February 11, 2018

Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

The temptation of Christ by the Devil

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois 

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained 
in the desert for forty days." (Mk 1:12)

In the midst of winter, February ushers in the great Paschal Season. “Paschal” comes from the ancient Aramaic pasha, meaning passover. Jesus Christ is the new and final lamb of sacrifice of the passover. The Paschal Season celebrates this mystery of faith. The most important liturgical season of the year, it includes Lent, the Sacred Triduum, and Easter Sunday, “The Great Fifty Days” of the Easter Season, and will solemnly conclude with Pentecost. For a little over three months, the Church intensely prepares for Easter (Lent), celebrates it (Sacred Triduum), and rejoices over it (Easter Season). It is the holiest time of the year!

On Ash Wednesday, the very beginning of the Paschal Season and Lent, the Christian hits bottom. The actions and words are cold. Ashes are spread over one’s forehead accompanied by the words “from dust you came; to dust you shall return.” Thus Lent begins with the realization that the Christian is in desperate need of the redemption offered by Jesus Christ—and that will only come through his passion, death, and resurrection. While the Paschal Season celebrates what happened many centuries ago in the life of Jesus, it more importantly reawakens that final journey of Jesus in the heart and soul of the believer. I go to the cross with Jesus; I rise with Him on the third day. Jesus’ death and resurrection is happening in my life, in the here and now. To enter this most sacred time of the year most fully, we, too, must go to the desert with Jesus. Lent is a journey with Christ into the desert. The goal of these 40 days of Lent is holiness.

On October 2, 2013, Pope Francis made this statement at one of his Wednesday audiences: “Do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.” Holiness is not just for people like the Pope, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or those monks and nuns living in monasteries. The call to holiness has been given to all the baptized. It is not reserved to the few; it is demanded of all! Yes, holiness is for you and me. Do not be afraid of it, says Pope Francis. Enter the life of faith every more fully. Holiness is feeling the presence of Christ within one’s heart, and allowing that presence to guide, support, and inspire you to live a life that conforms with what God wants of you. The holy person lets go of control and joyfully allows Christ to guide her life. It’s not complicated!

Lent will help the faithful attain holiness through its ancient practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These disciplines will drive today’s Christian to the desert with Christ. And remember, everyone can pray, fast, and give alms. One’s age or condition in life may affect the extent to which a person participates in these practices; however, every Christian needs to take these disciplines seriously. Everyone can pray, fast, and give alms in appropriate ways. They are the ways to holiness.

So in this Lenten season pray, fast, and give alms. All three practices need to be real and should lead the person to unity with Jesus. We fast from certain foods and activities to realize that some food and activities, while pleasurable, are temporary and to some level unnecessary. We go without in order to give ourselves over to Christ, who is permanent. A holy person refrains from activities and foods that are superfluous, knowing that they cannot fully satisfy in the way that Christ can. Giving alms or being generous opens our hearts and wallets to the real needs of others. Almsgiving moves the person toward selflessness and away from selfishness. How can I help the plight of others? A truly holy person is selfless and generous. Finally, holiness will be elusive without prayer. The person seeking holiness will want to spend time with Christ, and thus embrace the great mystery of God’s love. Be careful in doing this! Once that mystery takes up its abode in one’s heart and soul, there is no turning back. In prayer you have allowed the Lord to grab onto your heart; He will never let go.

Your goal for Lent and the Paschal Season is holiness. Go to the desert with Christ through works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In that desert, you will come to know Christ your Lord, and at Easter will emerge a holy person. A great journey of faith, this Paschal time!

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