Francis J. Doyle, O.S.A.
Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary
Gn 2: 7-9; 3: 1-7
Ps 51: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17
Rom 5: 12-19, or Rom 5: 12, 17-19
Mt 4: 1-11
One of my Augustinian brothers had a favorite saying. I’m not sure of the origin nor the author of this statement but it is certainly appropriate for the beginning of the Lenten season. The saying is: “O God of new beginnings and second chances, here I am again.” So here we are again in the Lenten season, engaging ourselves with the challenge of the gospel. We again face the challenge of recommitting ourselves to our baptismal consecration and growing as disciples of Jesus Christ through the grace of conversion. Traditionally, the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent is the account of Jesus being led by the Spirit into the desert where he experienced temptation. Each scripture author places this scene immediately after Jesus’ baptism as he began the ministry placed before him by the Father. Perhaps that very fact can take us back to our own baptismal commitment. Our first reading today from the Book of Genesis takes us back to the very beginning of life in the Garden of Eden where human life was created in God’s image and reminds us of our human susceptibility to temptation. Furthermore, it reminds us how we have wandered away from the original intention of God for all of creation, namely a harmonized and united world living in peace with God and one another.
We have been taught to enter into the Lenten season with a sense of humility and contrition. Saint Augustine said to us in his Confessions, “Through loving humility we find our way back to you, O God.” We ponder and reflect upon the multiple chances that we’ve been given and the opportunities missed to grow in likeness to Christ. We examine ourselves, our faults and failings, and we seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God and one another. During the season of Lent, we engage in a familiar conversation with God admitting that we have indeed sinned. This is surely an appropriate disposition to have as we bring ourselves consciously before the presence of our merciful and compassionate God. However, there is a danger that we can become too introspective and much too absorbed by our imperfections. We are often less aware of the graced hopefulness and the possibility of transformation that Lent offers us as a new beginning, a new start. Gazing upon the merciful face of God and God’s love for sinners is one way to recognize that all is Grace. Pope Francis has spoken to us in the recent Jubilee Year of Mercy and reminded us of that fact. We are to be clothed with the mind and heart of God which Jesus has revealed to us in his ministry of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. We are challenged to allow ourselves to be led into the grace of this moment that we call “Lent” and to face our most vulnerable selves. We are to ask ourselves what is my temptation at this time in my life? What might I choose as an act of self-denial to address temptation and strengthen my will to listen and respond to those who are hungry, marginalized, powerless in the face of injustice, and despairing of God’s promise of refuge. May all of our Lenten sacrifices strengthen our voices and open our lips on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society and cause us to act on their behalf.
Every Lent the Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the wilderness leads us into the desert of our hearts, into the wilderness within us. The desert of our hearts is the silent place where God speaks to us and reveals what actions of self-giving would be most pleasing in God’s eyes. We pray for the grace to choose rightly. Hopefully, there within our prayerful hearts, we will realize what we should be fasting from and know the path that leads us to become the incarnation of the love and mercy of Jesus in our world today. In that stillness may we hear God’s invitation to re-commit to the vocation to which we have already been called with new hope and a renewed vision as we continue our journey to Easter.