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Voices in the Desert
First Sunday of Lent
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said 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.’” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written: ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.’” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, ‘All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
Opening Prayer: Holy Spirit, descend upon us who are gathered all around the world today to pray. Enlighten your Church at the beginning of Lent and teach us to read and interpret Scripture in a way that reveals the loving heart of the Father through the words and deeds of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Seeking a Desert Experience: When a person retreats into the desert, the noise of daily life fades away. Amidst a sandy expanse and under the speckless blue dome of the sky, the world is reduced to a basic setting. In that setting, as distractions subside, God often touches the soul. His soft voice becomes audible, his gentle touch discernable. Jesus was a man of prayer and he sought out the right settings for profound spiritual encounters with his Father. For a disciple, following Jesus’s traces today means seeking out a place that is conducive for prayer.
- Recognizing Temptation: The desert is a favorable place to hear God’s voice. However, today’s Gospel shows that there are also other voices there. “The tempter approached.” How often are there thoughts, worries, and temptations at the back of our mind that weigh the soul down—anxieties that paralyze us, false expectations that mislead us, lies that confuse us, ambitions that seduce us. These voices can have many sources, but they are often vehicles for the tempter to pester us. In a prayerful atmosphere, we can identify these temptations that are disturbing our soul. As Jesus shows in today’s Gospel, to unmask an inner movement as a plain temptation is already half the victory.
- Eyes on the Father: To identify a temptation often clears the fog in our mind, and sometimes that is all it takes to overcome it. However, sharp wit alone is not always the solution, for it takes willpower to decide to do the right thing. And our will is often so weak, is it not? Jesus’s answers to the tempter teach us an important lesson for overcoming temptations. Every time the devil tried to mislead him with some shrewd logic, Jesus directed and redirected his heart toward God the Father: at the Father who nourishes him; at the Father whom he will not tempt; at the Father whom alone he will serve. The antidote to counteract temptation is to direct one’s heart to the Father, because to overcome a temptation does not mean merely to opt against something, but rather to opt for something—for someone who will quench our soul’s thirst rather than intoxicate it.
Conversing with Christ: My Lord, allow me to pray at your side. Allow me to wrestle with the temptations of my life at your side. I glance at you and witness your wholehearted trust in the Father. I want to imitate that loving trust. I renew my faith in the fact that, through Baptism, I participate in your life and in your grace. Kindle your love for the Father in my own heart, so that your love in my heart will overcome every temptation.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will identify a temptation that has been present in the back of my mind and which has been weighing me down. I will confront it at your side during this period of Lent, while directing my heart to the Father.
For Further Reflection: Catechism of the Catholic Church 2847: The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man, and temptation, which leads to sin and death. We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation. Finally, discernment unmasks the lie of temptation, whose object appears to be good, a “delight to the eyes” and desirable, when in reality its fruit is death. God does not want to impose the good, but wants free beings… There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us.
Written by Fr. Gabriel von Wendt, LC