Today is the first Sunday of the Season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation that for Christians so that they can participate in the great events of Holy Week with heightened awareness and deepened appreciation of what Holy Week is all about.
Holy Week immerses the Christian in rituals through which we remember the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In our remembrance of these events we receive what we have remembered. As such our experience of Holy Week is not just calling to mind historical events from the past, but it is truly and really an encounter with Christ in the present. Holy Week presents to us Christians a privileged opportunity to encounter Christ.
During Lent, Christian prepare themselves for Holy Week through 3 specific practices- prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These practices are not extraordinary for Christians, but are ordinary expressions of the Church’s way of life. But during Lent, Christians are reminded that these are the kinds of things one does and should be doing as a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
Why are prayer, fasting and almsgiving so important to Christians?
Prayer for the Christian is time dedicated to making oneself present and available to Christ. It is through prayer that we take the time to be with Christ and get to know him. Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, but do we really know him? If we are sincere about being Christ’s disciple and accepting his offer of friendship, then we will seek to spend time with him. Christ is not an idea or a feeling, but a living, divine person who offers to be in relationship with us, and you cannot have a relationship with a person of any real significance if you never have time for the person whom you claim is your friend.
Fasting is for the Christian a way of reminding ourselves that nothing in this world is meant to ultimately satisfy us. Why? Because God has created us for heaven, and this world is not all that there is, and is leading us to a world that is greater and more important. This world is not an end in itself, but a means by which we get to where God wants us to be. The things of this world are not meant to be taken for granted, but are gifts we should appreciate. Fasting reminds us of all this.
Christians give alms because through our almsgiving we imitate Christ’s generosity to us. Christ gave us his very life as a gift, a gift that we could not earn and did not deserve. In our almsgiving we give gifts to people who did not earn and do not deserve our generosity. As Christ gave his gift to us, so we give our gifts to others. Almsgiving expresses that our reverence for Christ’s generosity towards us is not just idealism, but a practical, concrete, way of life.
Lent prepares Christians for Holy Week. Holy Week is a privileged encounter with Christ. The practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the specific ways we are prepared to encounter Christ during Holy Week.
Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy helps us to understand how the Israelites came to understand that God had chosen them for a mission and acceptance of this mission meant they would have to accept a new way of life that would set them apart and make them unique.
Today’s excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy describes an element of Israelite worship, during which an Israelite, while making an offering to God, recounts for the priest the great and wonderful God has done for his people. God is not for the Israelites an idea or a feeling, but a living divine person who acts in the lives of the people he has chosen.
As it God is for Israel, so also is God for his Church.
We Christians remember and recount every time we assemble for worship the great and wonderful things God has done for us in Christ.
God in Christ has made us his people, indeed his own family.
God in Christ has permitted himself to experience all the facts of human existence, even the raw and troubling facts of suffering and death. In doing so, he has transformed these experiences forever, making them not ends, but new kinds of beginnings. Nothing in this world that we experience can evade God in Christ’s power to redeem and to save.
And every time we assemble to worship God as he wants to be worshipped in the Mass, God in Christ makes himself really and truly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, giving us a way of that we can share in his divine life right here and right now.
In our second scripture for today, we have an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.
St. Paul speaks about how our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus saves us. What does this mean?
Now, it might be good to consider first what St. Paul does not mean: our profession of faith in Jesus Christ is not like a spell that we cast that if we say we belong to the Lord Jesus we get to go to heaven.
By profession of faith, St. Paul has in mind something more akin to an oath, a solemn oath by which we give our lives over to Christ, placing our selves at his service. In this respect, being saved means being delivered from one way of life which is worldly, idolatrous, and selfish and accepting a new way of life- Christ’s way of life. This is what the Church is- Christ’s way of life and accepting this way of life as our own saves us, that is, delivers us, from another way of life.
Christ’s way of life takes us to God, makes us God’s friends, and through Christ’s way of life in the Church we become the people that God wants us to be. But we must accept Christ’s way of life as our own and our acceptance must be conscious, deliberate and intentional. Only when our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus (which means our acceptance of his way of life) is conscious, deliberate and intentional, can we be saved (that is delivered from other ways of living that are contrary to God, frustrate us, and sicken and kill our souls).
Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke presents the dramatic encounter of Christ with the devil.
The devil is a fallen spirit or angel that in his anger at God for loving humanity, seeks to undermine and subvert God’s plan for the people he loves.
We Christians do not think of the devil as merely a symbol or metaphor, but as someone very real and very dangerous. The devil wants us to say no to God so as to make us unhappy, and ultimately destroy us. Once we give in to devil and say no to God our soul hollows out, life empties of purpose and meaning. We increasingly become more selfish and self-interested. God will not have this. He wants humanity to flourish in this world. And, as such, he acts in Christ to overcome the devil’s influence over us, and over the world. We Christians believe that God has come into this world in Christ and his presence and power remains in this world in the Church so as to defeat the devil and rescue people from his influence.
Christ submits himself to the devil’s temptations so as to demonstrate his willingness to experience a human life in its totality. God in Christ knows what first hand what temptation is and the potential of its destructive power. He is also willing to meet the devil face to face and fight on our behalf.
The devil tempts Christ three times, and in each of these temptations he is trying to persuade Christ to use his divine power for self-interested and self-aggrandizing purposes. Of course, Christ will not- his power is true love and true love is not manifested in what is selfish or self-aggrandizing.
True love reveals itself in sacrifice, in a willingness to offer to others what is good and true and beautiful, even if this offer costs everything to give and even if the gift is not deserved or appreciated.
The true love of Christ, his sacrifice, will be seen with its greatest clarity in the cross. On the cross, God in Christ offers his divine life to us, even when this offer is not appreciated, even when it is scorned. On the cross God in Christ will forgive us, even when his forgiveness is not deserved.
The true love of Christ revealed to us on the cross defeats the power of the devil. The devil presumed that because of the cross that God would have no choice but to hate humanity and to destroy us. But God would not do this, and in the end manifested that his life is stronger than death, his love is greater than all our hate, and his willingness to forgive us is a undeserved and unexpected gift that he is always willing to give…