We begin the holy season of Lent with a reflection on the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The reason this story is associated with the beginning of Lent is to remind us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. As human, Jesus was tempted, and as divine, He defeated temptation. The incident reminds us that temptations are common, and that no one is free from temptation. We need God’s power to overcome temptation. The readings remind us of the power of temptations and how we can overcome them.
The first reading describes the ancient ritual of presenting the first fruits and gifts to God during the harvest festival. These gifts were given in gratitude to Him for liberating them from slavery in Egypt and guiding them during the years of their trials and temptations in the wilderness. The reading describes the ritual that Moses wanted every successive generation of people to repeat. This ritual served as a reminder to the people not to forget the goodness and generosity of God who loved them, liberated them, and made a covenant with them.
In the second reading, Paul counsels the early Christians not to yield to their temptation of going back to the practices of Mosaic Law. Many of these early Christians insisted that Gentiles converting to Christianity needed to become Jews first and to keep the Jewish law for their “justification.” But in this reading, Paul teaches us that none of us can achieve righteousness on our own. Hence, Paul argues, God offers us a share in Divine righteousness as grace—a free gift—to which we contribute nothing except our Faith in Christ’s Resurrection and our public acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
In the temptation of Jesus we see that the devil was not trying to lure Jesus into some particular sin. Rather, he was trying to entice Jesus away from the accomplishment of His mission. The devil offered Jesus the opportunity to become the political Messiah of Jewish expectations and to use His Divine power to avoid suffering and death and saving the world from sin and death. The opposition, hostility and rejection which Jesus experienced were constant temptations for Him to use His power as God’s Son to overcome evil. The temptation story reveals Jesus as God’s obedient Son, refusing to be seduced into using his Divine power for His own comfort and convenience. Jesus overcame temptations through the knowledge of His identity, His purpose, and God’s plan for human salvation.
By defeating temptation, Jesus is the model for conquering our own temptations. How do we conquer temptation? We conquer through prayer, penance, and being in close communion with God. So, temptations can be defeated with the grace of God and by being in close communion with Him. When you are tempted and challenged, I want you to remember that we are never tempted beyond our power to resist. His grace and guidance is there always. St. John reminds us: “The One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Therefore, during Lent, let us find ways to confront evil, evil tendencies, and evil ways and habits.
We are in the first week of Lent. What do we do and how do we observe Lent? During Lent, the Church encourages us to focus on the three important disciplines of the season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Therefore, during these 40 days, I encourage you to make a special effort to attend daily Mass, to receive the Eucharist, and to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Church invites us to fast because fasting enables us to identify with the suffering that Jesus endured on the Cross and also with the suffering of the needy. Pope John Paul II once said that fasting from food and detaching oneself from material goods during Lent enables us to open our hearts to God and our hands to the poor.
In order to make this Lent a great spiritual renewal for our parish community, we have several programs planned for this week in the church. We have confession, adoration and benediction on Wednesdays from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm and Stations of the Cross on Friday at 7:00 pm. The Knights of Columbus fish dinner is on Friday from 4:30 pm to 6:45 pm. For information on any of these or other programs, please refer to the flyer that we mailed out to you a few days ago or call the parish office. My prayer for you and your families during this Lenten season is that we may all grow in holiness.
The reflection question for the first week of Lent is, “God, how do you want to make me more like You?” Speak to God and commit to spending time in prayer. Mark your calendar to spend fifteen minutes every day this week in prayer.