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1st Sunday of Lent
Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11
Before Jesus began His public ministry, He went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days. Spending time in the desert meant leaving comforts, distractions, and entertainment, and being alone in solitude. This may sound appealing, especially if you have a demanding job or little kids. Yet, when we do make time to be alone in the silence, it can be uncomfortable and disconcerting. We must face ourselves, the inner thoughts we have been pushing to the side, fears, insecurities, doubts, ambitions, and vanities. The biggest battle most of will face, is with ourselves and the enemy loves to bite at our heels as we do. Thus, Jesus prepared for His ministry by enduring all the temptations you and I experience and overcoming them.
Satan began with the stomach and physical pleasure (where he trips most of us up!), by tempting the starving Christ with bread. He waited until Jesus was at the end of His fast when He would be tired, hungry, and physically weak. Similarly, the devil tries to exacerbate our problems when we are worn out and vulnerable. How many of us have failed to pray in the morning because we didn’t want to give up the comfort of sleep? When have you missed Mass because it would be an inconvenience or it was cold outside? Are there times when putting your feet up, having a beer or glass of wine, and watching tv took precedence over interacting with your spouse or kids at the end of a long workday (especially when kids require discipline or help with homework)? How many opportunities do we miss simply because it’s uncomfortable or we are too lazy? Unless we overcome our own slothful inertia, we cannot be strong enough to be the salt of the earth that Jesus needs from His disciples.
After overcoming our desires for pleasure and comfort, the next hurdle is fame and ambition. Satan loves to stroke our ego and promote the lie that the measure of our worth is measured by our success. Yet, our Lord chose a life of humility and rejected some of the apostles’ notions that His kingdom would bring them worldly notoriety. God works the most through the small and the weak. St. Paul even states that in our weakness God’s power is brought to perfection (I Corinthians 2:12). Until we curb our own ambitions, we won’t be free to work for God’s ambitions.
Finally, the ultimate stumbling block of the Christian faith, is suffering. Satan’s third temptation offered Jesus the kingdom without the Cross; a short cut around humiliation and struggle. Whether its discipleship, marriage, family, or work, many people give up when things get hard. Our culture of instant gratification further softens our resolve along with an expectation that we should always be happy.
Christ endured and overcame every temptation, that we might be strengthened to do the same. Jesus unites Himself to us in our struggle and imbues us with His divine grace.
During Lent, we step away into the desert so that we might encounter the truth about ourselves. We struggle against our own will through acts of fasting and self-denial. We battle our greed and self-centeredness through works of charity and almsgiving. We increase our prayer, and contemplate the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, to deepen our love for our savior and to more closely follow Him.
Don’t be discouraged if you have already cheated on your Lenten sacrifice. Self-knowledge is the beginning of conversion and develops humility. Each day, we must pick up our cross, and as our awareness of our own weakness intensifies, our awareness of our need for Christ will also intensify. Whether you give something up or do something extra (or both), choose something that will touch the temptation you find most difficult – comfort, notoriety, or happiness at the expense of Christian fidelity. Discipleship is difficult, and even the apostles’ conversions took time, so be patient. After three years with Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they eventually stopped trying to change Christ, and instead surrendered to being changed by Him. If we spend more time with our Lord, our love for Him will deepen, and we too will be more conformed to Him, and able to joyfully celebrate His final victory at the Resurrection.
- Which comforts or pleasures tempt you the most? Sleep, soda, alcohol, television, food, desserts, music, movies?
- What do you want others to notice about you most? What do you take the most pride in? Do you feel small or unimportant if your work isn’t acknowledged or honored by others?
- How do you avoid suffering? Do you avoid conflict with your spouse or kids? Do you take short cuts at work? Do you try to get ahead by putting others down or by neglecting your duties toward God or family?
- Consider past Lents. How has God strengthened you? How have you grown as a Christian?
- Invite Christ into this Lent. Be docile to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to strengthen an area of your faith
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Each morning this week begin with this prayer by Francis de Sales:
My God, I give you this day. I offer you, now, all of the good that I shall do, and I promise to accept, for love of you, all of the difficulty that I shall meet. Help me to conduct myself during this day in a manner pleasing to you. Amen.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019
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Additional Recommendations for Spiritual Reading:
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- Lent and Easter Wisdom from Fulton J. Sheen: Daily Scripture and Prayers Together With Sheen’s Own Words (Lent & Easter Wisdom)
- The Way of the Cross: meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Fulton Sheen
Ignatius Catholic Bible: Revised Standard Version, Burgundy, Zipper Duradera (this is the bible I use for my personal prayer. I love it)
Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade (a spiritual classic, my absolute favorite)
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe
The Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
The Way of Perfection: Study Edition [includes Full Text of St. Teresa of Avila’s Work, Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD]
The C. S. Lewis Signature Classics: An Anthology of 8 C. S. Lewis Titles: Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Great Divorce, The … The Abolition of Man, and The Four Loves
- Fulton Sheen: Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose through Spiritual Transformation