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).

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Pope Francis on Lectio Divina

Lectio divina, “divine reading,” is a form of prayer that includes meditation.

Pope Francis explains:

There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in His Word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina. It consists of reading God’s Word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us…

In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: ‘Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this?’

Or perhaps: ‘What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?’

When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away.

Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make.

This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s Word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait.

He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before Him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from Him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.

Evangelii Gaudium, 152-53.

Difficulties in Prayer: Acedia

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2733:

One of the most pernicious temptations to infiltrate our prayer life is a certain sluggishness, laziness, or lack of interest in pursuing the things of God. The proper term for this is “acedia,” spiritual sloth.

While our emotions are subject to change, and it’s only natural for our energy or enthusiasm to level off, acedia goes deeper than feelings. It burrows into our will, where we make the choice to pray or not, to seek God’s will or not, to strive to be a better disciple, or not.

Acedia can be the result of presumption. If we take our salvation for granted, believe that God doesn’t expect anything of us, or think that holiness is for other people, we will likely not have much motivation for the spiritual life.

But we can overcome acedia by remembering the high stakes involved – nothing less than our eternal destiny. Do we want to accept God’s offer of salvation? Then we cooperate with God’s saving grace by attending Mass, remaining faithful to personal prayer, doing our best to avoid sin, and seeking forgiveness when we fall short. By fighting the fight, so to speak, we answer His call to holiness, even in the midst of our human frailty.

Because acedia can be described as insufficient love for God, reflecting on God’s intense, personal love for us can also fire our motivation. How can we be indifferent to the Lord Who has thought of us from all eternity, created the world for us, mapped out salvation history for us, became man for us, suffered and died for us, redeemed us, and wants to sanctify us so that we may delight in eternal life with Him?

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?

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

God never tempts us, nor does He mount a “sting operation” to catch us, just waiting to condemn our every lapse.

Although the English translation of this petition could be misunderstood, the underlying Greek text actually means “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation” (Catechism paragraph 2846).

Far from trying to trip us up, God so ardently wants to free us from sin that He became man to save us from its thrall. Christ, Who Himself conquered temptation in His earthly life, teaches us that we can only resist through vigilant prayer in union with Him.

By asking God for help in our struggles to live a moral life, we recognize our weakness and frailty, our tendency to give in to sin. Such humility, grounded in the truth about ourselves, draws down God’s grace upon us – the very grace that He is eager to give us, if we just open our hearts to receive it.

With the light of the Holy Spirit, we can see temptation for what it truly is: evil masquerading as something good. But however attractive a temptation may be on the surface, we know that it’s an illusion, for sin ultimately hurts us.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2846-49.

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?