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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.
The Church Shall Always Prevail
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19
There are several foundational truths taught to us by this passage above. One of those truths is that “the gates of the netherworld” shall never prevail against the Church. There is much to rejoice over by that fact.
Think of the many human institutions that have existed throughout the centuries. The most powerful governments have come and gone. Various movements have come and gone. Countless organizations have come and gone. But the Catholic Church still remains and will remain until the end of time. That is one of the promises of our Lord that we celebrate today.
The Church has not remained simply because of good leadership all of these years. In fact, corruption and serious internal conflict have been evident within the Church from the beginning. Popes have lived immoral lives. Cardinals and bishops have lived as princes. Some priests have gravely sinned. And many religious orders have struggled with serious internal divisions. But the Church itself, this shining Bride of Christ, this infallible institution still remains and will continue to remain because Jesus guaranteed it.
With today’s modern media by which every sin of every member of the Church is able to be instantly and universally broadcast to the world, there can be a temptation to look down on the Church. Scandal, division, controversy and the like can shake us to the core, at times, and cause some to question their ongoing participation in the Roman Catholic Church. But the truth is that every weakness within Her members should actually be cause for us to renew and deepen our faith in the Church itself. Jesus did not promise that every Church leader would be a saint, but He did promise that “the gates of the netherworld” would not prevail against Her.
Reflect, today, upon your own view of the Church today. If scandals and divisions have weakened your faith, then turn your eyes to our Lord and to His holy and divine promise. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the Church. That is a fact promised by our Lord Himself. Believe it and rejoice in that glorious truth.
My glorious Bridegroom, You have instituted the Church upon the rock foundation of Peter’s faith. Peter and all of his successors are Your precious gift to us all. Help me to see beyond the sins of others, the scandals and divisions, and to see You, my Lord, leading all people to salvation through Your bride the Church. I renew my faith, this day, in the gift of this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Jesus, I trust in You.
Praying the Our Father
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Matthew 6:7–8
Recall that Jesus used to go off by Himself at times and spend the whole night in prayer. Thus, it’s clear that Jesus is in favor of long and sincere times of prayer, since He gave us His own example as a lesson. But there is clearly a difference between that which our Lord did all night and that which He criticized the pagans for doing when they “babble” with many words. After this criticism of the prayer of the pagans, Jesus gives us the “Our Father” prayer as a model for our personal prayer.
The Our Father prayer begins by addressing God in a deeply personal way. That is, God is not just an all-powerful cosmic being. He is personal, familial—He is our Father. Jesus continues the prayer by instructing us to honor our Father by proclaiming His holiness, His hallowedness. God and God alone is the Holy One from which all holiness of life derives. As we acknowledge the holiness of the Father, we must also acknowledge Him as King and seek His Kingship for our lives and for the world. This is accomplished only when His perfect will is done “on earth as it is in Heaven.” This perfect prayer concludes by acknowledging that God is the source of all of our daily needs, including the forgiveness of our sins and protection from all evil.
Upon the completion of this prayer of perfection, Jesus provides a context in which this and every prayer must be prayed. He says, “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.” Prayer will only be effective if we allow it to change us and make us more like the Father in Heaven. Therefore, if we want our prayer of forgiveness to be effective, then we must live what we pray for. We must also forgive others so that God will forgive us.
Reflect, today, upon this perfect prayer, the Our Father. One temptation is that we can become so familiar with this prayer that we gloss over its true meaning. If that happens, then we will find that we are praying it more like the pagans who simply babble the words. But if we humbly and sincerely understand and mean every word, then we can be certain that our prayer will become more like that of our Lord’s. Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommends pondering every word of that prayer very slowly, one word at a time. Try to pray this way, today, and allow the Our Father to move from babbling to authentic communication with the Father in Heaven.
Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. Jesus, I trust in You.
The One True Sign of the Cross
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” Luke 11:29
The crowd seemed to be a mixed bunch. First, there were those who wholeheartedly believed in Jesus. The Twelve, for example, left everything behind to follow Him. His mother and various other holy women believed in Him and were His faithful followers. But within the growing crowd, it appeared that there were many who questioned Jesus and wanted some form of proof of Who He was. Thus, they wanted a sign from Heaven.
A sign from Heaven would have been some externally manifest proof of Who Jesus was. Granted, Jesus had already performed numerous miracles. But it seems that this was not enough. They wanted more—and that desire is a clear indication of a stubbornness of heart and a lack of faith. So Jesus could not and would not give them the sign they wanted.
Instead, Jesus says that the only sign they will receive is the sign of Jonah. Recall that the sign of Jonah was not very appealing. He was thrown over the side of a boat and swallowed by a whale, where he remained for three days before being spit up on the shores of Nineveh.
Jesus’ sign would be similar. He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders and civil authorities, be killed and be placed in a tomb. And then, three days later, He would rise. But His Resurrection was not one in which He came forth with rays of light for all to see; rather, His post-Resurrection appearances were to those who already manifested faith and already believed.
The lesson for us is that God will not convince us of the matters of faith through powerful and Hollywood-like public manifestations of God’s greatness. Instead, the “sign” we are offered is an invitation to die with Christ so that we can personally begin to experience the new life of the Resurrection. This gift of faith is interior, not publicly exterior. Our death to sin is something we personally and interiorly do, and the new life we receive can only be seen by others by the witness of our lives that are changed.
Reflect, today, upon the true sign God has given you. If you are one who seems to be waiting for some manifest sign from our Lord, wait no longer. Look at the crucifix, see Jesus’ suffering and death, and choose to follow Him in a death to all sin and selfishness. Die with Him, enter the tomb with Him and allow Him to bring you forth, interiorly renewed this Lent, so that you can be transformed by this one and only sign from Heaven.
My crucified Lord, I gaze upon the crucifix and see in Your death the greatest act of love ever known. Give me the grace I need to follow You to the tomb so that Your death will triumph over my sins. Free me, dear Lord, during the Lenten journey so that I will be able to fully share in Your new life of the Resurrection. Jesus, I trust in You.
Praying for the Will of God
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
“Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?” Matthew 7:9–10
Clearly this is a rhetorical question by Jesus. No parent would hand their son or daughter a stone or a snake if they asked for food. But that of course is the point. Jesus goes on to say, “…how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
When you pray with deep faith, will our Lord give you whatever you ask? Certainly not. Jesus did say, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” But this statement must be carefully read within the whole context of Jesus’ teaching here. The fact of the matter is that when we sincerely ask in faith for “good things,” meaning, that which our good God wants to bestow upon us, He will not disappoint. Of course, this does not mean that if we beg Jesus for anything whatsoever that He will give it to us.
What are those “good things” that our Lord will most certainly give to us? First and foremost, it is the forgiveness of our sins. We can be absolutely certain that if we humble ourselves before our good God, especially within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be granted the freely given and transforming gift of forgiveness.
In addition to the forgiveness of our sins, there are many other things we need in life, and there are many other things that our good God wants to bestow upon us. For example, God will always want to give to us the strength we need to overcome temptations in life. He will always want to provide for our most basic needs. He will always want to help us grow in every virtue. And He most certainly wants to bring us to Heaven. It is these things that we must especially pray for every day.
But what about other things, such as a new job, more money, a better house, acceptance into a certain school, a physical healing, etc.? Our prayers for these and other similar things in life should be prayed for but with a caveat. The “caveat” is that we pray that God’s will be done. Not ours. We must humbly acknowledge that we do not see the big picture in life and do not always know what will give God the greatest glory in all things. Therefore, it may be better that you not get that new job, or be accepted at this school, or even that this illness not end in healing. But we can be certain that God always will bestow upon us that which is best for us and that which enables us to give God the greatest glory in life. The crucifixion of our Lord is a perfect example. He prayed that that cup be taken from Him, “but not my will but Yours be done.” And, of course, the Father saw the great eternal value in the death of His Son on the Cross and answered that prayer of His accordingly.
Reflect, today, upon how you pray. Do you pray with detachment from the outcome, knowing that our Lord knows best? Do you humbly admit that only God knows what is truly good for you? Trust this to be the case and pray with complete confidence that God’s will be done in all things and you can be certain that He will answer that prayer.
Dear Lord of infinite wisdom and knowledge, help me to always place my trust in Your goodness and care for me. Help me to daily turn to You in my need and to trust that You will answer my prayer according to Your perfect will. I place my life into Your hands, dear Lord. Do with me as you wish. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday of the First Week of Lent
“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:26
Was our Lord here giving legal advice regarding a criminal or civil case and how to avoid prosecution? Certainly not. He was presenting us with an image of Himself as the just Judge. And He was exhorting us to show mercy to anyone and everyone who could be seen as our “opponent.”
Forgiveness of another is essential. It can never be withheld. But forgiveness is actually not even enough. The ultimate goal must be reconciliation which goes much further. In this Gospel above, Jesus exhorts us to “settle” with our opponents, therein implying reconciliation. The RSV version of the Bible says it this way, “Make friends quickly with your accuser…” Working to foster a “friendship” with one who has accused you, especially if it is a false accusation, goes far beyond simply forgiving them.
To reconcile with another and to reestablish a true friendship means that you not only forgive but also do all you can to ensure that you reestablish a relationship of love with that person. It means that you both put your grievance behind you and start anew. Of course, that takes both people to cooperate in love; but, for your part, it means that you work hard to establish this reconciliation.
Think about someone who has hurt you, and, as a result, your relationship with them has been damaged. Have you prayerfully forgiven that person before God? Have you prayed for that person and asked God to forgive them? If so, then you are now ready for the next step of reaching out to them in love to mend your relationship. This takes great humility, especially if the other person was the cause of the hurt and especially if they have not spoken words of sorrow to you, asking for your forgiveness. Don’t wait for them to do so. Look for ways to show that person that you love them and want to heal the hurt. Don’t hold their sin before them or hold on to a grudge. Seek only love and mercy.
Jesus concludes this exhortation with strong words. Essentially, if you fail to do all you can to reconcile and reestablish your relationship, you will be held accountable for it. Though this may seem unfair at first, it is clearly not, because this is the depth of mercy that our Lord offers us every day. We will never be adequately sorry for our sin, but God forgives and reconciles with us anyway. What a grace! But if we fail to offer this same mercy to others, we essentially limit God’s ability to offer this mercy to us, and we will be required to pay back “the last penny” of our own debt to God.
Reflect, today, upon the person who comes to mind with whom you need to fully reconcile and rekindle a relationship of love. Pray for this grace, commit yourself to it and look for opportunities to do so. Do it without reserve and you will never regret your decision.
My most merciful Lord, I thank You for forgiving me and for loving me with such perfection and totality. Thank You for reconciling me despite my imperfect contrition. Give me a heart, dear Lord, that always seeks to love the sinner in my life. Help me to offer mercy to the fullest extent in imitation of Your divine mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Perfection of Love
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5:44–45
Today’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is a high calling! And it is clear that part of the perfection to which you are called requires a generous and total love even for those you may consider your “enemies” and those who “persecute” you.
When faced with this high calling, one immediate reaction could be that of discouragement. When faced with such a challenging command, it is understandable that you may feel incapable of such a love, especially when the hurt caused by another is ongoing. But there is another reaction that is entirely possible and one for which we should aim. And that reaction is deep gratitude.
The gratitude we should allow ourselves to experience is on account of the fact that our Lord wants us to share in His life of perfection. And the fact that He commands us to live this life also tells us that it is entirely possible. What a gift! What an honor it is to be invited by our Lord to love with His very heart and to love to the extent that He loves all people. The fact that we are all called to this level of love should result in our hearts giving deep thanks to our Lord.
If discouragement, however, is your immediate reaction to this calling from Jesus, try to look at others from a new perspective. Try to suspend judgment toward them, especially against those who have and continue to hurt you the most. It’s not your place to judge; it’s your place only to love and to see others as the children of God who they are. If you dwell upon another’s hurtful actions, angry feelings will inevitably arise. But if you strive only to see them as children of God whom you are called to love without reserve, then even feelings of love will more easily arise within you, helping you to fulfill this glorious command.
Reflect, today, upon this high calling of love and work to foster gratitude within your heart. The Lord wants to give you an incredible gift by loving all people with His heart, including those who tempt you to anger. Love them, see them as God’s children and allow God to draw you into the heights of perfection to which you are called.
My most perfect Lord, I thank You for loving me despite my many sins. I thank You for also calling me to share in the depths of Your love for others. Give me the eyes to see all people as You see them and to love them as You love them. I do love You, Lord. Help me to love You and others more. Jesus, I trust in You.