Like for Adam and Eve in the Creation story, we too are tempted by the Evil One. These temptations are often very subtle, convincing us that God is our rival and that He does not want what is best for us…that we can do better by ourselves. Satan plays on our passions and desires to want us to be like God. When we give in to this unwanted advice from Satan, it leads us to sin."
On Ash Wednesday, a few days ago, as ashes were put on the foreheads of Catholics, we heard the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” This is the hallmark of the season of Lent, not just for the catechumens in the Church, but for all of us.
In the Scripture readings for this First Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves with Jesus in the desert facing the temptations of the Evil One. For much of my life, it seems that I have thought of Lent as a season of looking only inward, a time of taking personal inventory, a period of self-examination, taking an honest assessment of myself, looking at my failures and sinfulness.
There is nothing wrong with looking at Lent in this way approach. These types of self-assessments are important for any of us to grow in holiness. But there is more, so much more.
Like for Adam and Eve in the Creation story, we too are tempted by the Evil One. These temptations are often very subtle, convincing us that God is our rival and that He does not want what is best for us…that we can do better by ourselves. Satan plays on our passions and desires to want us to be like God. When we give in to this unwanted advice from Satan and it leads us to sin.
So, yes, it is important for us to look interiorly at ourselves. But at the same time, it is more important to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.
We see in the Gospel Jesus being tempted by Satan in three different ways. Satan was preying upon three human passions - power, authority, and the worldly. These too, are our strongest passions. They are the strongest passions of the human person. They were the passions of Adam and Eve which led to their fall in the Garden and the beginning of Original Sin.
But notice that each time Jesus was tempted, in the midst of the temptation, Jesus interiorly (meaning, in his heart) turned to gaze upon the Father’s love. That is how he could avoid giving in to the temptation. Adam and Eve gave in to the temptation because they turned away from God’s love and God’s desire for intimacy with them.
Yes, we know that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. But Jesus overcame the temptations, not because he was God, but because he turned to the love of the Father. A heart that gazes on Pure Love, will overcome all temptations.
That is why it is important for us keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus as we reflect upon our own sinfulness and this call to ongoing conversion. But looking at our own sinfulness isn’t the most fun. Nor is it easy. In fact it can be very difficult.
But yet it is what you and I are called to do during this season, regardless whether we are already Catholic or desiring to come into the Church. We are all converts this season, asking the Lord to lead us into a new life of grace with him.
If we are in touch with our passions, our desires, and our feelings, both the ordered ones and the disordered ones, we will most likely be familiar with the temptations that surround them. (Sin comes out of disordered passions and desires. Think about the sins we frequently confess.) When we find ourselves in our most vulnerable moments, those are the times of greatest temptation.
If this self-examination is done in the light of grace, we will see and experience the power of Jesus’ redemptive love. As St. Paul shares with us today, “For if by the transgression of the one [Adam], many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” This is what we hold onto when we look at our sins and sinfulness through the light of grace.
When we do this, it gives us resolve to change – to grow in faith – to cultivate new hope, and to be more fervent in our love. This is the “REPENT” part to which Jesus invites us.
But there is the other part of the summons. “Believe in the Gospel.” The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told. It is about the Father sending his son to tell us how much we are loved and forgiven. In the words of Pope Francis, “Tenderness and mercy are the heart of the Gospel. Otherwise, one doesn’t understand Jesus Christ, or the tenderness of the Father who sends Him to listen to us, to cure us, to save us.”
To “believe in the Gospel” means that we trust in the tenderness of the Father who sends Jesus to listen to us, to cure us, to save us.”
Trust that in your own desert experience this Lent Jesus is with you, helping you to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
And through it all, it is there that we will rediscover our true self in Christ Jesus. What an opportunity for grace! My friends, have a blessed Lenten season.