Sunday, February 14, 2016

1st Sunday of Lent

It is the first Sunday of Lent of the Holy Year of Mercy.  It is also Valentine's day, the day of 'love.' We see Jesus' love in the Gospel as He bears temptation for each one of us.

In the first reading, we read of the hardships the Hebrews endured.  They wandered, became slaves of the Egyptians and suffered greatly (Exodus 2:23). However, God did not abandon them (Exodus 3:7-9).  He worked His wonders and freed them bringing them to a "land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8).  It is a reminder of the trials in the desert that the Hebrews had to endure.  Those that persevered received the Promised Land.  Christianity is about not only love but also suffering.  We must suffer and carry our cross just like Christ did (Matthew 16:24-26). We must also suffer the mockey and hate from the world which is ruled by the father of lies (Matthew 10:22,Matthew 10:22). In the end, those of us who remained strong will be comforted as the Psalm says.

In the responsorial Psalm, we are told that God will come to us when we are in trouble.  He will be our "refuge and fortress."  Those of us who are faithfull will receive the help of the Lord. He will protect us as we endure what life has in store for each one of us as we grow in our spiritual lives (Revelation 3:10). We must be faithful to God as the second reading tells us.

The word of God is near to us; in our mouths and hearts.  We must share this word to the world. We must not be ashamed to profess faith in Christ Jesus and share the joy to the world regarding this faith (Romans 1:16, Matthew 10:32-33).  The world will mock us for this faith, but we will never be put to shame. Suffering is part of being a Catholic Christian (Acts 5:41, Romans 8:36).  There is no way around this. There is no such thing as a 'prosperity Gospel' which we hear of from these mega-church pastors out there.  The 'prosperity' comes as we grow in faith and grace leading to heaven with God, the angels and the saints. Before we can enjoy this prosperity in heaven, we have to walk through the desert, so to speak.

In the Gospel, we read that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit leads Him. After Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist, He went into the desert for 40 days. The number 40 in the Bible is a symbol meaning preparation, penance or cleansing, and/or a time of trial/test.  We read that Jesus is in the desert with no food or drink due to fasting. The tempter, or Satan appears to Him and tells Him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread."

He does this in order to tempt Christ because after fasting 40 days, naturally anyone will be starving and even a slice of bread sounds like an eight course meal. Jesus does not fall for this trick and replies, "It is written:  One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." In other words, Jesus is saying that while we need food, it is ultimately God who has the final say as to whether or not we live or die. Eating food does not guarantee our lives or existence and can even kill us.  It is God who is in control of our existence.

The Gospel account continues with Satan taking Christ to the holy city and placed Him on the parapet of the temple so He could see all from that height.  Satan says to Him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written:  He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone."  Here Satan is twisting Scripture to his advantage.  He is quoting from Psalm 91:11-12 showing that Satan does know the Scriptures well and interprets them in a way that will favor his views; hence, he is the "cunning serpent" mentioned in the first reading.  Satan mentions this Psalm in order to test Christ and in a sense, mock God.  He is pretty much telling Christ to commit suicide by jumping off a high place since according to Psalm 91, God will send angels to catch Him.  Jesus replies, "Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test."  Here Christ is correcting the literal interpretation of Satan.  God sends angels and intervenes in space at time as His own discretion, not ours. Sometimes we, especially non-believers doubt God's existence when we hear of children dying, or some tragedy occurring which could have been prevented if God sent angels or even intervened directly.  However, this is not how it works.  We are not the gods of God.  We have no right to demand anything from God or have a sense of entitlement.

Lastly, Satan takes Christ to a high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and tells Him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."  Here Satan is acting like He is some " Don Corleone godfather" of the world and offers Christ power in the form of governments or kingdoms.  This ties in to Genesis where the serpent tricks Adam and Eve with his sophistry and eventually "takes" the world.  By showing Christ the kingdoms of the world, he is trying to tempt Christ with power.  This imagery was adopted in the movie with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino called, "Devil's Advocate" where Pacino takes Reeves to the roof of a tall building and shows him the "world."  Human beings love power.  They love attention.  Who would refuse the kingdoms of the world?  The answer is Jesus.  He replies to Satan's offer which Satan thought could not be refused with: "Get away, Satan!  It is written:  The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve."  The Devil then left Him be and the angels appeared to assist Jesus.

Ironically, Satan despite having this great ability to reason as well as knowledge of the Bible and universe, he did not know Jesus was God.  This is why he was stalking Christ trying to figure out who this guy was.  Satan had no idea who Jesus was and was testing Him to see who He was and if He would fall for the same tricks used to make Adam and Eve fall.

These readings set the stage for Lent. Lent is a period of reflection and renewal. We join Jesus in the desert in prayer and fasting. Satan will eventually show up and stalk each one of us on this 40 day journey. He will tempt us with thoughts that will try to distract us just like he tried to distract Jesus. Satan will present to us all kinds of promises which are lies. Like Christ, we must bear with this annoying character. He is a bug buzzing around trying to annoy us to the point of reacting. We must respond like Christ did with direct rebuttals.  Satan is merely a fallen angel.  Hollywood likes to present him as this power anti-god type entity who has equal power to God, but is on the side of evil.  This is not so.  Satan is a creature just like us. Man has the capacity and intelligence to outsmart this being with God's grace.  One of the best weapons against Satan is ignoring him. Satan has an inflated ego and thinks of himself as this superior being.  He has the power to do minor parlor tricks in nature, but nothing we can't do on our own with our hands or technology. Ignoring him makes him powerless because we are not giving him the credibility he wants us to have in regards to him being this powerful entity.

During this Lent we should pray more and focus on the meaning of fasting and abstaining from meat.  We rely totally on God for our existence.  Christ reminded Satan of this.  The Scriptures remind us that despite man's failings, Christ is there to help him on his feet.  Christ has showed that He is smarter and more powerful that the annoying cunning serpent.  


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