So how’s Lent going? Has it gotten difficult yet? Because it’s going to.
The Gospel says that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” Often I think we hear the word desert and the first things that come to mind is sand and rock and heat… but in scripture a desert is firstly a place of isolation, where there are no distractions to hide from your inner struggles. And just like Jesus, we have begun our forty days of being in the desert. I ask if Lent has gotten difficult yet because like Jesus we are going to come face-to-face with temptations of our own.
This is what happens when you take the Lenten observances of fasting, alms-giving, and prayer seriously. When we fast that self-denial becomes a prayer of our bodies, a way of stepping away from ourselves and the routine of life. When we give alms we surrender our ego as we give away things that we would hold onto as important to us. When we pray we surrender our hearts to be molded by the heart of Christ and transformed into his. What these Lenten observances do is allow us to move away from ourselves just enough to see ourselves a little more clearly… and it is often then that we see for the first time the ugliness of sin that has crept into our lives. It’s not so much that the devil confronts us with some masterful new temptation, but that we realize we have been face-to-face with it all this time.
So has Lent gotten difficult yet? Because it’s going to. But this is not something to fear, because Jesus gives us the example of facing the demons of our life. Notice that Jesus doesn’t really seem to challenge the temptations directly. He doesn’t try to say “Gosh, I’m fine, I’m not really hungry” or “I doubt that you will actually give the things you promise” or “you know, the angels are pretty busy, I don’t want to bother them.” Instead, Jesus surrenders in humility to the will of the Father. As the Word made flesh he sees the temptation and merely says, “but it is written… ”
This is hard for us to imitate. Firstly it’s hard because of our pride. We want to be in control and independent. We face a temptation and our first instinct is to convince ourselves that it really isn’t a temptation, that we can handle it on our own. And maybe from time to time that works, but the sure path to holiness will never be to rely on ourselves. Rather, we should recognize temptation for what it is and then humbly submit ourselves to the will of the Father. And second this is hard because we don’t have the perfect knowledge of the Father like he did. Instead, we must learn to call upon the name of Jesus. In the letter to the Romans, Paul says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” While we do not know the Father perfectly, we can cling to Jesus, who is the perfect revelation of the Father. A simple, heart-spoken prayer like, “Jesus, be with me that I may know that Father’s will,” is all it takes. That will serve us far better than trying to debate the temptation on our own.
At the same time, though, I am not so naive as to think that one act of humility will bring us all to perfection. Some people face temptation that has taken root over years of habitual sin. Some people face temptation that is also a physical addiction. Some people face temptation that takes advantage of mental and emotional vulnerability. Such deeper sins will take time, probably even help from others, but humility and trust in Christ is always the first step to new life.
So welcome to the desert. Whatever demon you will be led to face this Lent, remember this it is not you, but Christ who will conquer it.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.