First Sunday of Lent (A)
Lent is the liturgical season that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday with the beginning of the Mass of the Last Supper. The Church urges us to spend a little more time and effort in prayer, fasting, almsgiving and penance. “Lent is a spiritual retreat lasting 40 days, which offers the faithful the means to attain the true joy that comes from friendship with God” (Pope Benedict VI, Ash Wednesday, 2008).
Jesus’ experience in the desert was His sacrifice of being set apart from the world, to work in it and redeem it. (To sacrifice is to make holy; and to make holy is to be set apart.) As to sacrifice is to set apart and to make something holy, during the season of Lent, we are especially encouraged to make this sacrifice: to make holy our lives, our thoughts, words and actions just as the Father is holy.
A peculiarly significant meaning of the word “lent” (in English) is that it is the past tense of the word to lend. Life was lent to us in a holy state so that we could live the life of God and be faithful to Him. But man destroyed this life by sin, and it has to be redeemed by someone coming from God. So, Jesus came to redeem what has been lent to us by the Father, but lost by our sinfulness. The season of Lent is a special time given to us, to return to Him by turning away from sin and believing the Gospel, the very words we heard on Ash Wednesday on the imposition of ashes on our foreheads.
When the devil tempted the woman in the Garden of Eden, she “saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). The devil focused on the food as pleasing to the eyes and desirable for gaining wisdom, and they would become like gods. They ate, and their eyes were opened and they realized that they were naked. This is a great realization, for the moment man sins, the moment he even thinks of disobeying God’s commands, his eyes are opened, and he knows that he is naked before the eyes of the Lord, for He has already put His laws and His goodness into man’s heart.
The devil is not a person who feels. He pesters people till they give up. The devil’s ways are to pull down people to the depths of failure and loneliness, or to bring people up to the heights of pride and arrogance. When the devil has won people over, he leaves them and separates them from others with the high walls of indifference and selfishness.
Jesus, however, feels, and knows how people feel. That is why Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8). Jesus always lifts up and saves people from depression, sadness, feeling of abandonment, and from the pressures of sin. Jesus does not leave anyone behind, particularly the weak. He gives the Holy Spirit to those who seek Him to be their power and wisdom. When they have found Jesus as their wealth, they are separated from the world of worries and cares, so that they can be in relation with others and grow in holiness.
Jesus is our way, our truth and our life. He is our way back to the Father and the way to return what was lent to us: life in its holy state. He is the true self in our hearts, and the devil is the lie, the deception of our lives. Jesus brings us back to our true selves: sons of God and heirs of His Kingdom. He is the life and the breath of our hearts and souls. Loss of breath is loss of life. Loss of Jesus is gain for the devil. There is no bridge that we can stand on between Jesus and the devil. With Jesus are life and joy; with the devil, sadness, alienation and death.
Let us remember that to redeem us Jesus was obedient to His Father, and it led to His passion, death and resurrection. With Mary who was obedient to God, let us learn to be obedient to Jesus in our relationship with others, in our responsibilities and in our untiring service to His people. St. Maximilian Kolbe said: “Modern times will be dominated by Satan and the future will be even more so. The combat against Hell cannot be carried out by men and women alone, even the most intelligent ones. Only the Immaculate has received the Promise of the Victory over the Demon from God…. The Mother of God…. seeks souls that will be devoted entirely to her and become efficient and sure instruments between her hands, to inflict Satan’s defeat and establish God’s reign on this earth (firstname.lastname@example.org, 2-17-2011).