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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lent: Overcoming temptations

The scripture passages for the first Sunday of Lent present the scene of the temptation in the desert.  Here are the words I shared with the community that gathered to pray and to be nourished for this part of the Lenten journey.

To show us the way

A few days ago, we began the liturgical season of Lent: a period of forty days during which we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection.  Our journey toward Easter is part of the ongoing pilgrimage that all of God’s people have been travelling throughout history.  This ongoing journey has had its fair share of ups and downs, but through it all, our God has always remained faithful.  He has always wanted to be close to us, to develop a relationship of love with us.  Even if we have turned away from him, he has always left the door open, hoping that we will turn back to him.

This bumpy road that we have been travelling traces its history all the way back to the creation account that we heard read today from the Book of Genesis.  Despite the best of intentions, it seems that human beings have always had trouble with maintaining consistency between head knowledge and heart knowledge.  God created a garden in Eden ... and there he put the man whom he had formed (Gn 2:8).  Eden was a place of great beauty, containing every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gn 2:9).  The only thing that God cautioned was not to touch the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil ... for in the day that you eat of it you will die (Gn 2:17).

Adam and Eve both knew the consequences, and yet despite their best intentions, their hearts were led astray.  The serpent has always been crafty, more so than any other animal the Lord has made (Gn 3:1).  He knows that human beings are weak, that we have difficulty at times doing things we know we should do because our hearts are fickle, so he tempts us and tries to distort our thinking.  When Eve tried to explain that she could not eat of the fruit of the tree, the serpent replied: you will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Gn 3:4-5).  The root of all temptation is that we all want to be like God, knowing good and evil, but there can only be one God, and we are not God.

Lent is a time for us to place ourselves before the Lord in all humility, to recognize the times when we have tried to be like God, and to ask forgiveness.  The good news of this season is that reconciliation is possible.  Jesus came among us to show us the way back.  When he faced temptation, he did not give in to it.  Instead, he showed us that it is possible to resist.  Pay attention to his responses to the temptations: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4).  If we want to live by faith, we must nourish our bodies and our souls, with physical food, but also with the word of God.  Do not put the Lord your God to the test (Mt 4:7).  God has provided for every one of our needs, he will always give us what we need, but we are constantly tempted to want more.  Perhaps this is a time for us to look deeply within and to ask ourselves: What do I truly need, other than what I already have?  Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him (Mt 3:10).  There is a special place in all our hearts reserved for the loving relationship that God shares with us, but we sometimes try to fill that space with other things, unsuccessfully.

Lent is a time for us to recognize the ways in which we too are tempted, seduced into thinking that we have everything that we need, only to realize that deep within our souls, we still long for more because our spirits are lifeless (cf Rom 5:12-14).  If this is the case, then it is time for us to come back home to our loving Father, and to rediscover the gift of new life that he is offering us.  Jesus gave his life for us, and through this free gift of righteousness (Rom 5:18), he has won for us an abundance of grace (Rom 5:17).

This is the good news that we celebrate at Easter, the promise that we can rely on, the reason for our gathering here today, the joyful assurance that we proclaim to the world around us.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  He loves us and he wants us to be truly happy, secure in the knowledge that we are infinitely loved.
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