1st Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
Saint Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the Church, lived for twenty-five years in the cave where the Child Jesus was born. One time he prayed to Jesus thus: “Dear Child, You have suffered much to save me; how can I make amends?” “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard. “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied. “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again. “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome exclaimed. The voice said: “Give your money to the poor; it would be just as if you were giving it to me. But what else can you give to me?”
Saint Jerome became distraught and said: “Lord, I have given you everything! What is there left to give?” “Jerome, you have not still given to me your sins,” the Lord replied. “Give it to me so I can erase them.” With these words Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”
Today, the Church celebrates the liturgy of the first Sunday of Lent. The Gospel presents Jesus readying for his public life. He goes into the desert where He spends forty days in prayer and in penance. There, He is tempted by Satan.
We must also get ready for Easter. Satan is our great enemy. There are many persons that do not believe in him and claim that he is a product of our fantasy, or he is just an abstract conception of evil, diluted in the people and the world. But no!
The Holy Scriptures mention him quite often as a spiritual and tangible being. He is a fallen angel. Jesus defines him by saying: “he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). St. Peter compares him with a roaring lion: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Pe 5:8). And Saint Paul VI teaches: “The Devil is the number one enemy, the preeminent tempter. So, we know that this dark and disturbing being exists and that he is still at work with his treacherous cunning”.
And how does he act? By lying, by deceiving. Where there are lies or deceit, there is a devilish action. “The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist” (Baudelaire). And how does he lie? He presents us with evil actions as if they were good ones; he induces us to do evil; and, in the third place, he suggests plenty of excuses to justify our sins. After swindling us, he fills us up with anxiety and sadness. Have you not felt any such experience, ever before?
What should be our attitude in front of temptation? Before: to watch, to pray and to avoid the occasions. In the middle of temptation: direct or indirect resistance. Afterwards: if you have won, thank God for that. A defeated temptation is progress in sanctity. And, if you have failed, ask for forgiveness and try to learn from experience in future. Which attitude have you shown so far?
Lent is a 40-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Paschal Triduum excluding Sundays. ‘Forty’ is a number often associated with intense spiritual experiences. God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth (Gen. 7:12). The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28) and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb (1Kgs 19:8).
Today’s gospel passage, St. Mark narrates that Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and after fasting for forty days and forty nights, He is tempted by the devil in the desert. But Jesus can resist the temptation because of His determination to be faithful to the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. Then He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel,” (v. 15). This cry of Jesus summarizes the challenge for all Christians during this season of Lent. And so, on this First Sunday of Lent, we are invited to reflect on the urgency of the call for repentance.
One remarkable feature we encounter in the Gospel of Mark is that the first time ever we hear Jesus speak, his words were “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” This is to show that Jesus came to reconcile us with the father and be at peace with him. We can achieve this reconciliation and peace, IF and only IF, we repent of our own sins and believe in Jesus who has come to save us.
This message of repentance was also the message John the Baptist was preaching when Jesus appeared on the scene and immediately takes up John’s message of repentance and calls disciples to believe in the gospel, the good news he has come to deliver.
Furthermore, the condition for gaining entrance or the boarding pass into the kingdom of God is “Repentance and To Believe.” Repentance here, means to change our way of thinking, our attitude, our disposition, and life choices so that Christ can be the Lord and Master of our heart rather than sin, selfishness, and greed. If we are only sorry for the consequences of our sins, we will very likely keep repeating the same sin that is mastering us. True repentance for sins requires a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) and sorrow for sin and firm resolution to avoid it in future. The Lord Jesus gives us grace to see sin for what it really is, a rejection of his love and wisdom for our lives and a refusal to do what is good and in accord with his will. His grace brings pardon and help for turning away from everything that would keep us from his love and truth. Are we ready to cooperate with his grace and turn away from sin, selfishness and pride that reject God’s invitation and grace? The moment we make a firm decision to turn away from sin, He welcomes us with open arms.
To believe on the other hand, is to take Jesus at his word and to recognize that God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son to free us from bondage to sin and harmful desires. God made the supreme sacrifice of his son on the cross to bring us back to a relationship of peace and friendship with himself. He is our father, and he wants us to live as his sons and daughters. God loved us first and he invites us in love to surrender our lives to him.
May I wish you all a fruitful Lent!
Fr. A. Francis HGN