First Week of Lent

Facing Temptation

First Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.  Matthew 4:1–2

Is temptation good?  Certainly it’s not a sin to be tempted.  Otherwise our Lord could never have been tempted Himself.  But He was.  And so are we.  As we enter into the first full week of Lent, we are given the opportunity to ponder the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert.

Temptation is never from God.  But God does permit us to be tempted.  Not so that we fall, but so that we grow in holiness.  Temptation forces us to rise up and make a choice either for God or for the temptation.  Though mercy and forgiveness are always offered when we fail, the blessings that await those who overcome temptation are numerous.

Jesus’ temptation did not increase His holiness, but it did afford Him the opportunity to manifest His perfection within His human nature.  It is that perfection we seek and His perfection that we must strive to imitate as we face the temptations of life. Let’s look at five clear “blessings” that can come from enduring the temptations of the evil one.  Ponder these carefully and slowly:

  • First, enduring a temptation and conquering it helps us see the strength of God in our lives.
  • Second, temptation humbles us, stripping away our pride and our struggle of thinking we are self-reliant and self-made.
  • Third, there is great value in completely rejecting the devil.  This not only robs him of his ongoing power to deceive us, but it also clarifies our vision of who he is so that we can continue to reject him and his works.
  • Fourth, overcoming temptation clearly and definitively strengthens us in every virtue.
  • Fifth, the devil would not tempt us if he were not concerned about our holiness.  Thus, we should see temptation as a sign that the evil one is losing hold of our lives.

Overcoming temptation is like acing an exam, winning a contest, completing a difficult project or accomplishing some challenging feat.  We should take great joy in overcoming temptation in our lives, realizing that this strengthens us to the core of our being.  As we do so, we must also do so in humility, realizing that we have not accomplished this on our own but only by the grace of God in our lives. 

The opposite is true also.  When we fail a particular temptation over and over again, we get discouraged and tend to lose the little virtue we have.  Know that any and every temptation from the evil one can be overcome.  Nothing is too great.  Nothing is too difficult.  Humble yourself in confession, seek the help of a confidant, fall on your knees in prayer, trust in the almighty power of God.  Overcoming temptation is not only possible, it is a glorious and transforming experience of grace in your life.

Reflect, today, upon Jesus facing the devil in the desert after spending 40 days of fasting.  He faced every temptation of the evil one so as to assure us that if we but unite ourselves completely to Him in His human nature, so we also will have His strength to overcome anything and everything the vile devil throws our way.

My dear Lord, after spending 40 days of fasting and prayer in the dry and hot desert, You allowed Yourself to be tempted by the evil one.  The devil attacked You with all he had, and You easily, quickly and definitively defeated him, rejecting his lies and deceptions.  Give me the grace I need to overcome every temptation I encounter and to rely completely upon You without reserve.  Jesus, I trust in You.

40 Days in the Desert

First Sunday of Lent (Year B)

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.  Mark 1:12–13

Today’s Gospel from Mark presents us with a short version of the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Matthew and Luke give many more details, such as Jesus’ threefold temptation from satan. But Mark simply states the fact that Jesus was driven into the desert for forty days and was tempted.

What’s interesting to note is that it was “The Spirit” Who drove Jesus into the desert. Jesus did not go there against His will; He went there freely in accord with the will of the Father and by the direction of the Holy Spirit. Why would the Spirit drive Jesus into the desert for this time of fasting, prayer and temptation?

First of all, this time of temptation took place immediately after Jesus was baptized by John. And though Jesus Himself did not spiritually need that baptism, these two series of events teach us much. The truth is that when we choose to follow Christ and live out our baptism, we receive a new strength to fight evil. The grace is there. As a new creation in Christ, you have all the grace you need to conquer the evil one, sin and temptation. Jesus, therefore, set for us an example in order to teach us this truth. He was baptized and then was driven into the desert to face the evil one so as to tell us that we also can conquer him and his evil lies.

As Jesus was in the desert enduring these temptations, “the angels ministered to him.” The same is true with us. Our Lord does not leave us alone in the midst of our daily temptations. Rather, He always sends us His angels to minister to us and to help us defeat this vile enemy. 

What is your greatest temptation in life? Perhaps you struggle with a habit of sin that you fail at time and time again. Perhaps it’s a temptation of the flesh, or a struggle with anger, self-righteousness, dishonesty or something else. Whatever your temptation may be, know that you have all you need to overcome it on account of the grace given to you by your Baptism, strengthened by your Confirmation and regularly fed by your participation in the Most Holy Eucharist.

Reflect, today, upon whatever your temptations may be. See the Person of Christ facing those temptations with you and in you. Know that His strength is given to you if you but trust Him with unwavering confidence.

My tempted Lord, You allowed Yourself to endure the humiliation of being tempted by satan himself. You did so to show me and all Your children that we can overcome our own temptations through You and by Your strength. Help me, dear Lord, to daily turn to You with my struggles so that You will be victorious in me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Temptation is Real, and Painful

First Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.  Luke 4:1–2a

What a painful experience for Jesus.  If you really think about this, it can be difficult to understand…at least at first.

Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Creator of the Universe, the great I AM, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is in the desert, suffering for forty days while He is tempted by the devil and living among the wild beasts.  Why in the world would He do this and why would God the Father allow it to happen?  And what’s more, it says that it was actually the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into the desert to experience this painful 40 days!  

Perhaps we rarely reflect upon all that Jesus endured and all that He suffered in His human life.  Sure, we think about the Crucifixion at times, but even that is often overshadowed by our knowledge that He rose.  It’s easy to miss the suffering He experienced throughout His life.  And it’s easy to miss the reason He went through all that He did go through in His humanity.

So what’s it all about?  It’s about love for us all.  It’s about God loving us so much that He was willing to endure every form of hardship and human suffering that enters into our lives.  It’s about God being able to look us square in the face and say, “Yes, I do understand what you’re going through…I really do.”  This is love.  It’s a love so deep that God Himself was willing to experience our weaknesses and pain so that He would be able to meet us there, console us in the midst of whatever we are going through, and gently lift us out of it to the new life He has in store for us.  Again, this is Love!

The Spirit “led” (Matthew’s and Luke’s versions) and even “drove” (Mark’s version) Jesus out into the desert.  This was a way of telling us that this experience was the plan and will of God.  It wasn’t something imposed upon Jesus by some strange happenstance.  It wasn’t bad luck or an unfortunate and meaningless human suffering.  No, it was suffering for a purpose.  Suffering with an intention.  And the intention was, in part, to experience and embrace all that we experience and must embrace.

Temptation in life is real.  It’s the result of our fallen human nature.  It comes from our weakness but also from the evil one.  Temptation can be a heavy burden and cause heavy emotional and psychological pain.  And when the temptation is given in to, it causes an even deeper spiritual pain.  Jesus never gave in to the temptations in the desert, nor did He give in to temptations at any other time in His life.  But He endured them and suffered them.  

This tells us that He can be our strength and inspiration in the midst of whatever we are tempted with each and every day.  Some days we may feel the loneliness and isolation of one who is driven into the desert of our sins.  We may feel as though the wild beasts of our disordered passions are getting the best of us.  We may feel as though the evil one is having his way with us.  Well, Jesus felt this way, also.  And He freely allowed Himself to experience this in His humanity.  It was the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit that drove Him to this experience.  

For these reasons, it is Jesus Himself who is able to meet you in this desert within.  He is there, waiting for you, looking for you, calling to you.  He is there in the midst of anything and everything you may be going through.  And it is He, the One who defeated this desert temptation, who will gently guide you out.  He went to the desert to meet you and to bring you back.  And just as the angels ministered to Jesus in this desert, so also does He send those angels to minister to you.

So whether your “desert” is only a slight agitation in life right now, or if it’s a struggle against complete despair, Jesus wants to meet you and bring you out.  He conquered the desert once and for all, and He is able to conquer any desert in your life, also.

Lord, I acknowledge Your perfect love for me.  I believe that You love me enough to endure all suffering, to understand all suffering, and to bring me out of my own interior dryness and pain.  May I let you be driven into the desert of my own soul; and there, as I encounter You, may I allow You to lead me to the cool and refreshing waters.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Serving Christ in Others 

Monday of the First Week of Lent

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40

Who is that “least brother?”  It’s interesting that Jesus specifically points to the person considered the least, as opposed to a more general statement that includes all people.  Why not say, “Whatever you do to others…?”  This would include all whom we serve.  But instead Jesus pointed to the least brother.  Perhaps this should be seen, especially, as the most sinful person, the weakest, the most gravely ill, the incapacitated, the hungry and the homeless, and all those who have pronounced needs in this life.

The most beautiful and touching part about this statement is that Jesus identifies Himself with the person in need, the “least” of all.  By serving those in special need, we are serving Jesus.  But for Him to be able to say that, He has to be intimately united with these people.  And by showing such an intimate connection to them, Jesus reveals their infinite dignity as persons.

This is such an important point to grasp!  In fact, this has been a central theme in the constant teachings of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis.  An invitation to constant focus upon the dignity and value of the person must be the central message we take from this passage.  

Reflect, today, upon the dignity of each and every person.  Try to call to mind anyone you may fail to look at with perfect respect.  Who is it you look down upon and roll your eyes at?  Who is it you judge or disdain?  It is within this person, more than any other, that Jesus waits for you.  He waits to meet you and to have you love Him in the weak and the sinner.  Reflect upon their dignity.  Identify the person who fits this description the most in your life and commit yourself to love and serve them.  For in them you will love and serve our Lord.

Dear Lord, I do understand and believe that You are present, in hidden form, in the weakest of the weak, the poorest of the poor and in the sinner in our midst.  Help me to diligently seek You out in each and every person I encounter, especially those in most need.  As I find You, may I love You and serve You with my whole heart.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Forgiving Others and Being Forgiven

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”  Matthew 6:14–15

This passage presents us with an ideal we must strive for.  It also presents us with the consequences if we do not strive for this ideal.  Forgive and be forgiven.  Both must be desired and sought after.

When forgiveness is properly understood, it is much easier to desire, give and receive.  When it is not properly understood, forgiveness can be seen as a confusing and heavy burden and, therefore, as something undesirable.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the act of forgiving another is the sense of “justice” that can appear to be lost when forgiveness is given.  This is especially true when forgiveness is offered to someone who fails to ask forgiveness.  On the contrary, when one does ask for forgiveness, and expresses true remorse, it is much easier to forgive and to abandon the feeling that the offender should “pay” for what was done.  But when there is a lack of sorrow on the part of the offender, this leaves what can feel like a lack of justice if forgiveness is offered.  This can be a difficult feeling to overcome by ourselves.

It’s important to note that forgiving another does not excuse their sin.  Forgiveness does not mean that the sin did not happen or that it is OK that it happened.  Rather, forgiving another does the opposite.  Forgiving actually points to the sin, acknowledges it and makes it a central focus.  This is important to understand.  By identifying the sin that is to be forgiven, and then forgiving it, justice is done in a supernatural way.  Justice is fulfilled by mercy.  And the mercy offered has an even greater effect on the one offering mercy than the one it is offered to. 

By offering mercy for the sin of another, we become freed of the effects of their sin.  Mercy is a way for God to remove this hurt from our lives and free us to encounter His mercy all the more by the forgiveness of our own sins for which we could never deserve on our own effort. 

It’s also important to note that forgiving another does not necessarily result in reconciliation.  Reconciliation between the two can only happen when the offender accepts the forgiveness offered after humbly admitting their sin.  This humble and purifying act satisfies justice on a whole new level and enables these sins to be transformed into grace.  And once transformed, they can even go so far as to deepen the bond of love between the two.

Reflect, today, upon the person you most need to forgive.  Who is it and what have they done that has offended you?  Do not be afraid to offer the mercy of forgiveness and do not hesitate in doing so.  The mercy you offer will bring forth the justice of God in a way that you could never accomplish by your own efforts.  This act of forgiving also frees you from the burden of that sin, and enables God to forgive you of your sins.

My forgiving Lord, I am a sinner who is in need of Your mercy.  Help me to have a heart of true sorrow for my sins and to turn to You for that grace.  As I seek Your mercy, help me to also forgive the sins that others have committed against me.  I do forgive.  Help that forgiveness to enter deep into my whole being as an expression of Your holy and Divine Mercy.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Responding to the Call to Repent

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

“At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”  Luke 11:32

What an interesting way for Jesus to call the people to repentance.  Simply put, the people of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached to them.  However, the people in Jesus’ time did not.  The result is that, at the end of time, the people of Nineveh will be given the responsibility of condemning those who failed to listen to Jesus.

The first thing we should take from this is that condemnation for refusing to repent of one’s sins is real and serious.  Jesus is speaking about eternal damnation to the people who fail to listen to His preaching.  As a result of this very strong teaching of Jesus, we should sincerely look at our own willingness to repent, or lack thereof. 

Secondly, it’s important to point out that the people Jesus chastised were far more blessed with the prophetic message than the people of Jonah’s time.  Remember that Jonah was a man who, at first, ran from God and from his mission.  He did not want to go to Nineveh and only did so after being brought there in the belly of a whale against his will.  It’s hard to imagine that Jonah would have subsequently preached with a wholehearted zeal.  But, nonetheless, his preaching was effective.

The people of Jesus’ time were blessed with hearing the actual words of the Savior of the World.  But so are we!  We have the Gospels, the teachings of the Church, the witness of the great saints, the shepherding of the Holy Father, the Sacraments and so much more.  We have countless methods of obtaining the Gospel message in our technological age and, yet, we can easily fail to heed Christ’s message. 

Reflect, today, upon your own willing response to the words of Jesus.  He speaks to us in powerful ways and yet we so often fail to listen.  Our failure to listen leads to a failure of complete repentance from our sins.  If this is you, reflect also upon the words of severe condemnation that await those who are obstinate.  This realization should fill us with a holy fear and motivate us to listen to the preaching of our Lord.

Savior of the World, I know You speak to me in countless ways.  You preach through Your Scriptures, Your Church and in my life of prayer.  Help me to heed Your voice and accept all You say with perfect obedience and submission.  I love You, my dear Lord, and I repent of my sin.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Ask, and All Good Things Will Be Given You

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…”
“How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”  Matthew 7:7, 11

Jesus is very clear that when we ask, we will receive, when we seek, we will find, and when we knock, the door will be opened to you.  But is that your experience?  Sometimes we can ask, and ask, and beg, and it appears that our prayer goes unanswered, at least in the way we want it to be answered.  So what does Jesus mean when He says to “ask…seek…knock” and you will receive?

The key to understanding this exhortation from our Lord is that, as the Scripture above states, through our prayer, God will give “good things to those who ask.”  He doesn’t promise us whatever we ask for; rather, He promises that which is truly good and good, in particular, for our eternal salvation.

This begs the question, “Then how do I pray and what do I pray for?”  Ideally, every prayer of intercession we utter should be for the Lord’s will to be done, nothing more, and nothing less.  Only His perfect will.

That can be harder to pray for than one might first expect.  Too often we tend to pray that “my will be done” rather than that “Thy will be done.”  But if we can trust, and trust on a profound level, that God’s will is perfect and provides us with all “good things,” then seeking His will, asking for it and knocking at the door of His heart will produce an abundance of grace as God desires to bestow it.

Reflect, today, upon the way you pray.  Try to change your prayer so that it seeks the good things God wants to bestow rather than the many things you want God to bestow.  It may be hard at first to detach from your own ideas and your own will, but in the end, you will be blessed with many good things from God.

Lord of true goodness, I do pray that Your will be done in all things.  I desire to surrender to You above all, and to trust in Your perfect plan.  Help me, dear Lord, to abandon my own ideas and desires, and to seek Your will always.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Being Real, Being Honest, Being Sincere

Friday of the First Week of Lent

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

Who wants to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  Certainly all of us do!  That should be our primary goal in life.  And, along with that goal, we should seek to bring as many people with us as possible.

Too often we fail to see this as an ultimate goal in life.  We fail to keep our eyes on Heaven as the primary reason we are here on Earth.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day satisfactions of what we may call the “mini goals” of life.  These are goals such as entertainment, money, success, and the like.  And we can often make these mini goals our only goals at times.  

So how about you?  What is your goal?  What is it you strive for and seek throughout your day?  If you honestly examine your actions throughout each day you may be surprised that you are actually seeking unimportant and passing mini goals more than you realize.

Jesus gives us one bit of clear direction in this passage above on how to attain that ultimate goal of life—the Kingdom of Heaven.  The path He points to is righteousness.

What is righteousness?  It’s simply being real.  Being authentic.  Not fake.  And most especially, it’s being real in our love of God.  The Pharisees struggled with pretending they were holy and good followers of the will of God.  But they were not very good at it.  They may have been good at the acting job, and they may have convinced themselves and others, but they could not fool Jesus.  Jesus could see through the fake veneer and perceive that which was underneath.  He could see that their “righteousness” was only a show for themselves and others.

Reflect, today, upon your own righteousness—your honesty and sincerity in striving for holiness.  If you want to daily keep Heaven as your ultimate goal, then you must also strive to make each daily mini goal an honest attempt at holiness.  We must daily seek Christ with all sincerity and truth in all the small things of life.  We must then let that sincerity shine through, showing what truly lies beneath.  To be righteous, in the truest sense, means we sincerely seek God throughout our day and make that sincerity the constant goal of our life.

Lord of true righteousness, make me righteous.  Please help me to be sincere in all that I do and all that I seek in life.  Help me to love You and to love You each and every moment of the day.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Call to Perfection 

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48

Perfection is our calling, nothing less.  The danger in trying to shoot for something less is that you might actually attain it.  Then what?  In other words, if you settle only for being “pretty good” you might actually become “pretty good.”  But pretty good is not good enough according to Jesus.  He wants perfection!  This is a high calling.

What is perfection?  It can seem overwhelming and almost beyond reasonable expectations.  We may even get discouraged at the idea.  But if we understand what perfection really is, then we may not be intimidated by the thought at all.  In fact, we may find ourselves deeply desiring it and making it our new goal in life.

At first, perfection can seem like something only the great saints of old lived.  But for every saint we may read about in a book, there are thousands more that have never been recorded in history and many other future saints living today.  Imagine that.  When we get to Heaven we will certainly be in awe of the great saints we know about.  But think about the countless others that we will be introduced to for the first time in Heaven.  These men and women strove for and found the path of true happiness.  They discovered they were meant for perfection.

Perfection means we are striving to live each and every moment in the grace of God.  That’s all!  Just living here and now immersed in God’s grace.  We do not yet have tomorrow, and yesterday is gone forever.  All we have is this single present moment.  And it’s this moment that we are called to live perfectly.  

Certainly each one of us can seek perfection for a moment. We can surrender to God here and now and seek only His will in this moment.  We can pray, offer selfless charity, make an act of extraordinary kindness and the like.  And if we can do it in this present moment then what’s keeping us from doing it in the next moment?

Over time, the more we live each moment in God’s grace and strive to surrender each moment over to His will, we get stronger, and we get holier.  We slowly build habits that make each and every moment easier.  Over time, the habits we form make us who we are and draw us into perfection.  

Reflect, today, upon the present moment.  Try not to think about the future, just the moment you have now.  Make a commitment to live this moment in holiness and you will be on the road to becoming a saint!

Lord of true holiness, I do want to be holy.  I want to be holy as You are holy.  Help me to live each moment for You, with You and in You.  I give this present moment to You, dear Lord.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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