Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

1st Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 4:1-13

Jesus was subjected to temptations after forty days of fasting in the desert, for the devil “would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from His Father” (Catechism paragraph 394).

By categorically rejecting Satan’s lures, “Christ reveals Himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror” (539).

The fact that “Christ vanquished the tempter for us” (540) encourages us as we face our own temptations.

Our human nature has been “wounded” in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin. Even after baptism, original sin’s “consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle” (405).

“Prayer is a vital necessity” (2744):

Prayer is a battle…against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God….The ‘spiritual battle’ of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer (2725).

Let us recommit ourselves to prayer during this season of Lent, “the solemn forty days” when “the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (540).

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:12-15

When Jesus is in the desert, Satan tempts Him, “seeking to compromise His filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks” (Catechism paragraph 538).

The Catechism goes on to explain how the Gospels

indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation…Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of His filial love for the Father.

— paragraph 539.

Benedict XVI offers his insight into this reality:

Part of Jesus’ messianic task is to withstand the great temptations that have led man away from God and continue to do so…it is not only after His death, but already by His death and during His whole life, that Jesus ‘descends into hell,’ as it were, into the domain of our temptations and defeats, in order to take us by the hand and carry us upward.

Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 161.

We clasp Jesus’ hand in a special way during Lent — our encounter with the Lord in the desert, where “Christ vanquished the tempter for us” (Catechism 540). It is therefore a season for us to enter more deeply into interior penance (1434-38).

We practice the penitential disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving for a spiritual purpose: to express our “conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (1434).

As Benedict noted, Lent is “like a long ‘retreat’ in which to re-enter oneself and listen to God’s voice,” a “Season of spiritual renewal” that helps to prepare us for Easter (February 21, 2010).

“Lent is a journey…it reminds us that Christian life is a ‘way’ to take, not so much consistent with a law to observe, as with the very Person of Christ, to encounter, to welcome, to follow” (March 9, 2011).

Question for reflection: In what special ways am I entering into the spirit of Lent?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:21-28

Jesus exercises His power to rebuke and cast out unclean spirits

As the Catechism explains, “evil is not an abstraction” (paragraph 2851). There are malevolent spiritual beings, fallen angels who oppose God, at work in the world.

By their own free choice, “these created spirits…radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign” (392), and “they try to associate man in their revolt against God” (414).

The word “devil” comes from the Greek dia-bolos, referring to the fact that he “‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and His work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (2851).

One of the great documents of Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, reiterates that this spiritual warfare involves each one of us:

The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield, man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

— quoted in Catechism paragraph 409.

“Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus,” his power is limited, and he “cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign” (395). Jesus came “to destroy the works of the devil” (394), and victory was achieved “once and for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave Himself up to death to give us His life” (2853).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord helped me with a spiritual struggle?

Deliver Us From Evil

The final petition of the “Our Father” builds upon the previous one about not falling prey to temptation.

The tempter, the one who hates us and wants to destroy our relationship with God, is Satan. This fallen angel is literally our enemy, for Satan comes from the Hebrew for “adversary” or “accuser.”

Having rebelled against God, the Evil One is bound for eternal damnation, and like a supernatural serial killer, he is out to bring as many people down to hell with him as possible. Satan tricked our first parents into sin, thus unleashing suffering, death, and corruption into God’s originally pristine creation. The Evil One has continued to make war against God – and His people – ever since.

As a result, we are engaged in a spiritual battle for our immortal souls.

This is not to terrify us, for Christ has utterly and irrevocably conquered through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and His victory will be made manifest at the end of time. We are safe as long as we remain in His protecting arms.

But at the same time, we must be aware that the devil is looking for opportunities to tear us away from God. Never open a door to evil; dabbling in the occult leads to real spiritual harm.

Let us pray as Jesus taught us, that we may be delivered from evil – from the Evil One, and from all of the tragedies, injustices, and disasters that beset our fallen world.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2850-54.

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 13:24-43

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 13:24-43

The parable of the wheat and the weeds describes the problem of evil in the world, a reality that the Catechism explores in several passages.

The devil is the “one who ‘throws himself across’ (diabolos) God’s plan…Through him sin and death entered the world” (paragraphs 2851-52).

God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because He respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it…

From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption (311-12).

…We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of His providence are often unknown to us (314).

Only at the Last Judgment will we “know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation” and see how “God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by His creatures” (1040).

In the meantime, “in everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel” (827).

St. John Paul II, in Tertio Millennio Adveniente, commented on this aspect of the Church on earth.

At times her members have “indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal” (33), but nevertheless, the Church herself is like the mustard seed in the Gospel: “she has grown and become a great tree, able to cover the whole of humanity with her branches” (56).

Question for reflection: How has God been patient with me?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent — Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus rebuffs the devil’s temptations

Sunday’s readings present contrasting portraits of temptation: while our first parents made the wrong choice in Genesis, Jesus offers us a model of faithfulness to the Father in the Gospel.

Although simply summed up as the choice between obedience and disobedience, its root lies deeper: Do we trust God, and know that He wants the best for us? Or do we mistakenly imagine in our pride that we know better?

The serpent’s first tactic was to insinuate doubts about God’s word:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in His goodness.

— Catechism paragraph 397.

Benedict XVI zeroed in on the fundamental aspect of temptation:

At the heart of all temptations…is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive Him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.

— Jesus of Nazareth Vol. Ip. 28.

The devil tries to use such ploys on Jesus, to the point of misusing Scripture itself in an insidious questioning of Jesus’ identity.

But Jesus’ absolute trust in the Father never wavers; perfectly united to the Father’s will, the Word made flesh dismisses the tempter by authoritatively reciting God’s Word in Scripture.

“Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion” (Catechism paragraph 539), when His obedience atoned for our disobedience, and accomplished our salvation (615, 1850).

Question for reflection: What kind of internal dialogue do I go through when tempted to sin?

Jesus Proclaims the Kingdom of God

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 535-553:

  • Jesus’ public life begins with His baptism at the hands of His precursor, St. John the Baptist; the baptism is another “epiphany,” or manifestation, of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah who will bring about His Kingdom.
  • Although sinless, Jesus chooses to identify Himself with the repentant sinners who flocked to baptism; thus the baptism foreshadows the Cross, when Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” takes away the sins of the world.
  • Before embarking upon His ministry, Jesus withdraws to the desert for a 40-day period of fasting; the Church enters into this mystery during the season of Lent.
  • The coming of God’s Kingdom means the destruction of the devil’s dominion; hence the devil tries to turn Jesus away from the Father, and to thwart His mission, by tempting our Lord in the desert; but Jesus defeats his every stratagem.
  • Jesus now goes forth to preach the “good news” of the coming of the Kingdom; this phrase was rendered from Greek into Latin as evangelium, and later translated into the Anglo-Saxon language as Godspell, evolving into our term “Gospel.”
  •  Jesus backed up His words with mighty miracles that inspired belief in Him; His physical healings fulfill prophecy, and ultimately point toward spiritual healing: He came to save us from the greatest evil of all, sin.
  • Jesus gathers people to Himself, thus establishing the Church, the seed and beginning of the Kingdom; He chooses 12 Apostles, associates them in His mission, and gives them authority, with St. Peter foremost – the first bishops.
  • Jesus emphasizes that everyone is called to enter the Kingdom; He makes a point of reaching out to those marginalized as sinners and inviting them to repentance.
  • In a very special way, the Kingdom belongs to the poor, lowly, humble of heart, those who know that they need God.
  •  Jesus often illustrated His teaching by means of parables, memorable stories with a twist; these describe God’s Kingdom, the choice we face whether to accept it, and the radical commitment of discipleship.

Live Your Faith

Rather than viewing the Gospels strictly as mini-biographies of Jesus, we should instead use our imagination to put ourselves into the stories.

Which people resonate the most with me? What would it be like to watch Jesus preach or perform a miracle?

This method, popularized by St. Ignatius Loyola, opens up the Scriptures in a creative way, brings them vividly to life, and helps us to experience Christ.