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The Challenge of Lent

Dear Parishioners,

Vulnerability opens us up to being wounded (from its Latin root vulnus “wound”), exposed, or harmed. I think it’s safe to say that none of us likes to be in this situation. We all like to be in control, sometimes not only of ourselves, but also of others. This, we might think, is the best protection for us. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus is led into the desert. Here, Jesus spends forty days and forty nights fasting and praying. Yes, Jesus walked every aspect of our human journey, even submitting Himself to temptation and death. At the end of His desert experience, He would have been hungry. He would have sought companionship. If He were like me or you, maybe He would have wanted a shower and a haircut. After forty days in the desert, Jesus was vulnerable … was ripe for temptation … was ripe to be led where under other circumstances, He might not have gone. So the devil was smart. He knew how to hit Jesus where He was most vulnerable. He tried to pull Him with tantalizing temptations.

This Gospel story teaches us that temptation comes most surely when we are most vulnerable. It is essentially an enticement to put our own desires and needs first, to do what we think is best for ourselves at the moment, to give in to our impulses without considering too seriously the consequences. It is thinking our ourselves first. Resisting temptation, then, is really a matter of resisting self-centeredness. Like Jesus, we must choose instead to surrender ourselves to God who alone should be the center of our lives. To make any other choice is to choose a false god. This First Sunday of Lent forces us to consider this question: Do we serve god or God?

With every temptation, we learn through our struggle with good and evil exactly how vulnerable we are. We learn how much we are tempted to serve all the false gods of our personal desires and needs. We also learn, interestingly enough, to fight temptation with temptation – to replace a desire for something that leads us astray with a stronger desire that leads us to serve our loving and merciful God alone. Only in a metaphoric desert can our vulnerabilities become ones that bring us to right relationships with God, ourselves, and others. We begin Lent with a reflection on temptation and false gods, hoping that Lenten penance helps us to overcome our vulnerabilities and come to Easter ready to receive the new, risen Life this season offers.

We are never immune to temptation. It is real. Temptation always brings choice, decision, and greater self-knowledge. Thus, Lent is a time for us to grapple with the vulnerabilities and inevitable temptations in our own lives and how they shape our self-knowledge. Good choices help us conform more perfectly to Christ and help us to be faithful to our baptismal identity as Body of Christ. Sinful choices and giving into temptations that lead us to false gods sidetrack us on our salvation journey and weaken our identity as Body of Christ.

Penitential practices proper to Lent are not about suffering for the sake of suffering. Instead, they are meant to expand us beyond self-preoccupation to new self-knowledge that leads us to deeper love for God and greater concern for the good of others. Lent is a time of conversion, a time when we become more perfectly who we are – the Body of Christ. This is Lent’s challenge and invitation … to replace vulnerabilities with strength and temptations with grace.

May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!

~ Fr. Larry

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