The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
and he remained in the desert for forty days,
tempted by Satan. Mark 1:12-13.
Sunday 18 February 2018.
Check out this Lenten Calendar from the Catholic Conference:
Our brothers and sisters in the eastern Orthodox Christian church call this season Great and Holy Lent or The Great 40 Days, the most important fasting season in both the eastern and western Christian churches. It is the solemn season preparing us for the central and most important event in the Christian Church, the celebration of Jesus’ conquest of death, his Resurrection. Without that event, there would be no Christian church at all; it is the essential climax, focal point, the heart of our belief. Hence a significant period of time is devoted in preparing for the annual re-enactment of this crucible of our belief. Essentially it is to enable each of us to enter into ourselves, reflect on what we find there, judge whether it is something we would be happy to present to Our Lord, or not, and if not, what we are going to do about it? Considering what Jesus suffered to ensure his teaching and example for us was not destroyed, what response on our part would be appropriate and acceptable to the Lord? The word Lent comes from an old English word for Spring, when the countryside’s deathly still of winter begins to reawaken with life. That idea should be applied to our inner selves, to our souls.
Jesus’ entrance into the wilderness, described in today’s gospel, came immediately after his baptism in the Jordan by John. Other gospels say he was driven there by God’s Holy Spirit. So this was clearly an important step in Jesus’ newly received ministry as Son of God and Messiah. What did those terms mean? What consequences would follow? In the silence and solitude of the wilderness, amid severe temptations, Jesus searched his soul, reflected on holy Scripture (which for him, of course, meant what we call the Old Testament) and came to conclusions on what he should do with his life now knowing his identity and vocation, newly revealed to him. This must have been quite a challenge for a jobbing carpenter raised in a small town far removed from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith both then and now. How on earth could the long-awaited Messiah who was also God’s Son possibly come from Nazareth! The revelation must have been overwhelming, hence the need for distance, time and reflective silence; all that, the wilderness offered.
The Devil’s temptations, of course, hinged on those revelations. YOU: the Son of God! Prove it! Go ahead, do something miraculous. I don’t believe any of it…. Such thoughts must have been Jesus’ own reflections, but he had experienced his baptism and what had happened there. Was he going to put God to the test to prove what he had heard and experienced? Just one little miracle to demonstrate divine power for my own sake….. Then there was the reality of his vocation as Messiah, the great savior of the Hebrew people, long awaited and, in the popular mind, the deliverer from Roman, Gentile bondage forever, as Scripture had prophesied. That too was food for thought, but was it a true picture of God’s long promised Savior? What did Scripture say? Given all that, 40 days in the desert doesn’t seem that long.
Temptations in the Wilderness, French Medieval Stained Glass, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.
All this, then, is the foundation of our own private trip into the wilderness we call Lent. We too are baptized children of God, and our vocation is to be Christ to the world, using the gifts each of us received from God at birth, developed into skills to serve the society in which each of us lives and moves. Are we fulfilling this identity and vocation to the utmost of our ability? There is the center and cynosure of what Lent is about. And the discipline of Lent, the “giving up” and so on, hinges on it. Can we become more true to our identity and vocation? How? What can each of us do to be truly Christ to my world? How can we better serve those among whom we walk? How can we expand our small worlds to encompass the whole world, the great human family which is God’s creation? So we eliminate all those things which hinder such a reality, and introduce better practices, sacrifices even, to live up to our calling as Christ to the world. So the idea of “giving up” something for Lent acts as a somewhat painful reminder to us about what Lent is. When that pain hits us, we should recall what Lent asks us to do, to reflect on our reality as God’s children, and are we acting and thinking appropriately as children of God? In a sense, then, we have created our own wilderness which allows for self-examination. Even more appropriate in this day of consumerism is to donate to a favored charity or to our church during Lent, again using the pain of financial sacrifice to reflect on the meaning of Lent.
See Living Lent Daily at LoyolaPress.com
NB: There are two days of fast and abstinence in the Catholic Lenten tradition, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (which are not holidays of obligation). Fast means one major meal only and two smaller meals, really snacks, and abstinence generally means not eating any meat product; all seafood is permitted. Fridays are days of abstinence alone (which applies throughout the year). These rules apply to Catholics aged 18-59.
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