Lent 1, 26 Feb 23
There have been times when people have said to me how they never look forward to Lent. I have always found the season of Lent to be very positive. Looking back at last Wednesday I have to say that I was very impressed with the atmosphere of the masses at 9.30 and 7.30 and I know that Fr. Morris was pleased with the response at The Good Shepherd.
The season of course commemorates Our Lord`s withdrawing into the wilderness for forty days immediately after his baptism by John the Baptist and before beginning his three years of active ministry, mostly in Galilee and the region round about and finally in Jerusalem where he was to be betrayed and crucified and where he would be raised from the dead.
I was reading someone else`s sermons for Lent recently and found a quotation from a priest who had been blind for many years but who was greatly sought after, by reason of his holiness and kindness, by many people as a confessor and he wrote a little poem:
“We are not here to play, to dream to drift. We have good work to do, and loads to lift. Shun not the struggle. Face it. `Tis God`s gift.”
Father Morris, on Ash Wednesday, as many before him reminded us that we all have to be at battle stations, on our pilgrim journey on earth, against evil and the darkness which is sin. So let us take hold of the opportunities that these great forty days have to offer.
When we were baptised original sin was washed away from us and we were each born again by water and the Holy Spirit. But it will not have been long before, maybe even as small children. We fell into giving-in to temptation if we are honest with ourselves. Temptation in its various forms will almost certainly assail us one way or another. Our human situation makes it inevitable but that does mean we have to give in to temptation!
When we look at today` readings we see the great contrast of the Old Adam in the Garden of Eden falling into the trap of wanting that which is forbidden which we find in that passage from Genesis Chapter 3. Of course temptation comes for the serpent to Eve to Adam and, later, the blame is apportioned backwards. The fact is that Eve and Adam succumb to temptation and their own selfish desires. Contrariwise in the Gospel passage from Matthew 4 we find Jesus being tempted three times but resisting on all three counts, finally retorting to Satan, `Be off, Satan! For scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.`
The three temptations given to Jesus are each quite different. Having been fasting in the wilderness for forty days the Lord Jesus in his humanity would have been famished and would have been grateful for food – but not in these circumstances where, clearly, the Tempter was wanting Him to disobey the Father`s will. The second temptation is vainglorious in trying to persuade the Son of God to act as a showman by throwing Himself off the parapet of the Temple. As for the third temptation it is almost too ridiculous to contemplate that the Son of God, physically exhausted and possibly mentally exhausted as He was after a forty day fast. Would fall at Satan`s feet. However, this kind of temptation is one that is surprisingly present in or own time – that of having power, particularly power and manipulation of and over others.
That wonderful sentence from St. Paul`s letter to the Romans 5, 17: “If it certain that death reigned over everyone, as the consequence of one man`s (Adam`s) fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will causd everyone to reign in life who received the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous.”
In the time that Jesus was alone for those forty days in the wilderness only he could have known what he felt. The story of the temptations is really that Jesus had to struggle within himself to find the best way to live His life for His Heavenly Father and, indeed, for the salvation of all creation. Jesus saw clearly that focussing on food can easily divert from having spiritual values, ”Man does not live on bread alone.” Yet it is He who is the BREAD OF LIFE.
The story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness is so important for us who seek to follow Him. We have freedom of choice and so we have to choose the right options. We can follow our way, the ways of the world or THE WAY – that is the WAY with a capital “W” the Way of God shown through the life and example of Jesus Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit.
Our Lord`s Forty Days I the wilderness of Judea was, indeed, a way of discernment – a time of struggle. The example of Our Lord`s struggle points away from self-will and selfishness that could govern our lives and towards the way of selflessness, sacrifice and service. For just as Jesus, in his Wilderness Battle, sensed that His ultimate service to His heavenly Father and to all humanity, the effective one that would endure, would be through suffering and His Cross, after which would come the Crown – for No Cross – No Resurrection. Without Our Lord`s crucifixion and resurrection his message would have been forgotten. In every event of lives we need to discern what God is saying to us. We must purposefully ask to be guided by the Holy Spirit who will prompt our conscience and be our guide all the days of our life – if that is what we truly want!
To go back to today`s second reading St. Paul reminds us of the saving grace of Jesus our Lord when he writes: “If it is certain that through one man`s, namely Adam`s, fall so many died, ot is even more certain that divine grace, coming through one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. The results of the gift also outweigh the results of one man`s sin: for after one single fall came judgement with a verdict of condemnation, now after many falls comes grace with its verdict of acquittal. If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man`s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives what he does not deserve, of being made righteous.” Such is the generosity of Jesus who gave up His life on the Cross for us.
Our Christian life is a struggle between sin and grace, between selfishness and holiness. Our life here on earth however short or long it will be will be successful in the measure that we put aside sin and self and try to live by that free gift of the grace of God poured out freely, for us to accept, by Jesus our Lord.
When we truly follow Jesus e become aware that he wants us to be aware that human beings do not live on the tangible things of this world but we need to nurture the spirit know love and friendship, develop solidarity with those who suffer, listening to our informed conscience and being open to the ultimate mystery of sharing, that joins us, through Christ, with God our Father and his will for each one of us and for one another.
Let us then be ready to share the Lord`s Cross as we look forward to celebrating afresh His Glorious Resurrection.
The longer I live as a priest the more I become aware of the dignity and inner joy which many of our Christian brothers and sisters show when they take on board their pain and sufferings and so radiate their faith in and love for Jesus and their awareness of his love for them. Amen.