth. The Church is not some-thing but Some – One.
There, in the Lord, we find the resources we need to grow in holiness and struggle against the lingering effects of sin. There we embark on the journey of holiness, becoming what the Scriptures call perfected or completed in Jesus Christ.
His Divine Life (Grace) is mediated to us through the Sacraments, in the Living Word and the communion of love in which we now live.
We are invited during these 40 days to take every gift, every grace, every tool, offered to us. We are invited to learn to wield the weapons of prayer, fasting and alms giving.
By these practices we grow in freedom by putting away the “old man/woman” and putting on the “new man/woman”, created anew in Jesus.
It is Jesus in his Sacred Humanity who fully reveals that new man. He is the model, showing us the method. However, in His Divinity He is Himself the Means. In Him we are redeemed. We are also empowered to grow in holiness and virtue by overcoming temptation.
Through His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, Jesus makes it possible for us to live new lives, in Him – beginning now and leading into eternity.
Too often we forget that sin is a wrong choice, an “abuse of freedom” (See, Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1731- 1739, 386 – 402). We were created in the Image of God and at the very core; the heart of that Image is the capacity to freely choose to respond to his loving invitation to communion with Him.
From the first sin, the original sin, onwards, every sin is an abuse of that freedom – and leads us into slavery.
However, as the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians, “It was for freedom that Christ sets us free”! (Gal. 5:1)
Our freedom has been fractured and the Cross is the splint which, when applied in our daily lives, restores our capacity to live freely!
Let us enter into the desert in Jesus and embrace the Lenten way of voluntary sacrifice, fasting, prayer and alms giving. In so doing, we will receive the much needed grace it offers – and be made ready to celebrate in even greater freedom the Victory Feast of the Resurrection.
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