In Lent, we invite God to lead us into a deeper transformation of our spiritual lives. This isn’t a matter of intellectually trying to figure out our sinfulness so that we can repent. Our unaided intellect can’t scrutinize the depths of our spirit, where our sins often lie hidden. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. I would say: “Let Him have at us!”
The first two readings lay the groundwork for the Gospel, in which Jesus goes into the desert to be tempted by Satan before beginning His public ministry.
In the first reading, Moses recalls how the Lord heard the cry of the poor Israelites in Egypt. “When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and He heard our cry and saw our affliction … He brought us out of Egypt with His strong hand and outstretched arm…”
To commemorate God’s great deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians, Moses brings the Lord “the firstfruits of the products of the soil which you, O Lord, have given to me.”
When we worship God, we remember His saving acts in the past as a sure promise of His ongoing love for us.
The second reading celebrates the great saving work of Jesus as our Messiah. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Christ has won the victory on Calvary, now it’s up to us to live that victory in our lives.
St. Paul writes, “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” Every time we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sins, and we turn to Jesus in sorrow, He forgives us. We have salvation. True, when it comes to serious sins we need to bring these to confession. However, we needn’t wait for confession before beginning to express our sorrow. As soon as the Holy Spirit convicts us, we must turn and repent immediately.
As we turn to the Gospel, we note that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” Something very special happened to Jesus at His baptism in the Jordan.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, wrote in his book “The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus,” that the earliest theologians “were not therefore unaware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in Jesus from the moment of His human birth; they did however attribute a different and decisive significance to the solemn anointing received by Jesus in the Jordan to mark the beginning of His messianic mission. According to some of them, just as at the incarnation the word had become ‘Jesus,’ so at His baptismal anointing He had become ‘Christ,’ that is to say God’s Anointed One, the Messiah: ‘He is called Christ because anointed with the Holy Spirit by the Father.’”
As the Anointed One, Christ goes into the desert to be confronted by the Evil One. In the desert, far from the crowds, Jesus allows Himself to be confronted by the cunningness of Satan. As if the harshness of the desert weren’t enough, He also makes Himself vulnerable by fasting 40 days and 40 nights.
The Holy Spirit in Jesus reveals Himself to Satan. The same Holy Spirit in us reveals the divine power at work in us, helping us not only to resist the tactics of the devil but also helping us to grow in virtue.
Lent is not a time when we get out a “do-it-yourself” kit and begin to figure out our sins and how to overcome them. No. There is a much simpler, much more painful and simultaneously more joyful, and more effective way. Come before the Holy Spirit and invite the Holy Spirit to show us the sins of which He invites us to repent.
Often these sins will not be merely a list of actions. Rather they will often tend to be habits of sin, attitudes toward
ourselves, toward our God, and toward our families of which He is inviting us to repent. This requires great vulnerability and great grace. Lent isn’t a period of putting ourselves down because of some action we have performed, but rather a ready acknowledgement of all our sinful attitudes.
Our heart will respond with a humble recognition given by the Holy Spirit that will enable us to acknowledge: “Oh, yes, I am good for that! Even though I regret it, I can’t deny it.”
Lenten devotions are so supportive in helping us to cultivate a true and fruitful spirit of repentance that leaves us with a feeling of relief and wholeness. Chief among these devotions is the devout meditation upon the Stations of the Cross. When we look upon Christ on the crucifix, we cannot feel condemned, only loved, and drawn to the Father through Christ’s death on the cross.
Jesus invites us to run to Him and leave all our sins behind. Remember, He told the forlorn disciples on the way to Emmaus: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” Their reaction was: “Were not our hearts burning inside as He spoke to us and opened the meaning of the Scriptures to us?”
God’s mercy inserts us into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.