We begin the First Sunday of Lent with the story of the creation and fall of man. We are told that man was created out of clay, and then God "blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being."
I am reminded of the story of the little boy who crawled out from under his parents' bed and asked his mother, "Mom, is it true that we were created out of dust and that we will return to dust?" and his mother said, "Yes, that is true." The boy replied, "Then under your bed there must be somebody either going or coming!"
I use this story to remind us of our very humble origin. Even the Latin origin of the word humble — humus — means earth. We are created very beautifully, in the image and likeness of God, but very fragile. That means before our God we should stand in awe and admiration of who God is, that He would create us out of dust.
Yet, Adam and Eve were quite willing to give into the temptation to be like gods. As soon as they ate of the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, and they knew they had offended the creator God. Because of their sin, we were all born in sin.
In the responsorial psalm we pray: "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense." The psalmist, David, knows how seriously he has offended God. Yet he knows God is a merciful God filled with compassion. The Hebrew word for compassion suggests a womb-like love, the love of a mother for the child of her womb. It's a protective love.
The psalmist writes from the context of God's covenantal relationship with man. In this covenantal relationship, God has gifted man with the power of His word, with forgiveness of sin, and with the ability to praise God and to experience a transformation of heart. Humble, sinful man has all these incredible gifts available to help return to God's loving embrace.
In the second reading, St. Paul addresses our identity with Adam and Eve in their sinful condition. However, Paul opens our eyes to the incomparable salvific grace of God, through Jesus Christ. Even though the sin of Adam and Eve has universally affected all of mankind, it renders no comparison to the grace of forgiveness and salvation which Christ won for us on the cross.
"If death began its reign through one man because of his offense, much more shall those who receive the overflowing grace and gift of justice live and reign through one man, Jesus Christ."
Here Paul celebrates the "overflowing grace and gift of justice" we have in Jesus Christ. The more we reflect on this gift and the grace that is ours because of His death and resurrection, the more our hearts should overflow with gratitude. This moves us to want to seek His compassionate mercy and forgiveness.
The Gospel states Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan. All three temptations tempt Him to use His godly powers, and two of the temptations begin with the conditional clause, "If you are the son of God...." (You may recall that at the foot of the cross, Satan returns to use the same tactic, "If you are the son of God, come down from that cross and save yourself.")
There in the desert, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights. Since Jesus is very hungry, Satan tempts Him to change stones into bread. Certainly, Jesus has the power to do this. However, to do this would be to obey Satan. Next, Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and says to trust in God to rescue him if He throws Himself down. Finally, he takes Jesus to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and says, "All these will I bestow on you if you prostrate yourself in homage before me."
Jesus' response to Satan should also be our response: "Away with you Satan!" Notice that Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan. This was just the start of a three-year ordeal where Satan stalked Jesus every step of the way, trying to deter Him from the mission that the Father had given Him.
For example, at Caesarea Philippi when Peter reprimanded Jesus for wanting to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Satan, get behind me!" We certainly see it at the Last Supper when Satan entered into Judas. Again, we see Satan in the garden trying to persuade Jesus from undergoing His passion.
Just as Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days before He began His public ministry, so we also pray, fast and give alms for 40 days of Lent to strengthen us in our battle against sin and Satan.
We are all locked in a spiritual battle. Satan is far brighter and far more clever than we are. Therefore, to recognize the power of Satan in our lives, we need to fast and pray for the grace to be alert to the most innocent looking temptations that daily come our way.
Lent is a wonderful time to shut off, or drastically cut back, the time we spend watching television or using the Internet, and to spend that time praying the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or prayerfully reading the Scriptures, daily.
However, the ultimate goal of our Lent should be to make a humble confession and experience God's incredible love flooding our soul.
This column appeared in a previous issue of the Review. RELATED ARTICLE(S):I thought you should know | 'We must obey God rather than men'