Saturday, March 10, 2007

On Lent
Lent commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for his years of preaching, which culminated in the cross and in the triumph of Easter. Forty days of prayer and penance. At the end: the temptations of Christ, which the liturgy recalls for us in today's Gospel.

The whole episode is a mystery which man cannot hope to understand: God submitting to temptation, letting the evil one have his way. But we can meditate upon it, asking our Lord to help us understand the teaching it contains.

Jesus Christ being tempted... tradition likes to see Christ's trials in this way: our Lord, who came to be an example to us in all things, wants to suffer temptation as well. And so it is, for Christ was perfect man, like us in everything except sin. After forty days of fasting, with perhaps no food other than herbs and roots and a little water, he feels hungry — he is really hungry, as anyone would be. And when the devil suggests he turn stones into bread, our Lord not only declines the food which his body requires, but he also rejects a greater temptation: that of using his divine power to solve, if we can express it so, a personal problem.

You have noticed how, throughout the Gospels, Jesus doesn't work miracles for his own benefit. He turns water into wine for the wedding guests at Cana; he multiplies loaves and fish for the hungry crowd. But he earns his bread, for years, with his own work. And later, during his journeys through the land of Israel, he lives with the help of those who follow him.

St John tells how after a long journey when Jesus arrived at the well of Sichar, he sent his disciples into town to buy food. And when he sees the Samaritan woman coming, he asks her for water, since he has no way of getting it. His body, worn out from a long journey, feels weary. On other occasions he has to yield to sleep to regain his strength. How generous our Lord is in humbling himself and fully accepting his human condition! He does not use his divine power to escape from difficulties or effort. Let's pray that he will teach us to be tough, to love work, to appreciate the human and divine nobility of savouring the consequences of self-giving.

In the second temptation, when the devil suggests Jesus throw himself off the temple tower, Christ again rejects the suggestion to make use of his divine power. Christ isn't looking for vainglory, for show. He teaches us not to stage God as the backdrop for our own excellence. Jesus Christ wants to fulfil the will of his Father without anticipating God's plans, without advancing the time for miracles; he simply plods the hard path of men, the lovable way of the cross.

Something very similar happens in the third temptation: he is offered kingdoms, power and glory. The devil tries to extend to human ambitions that devotion which should be reserved wholly for God; he promises us an easy life if we fall down before him, before idols. Our Lord insists that the only true end of adoration is God; and he confirms his will to serve: "Away with you, Satan; it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve none but him."
-St. Josemaría Escrivá, from his sermon, The conversion of the children of God.

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