Saturday, February 20, 2010

First Sunday of Lent: "Christ was led by the Spirit into the desert"

Deuteronomy 26, 4-10; Psalm 91; Romans 10, 8-13; St. Luke 4, 1-13

Why do we undertake this forty day period of abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent? Why do we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. (Cf. Mk 1:12-13.) At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him "until an opportune time." (Lk 4:13) (CCC 538)

We recollect and meditate, by these forty days of fast, abstinence and prayer, upon Christ's victory over temptation. We grow in our faith that, by the graces of the sacramental life, our intellect and will is strengthened so that we may keep God's commandments in love for Him as Christ first did.

The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel's' vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil's conqueror: he "binds the strong man" to take back his plunder. (Cf. Ps 95:10; Mk 3:27) Jesus' victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. (CCC 539)

In Christ's temptations are summed up every temptation which we might face. "Scripture would not have said", according to St. Thomas Aquinas, "that once all the temptation ended the devil departed from him, unless the matter of all sins were included in the three temptations already related. For the causes of temptation are the causes of desires -- namely, lust of the flesh, hope of glory, eagerness for power" (Summa theologiae, III, q. 41, a. 4 ad 4).

Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. (Cf. Mt 16:21-23) This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning." (Heb 4:15) By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC 540)

St. Ambrose teaches that Christ battled temptation in his human nature to show us how, by the grace of his divine nature, our human nature is strengthened for victory in the same battle. "He did not act as God, bringing his power into play: if he had done so, how could we have availed of his example?; rather, as man he made use of the resources which he has in common with us" (St. Ambrose, Expositio Evangelii sec. Lucam, in loc.)
Let's pray for each other until, together next week, we "meet Christ in the liturgy", Father Cusick

(See also nos. 538, 695, 2096, 2119, 2855 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Meeting Christ in the Liturgy (Publish with permission.)

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