The season of Lent is upon us. The purpose of Lent is to prepare us for the three most sacred days of the Church year: Holy Thursday with the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday with the Lord’s Passion, and Holy Saturday with the Lord’s triumph, the Easter Vigil.
The word ‘Lent’ itself means springtime. Lent, then, announces the beginning of the Church’s ‘springtime’.
While Lent is indeed a penitential season — calling us to turn our lives around and bring our hearts back to God — it is not a time for moaning and groaning or beating our heads against the ground in shame for past sins and present failings.
Instead, it is a season of hope and joy. For our catechumens, it means a new life in baptism.
Lent is first and foremost the celebration of the presence of the Lord among us. For he has come, and he comes to stay. He comes to live with us, suffer with us, and rise with us to embrace a newness of life together. The saving grace of Jesus, and his redeeming presence, are with us always, “His love is everlasting.”
I am so impressed at how practical and contemporary the Bible is! The Word of God has meaning that can be applied for all time and in every situation. We need to become familiar with the Word of God because it gives us a pattern on how to live according to the mind and heart of Jesus.
St Mark tells us that the Holy Spirit prompted Jesus to go to the desert. After forty days, Jesus experienced challenges related to the very meaning of his mission. St Mark’s gospel does not tell us what these challenges were, however we are very aware of what Jesus went through as we read the same account in the gospels of St Matthew and St Luke.
We are familiar with the three temptations that Jesus was assailed with. Jesus rejected three propositions that the devil made. It is important to reflect on these temptations because they are relevant to us today.
The first temptation consists in the devil trying to persuade Jesus to eat after forty days of fasting. He was very hungry.
The only person who does not need to eat is God. When we fast, we are doing something only God can do. Fasting is a direct opportunity to get in tune with the essence of God. Fasting helps us to become more like God.
The devil was saying to Jesus: “Stop trying to get close to God. Stop trying to pretend you can base your life on what God proposes. You are human. You are not special. You are ordinary. You are a fool to think you have God-like qualities. Go back to your ordinary ways and leave God to do His own thing. It is madness to follow what God says and proposes”. The devil wanted Jesus to sell himself short, to ignore the presence of God in Him.
We also fall for this temptation. We cannot believe we are called to do great things. Yet we can influence others because Jesus Christ is alive in us. We are a people of dignity and fortitude because God is with us.
The second temptation is when the devil took Jesus to the highest point in the temple and asked him to jump –because God would take care of him. The devil was saying “make a stupid decision and if it doesn’t turn out, blame God”.
Often, we do not want to accept responsibility for our actions. It is hard to say we are sorry, it is my fault, I made a mistake. When we accept responsibility, we grow as human beings. This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important.
The third and last temptation recounts the episode when the devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all of the kingdoms of the world. He said to him “I will give you all of this, if you will fall at my feet and do me homage”. Of course, Jesus did not.
Many people seek power and prestige. People compromise their values by stabbing others in the back, making shady deals. Many abuse others to remain top dog. The newspapers are full of these stories.
But there is a price to pay for living our lives without God.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and pray:
Jesus take away from my heart anything that does not belong to you. Refresh me with your spirit and with your presence. Make me understand that by staying close to you, I become more and more a source of blessing to myself and to others. During this time of Lent, help me renew my commitment to accept you and only you as my guide and shepherd.