Alvin D. Paligutan, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Los Angeles, California
Ps 91:1-2, 10-15
Have you ever been to a secluded place, by yourself, just to think about things and be quiet, be still? This would be somewhat like going on a retreat. How would you spend your time alone? When I go to a secluded place, I like to walk and think things over. Sometimes I’ll stop and sit down to keep on thinking, appreciating, thanking and just to marvel at the sights and sounds. But wouldn’t this time alone also be a good time to evaluate our lives? Wouldn’t this be a perfect time to reflect on our sins, our mistakes and shortcomings and consider how we can do better next time? Wouldn’t it be a great time to pray and find God; to praise and thank him for the many blessings he has given us in our lives?
What motivated Jesus to spend 40 days and nights of solitude, prayer and fasting in the wilderness of Judea? Hardly anyone lived in the desert and one who were to travel in it would encounter many dangers – the scorching heat by day, extreme cold at night, wild animals, scorpions and a lack of food and water. The desert was a place of testing, encounter and renewal. Moses went to Mt. Sinai to encounter God and he stayed there for 40 days and nights. Elijah the prophet spent 40 days of journey in the desert. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to prepare himself for the mission the Father sent him to accomplish.
But Jesus’ preparation included times of testing and temptations by the devil. The word tempt in English usually means to entice to sin. The scriptural word also means test in the sense of proving and purifying someone to see if they are ready for the task at hand. We test pilots to see that they are fit to fly. Medical students go through a lot of tests and exams before they can work as doctors. Likewise, God tests his servants to see if they are fit to be used by him. God tested Abraham to prove his faith. The Israelites were sorely tested in Egypt before God delivered them from their enemies. Jesus was no exception to this testing.
Satan, in turn, did his best to entice Jesus to choose his own will over the will of his Father. Despite his weakened condition, due to fatigue and hunger for 40 days, Jesus steadfastly rejected Satan’s subtle and not so subtle temptations. Where did Jesus find his strength to survive the desert’s harsh conditions and the devil’s seductions? He fed on his Father’s word and found strength in doing God’s will. Jesus was tempted like us, but he didn’t try to fight his enemy. He overcame sin not by his own strength, but by his Father’s grace. Jesus succeeded because he loved his Father and he trusted that his Father would give him the strength to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way.
Jesus came to overthrow the evil one who made us slaves to sin and the fear of death. His obedience to the Father’s will and his willingness to embrace the cross reversed the curse of Adam’s disobedience. His victory over sin and death won for us not only the forgiveness of our sins but also adoption as sons and daughters of God.
We, too, can overcome sin and death through our faith, hope and love for God; through prayer, reflection, fasting and meditation – ways by which we can have a most blessed season of Lent. All these are the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is always ready to pour out his Spirit upon us so that we may have the strength and courage to resist sin and to reject the lies and deceits of our enemy the devil. We simply need to ask for God’s help and call upon his name. We just heard from the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Romans, that “the Lord enriches all who call upon him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” God wants us to fight the good fight of faith with the power and strength which comes from the Holy Spirit. Do we rely on the Lord for our strength and help?
Remember our responsorial psalm. What does God say to us? God says, “because you cleave to me in love; I will deliver you. I will protect you because you know my name. When you call me, I will answer you. I will be with you in time of trouble; I will rescue you and honor you.” How great, how merciful and loving is the Lord our God!