march, 2019

sun10maralldayalldayFirst Sunday in Lent - March 10(All Day: sunday) Event Type :Liturgical Calendar

Event Time

All Day (Sunday)

Event Details

Meditations for Lent

By: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press

Sunday after Ash Wednesday

Tempted in the Desert

Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit” who had settled upon him under the figure of a dove, “returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit” into the desert (Luke 4:1). Immediately after his baptism, full of the spirit of groaning (cf. Rom. 8:23), Jesus, that innocent dove, went to fast and weep for our sins in solitude. According to St. Matthew, he was “led up by the Spirit” (Matt. 4.1); according to St. Mark, the Spirit “drove him” (Mark 1:12). Whichever be the case, we see that by baptism we are separated from the world and consecrated to fasting and abstinence and to the battle against temptation. This is what happened to the Savior of the world as soon as he had been baptized.

Christian life is a retreat. We are “not of the world,” just as Jesus Christ is “not of the world” (John 17:14). What is the world? It is, as St. John said, the “lust of the flesh,” that is, sensuality and corruption in our desires and deeds; “the lust of the eyes,” curiosity, avarice, illusion, fascination, error, and folly in the affectation of learning; and, finally, pride and ambition (1 John 2:16). To these evils of which the world is full, and which make up its substance, a retreat must be set in opposition. We need to make ourselves into a desert by a holy detachment.

Christian life is a battle. The demon from whom a soul escapes “brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself” (Matt. 12:45) in order to tempt us anew. We must never cease to fight. In this battle, St. Paul teaches us to make an eternal abstinence, that is, to cut ourselves off from the pleasures of the senses and guard our hearts from them. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25).

It was to repair and to expiate the failings of our retreat, of our battle against temptations, of our abstinence, that Jesus was driven into the desert. His fast of forty days prefigured the lifelong one that we are to practice by abstaining from evil deeds and by containing our desires within the limits laid down by the law of God. This should be the first effect of Jesus’ fast. If he calls us higher and draws us not only to a renunciation of the heart, but to an actual departure from the world, happy shall we be to go and fast with Jesus Christ: let us find our happiness in the desert with him!

“And he was in the desert,” St. Mark tells us, “forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him” (cf. Mark 1:13). Here we see, as if in a painting, Jesus alone in the desert, where the Devil is his tempter, the beasts his company, and the angels his ministers.

Why is Jesus with the beasts? Why does he give himself such companions in the desert? “Flee men,” said a voice to a hermit of old. The beasts have remained in their natural condition, and, so to speak, in their innocence, while among men everything has been perverted by sin. “All flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:12). In the society of men we find dissimulation, infidelity, self-interested friendship, a mutually interested exchange of flattery, lies, secret envy joined with showy but false benevolence, inconstancy, injustice, and corruption. Let us flee all this, at least in spirit; it will be better to live with beasts than with men of the world.

We will be exposed to temptation with Jesus, but like him we will have angels to minister to us. They came to serve the Savior in his hour of need, in the weakened condition that he chose to be in at the end of his long fast. Yet we should also remember that they are “ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (Heb. 1:14), and that in honor of the Savior they make themselves the ministers of those who fast with him in the desert, who love prayer and retirement, and who live abstaining from what brings contentment to nature, never giving their hearts over to it.




Lent as Spiritual Warfare: 1st Sunday of Lent


At the beginning of Lent, the Church reads to us the account of Jesus doing spiritual combat with the devil in the wilderness, reminding us that Lent is a time of warfare.  Through our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we do battle with the power of the devil in our lives, and with God’s grace, defeat him decisively.

  1. The First Reading is Deuteronomy 26:4-10:

Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“The priest shall receive the basket from you
and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.
Then you shall declare before the Lord, your God,
‘My father was a wandering Aramean
who went down to Egypt with a small household
and lived there as an alien.
But there he became a nation
great, strong, and numerous.
When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us,
imposing hard labor upon us,
we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers,
and he heard our cry
and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He brought us out of Egypt
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
with terrifying power, with signs and wonders;
and bringing us into this country,
he gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.
Therefore, I have now brought you the firstfruits
of the products of the soil
which you, O LORD, have given me.’
And having set them before the Lord, your God,
you shall bow down in his presence.”

The First Readings during the first five Sundays of Lent are designed to provide an overview of salvation history, with a special emphasis on the Passover and Exodus from Egypt, because from Holy Thursday to Easter we will re-live these events in our own liturgy.  Therefore, we prepare for Holy Week over the five preceding weeks by pondering the meaning of the pivotal events in the story of God’s people.

This First Reading, at the beginning of Lent, is particularly suitable because it provides a summary or overview of Israel’s story from the time of Jacob (the wandering “Aramean,” that is, Syrian) through the Exodus, to the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land.

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses commands the Israelites to come regularly to the central sanctuary in order to worship.  When they come, they are to recite the history of salvation in order to commemorate it before the Lord.

This passage reminds us of the importance of memory in worship.  To this day, when we celebrate mass, we do it “in remembrance of me,” that is, the Lord Jesus.  One of the enemies of the spiritual life is forgetfulness.  We forget what God has done for us.  We forget who we are, what we have experienced as God’s people, where we come from and where we are going.  As they say, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.  Applied to the spiritual life, that means: those who forget the bondage God has saved them from, will slide back into that bondage.  Therefore the Church wisely requires us to come to mass weekly in order to remember God’s salvation.  Furthermore, in the Bible, remembrance is not just mental recall.  Remembrance involves a new saving act of God.  God remembers Noah in the ark.  Godremembers the people of Israel in Egypt.  In both cases, God’s “remembrance” involves salvation.  This is the reason the Psalms frequently ask God to “remember” his people (Psalm 20:3; 74:2,18; 89:50, etc.). When we come into mass to “do this in remembrance of me,” we are asking God to pour out his saving power on us once again, for the coming week.

Much of American Christianity has religious “amnesia.”  Their churches are as bare as malls.  There is no remembrance of the saints, the councils, the persecutions, the missionary martyrdoms, or the history of God’s people.  Even the Old Testament often gets ignored.  As a result, there is little sense of being part of one people of God through the ages.  Memory creates identity.  The Church in her wisdom constantly encourages us to remember, so that we know who we are.

  1. The Responsorial Psalm is91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15:
  1. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
    You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
    say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
    my God in whom I trust.”
    R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
    No evil shall befall you,
    nor shall affliction come near your tent,
    For to his angels he has given command about you,
    that they guard you in all your ways.
    R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
    Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.
    You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
    you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
    R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.
    Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
    I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in distress;
    I will deliver him and glorify him.
    R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

This Psalm is the quintessential spiritual warfare psalm, and was employed for the purpose of exorcism and protection against evil spirits already in ancient times.  To this day, it is one of the psalms used for optional recitation during the rite of exorcism.  The “asp, viper, lion, and dragon” mentioned in the psalm were understood as references to evil spirits, which were worshiped under the form of animals in pagan cults.  The singing of this Psalm in today’s mass is particularly appropriate, because it ties into the theme of combat with Satan in the Gospel Reading.

  1. The Second Reading is Romans 10:8-13:

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart
—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
“No one who believes in him will be put to shame.”
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

The Second Readings during the first five Sundays of Lent are classic passages from St. Paul in which he summarizes the Gospel message.  This reading is a good example.  At its heart, the Gospel is simple: believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection, admit it openly to the world, and you will be saved.

As a Protestant pastor, I often used this passage in evangelism.  I would encourage people to place their faith in Jesus, pray to receive his Spirit into their lives, in order that they would be assured a place in heaven.

That was well and good.  The only danger comes in reducing the whole Christian faith to just believing and confessing in order to be saved.

We need to remember other Scriptures as well, like the following:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:53-54

“He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Mark 16:16

He who says, “I know him” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1 John 2:4

It is true that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved,” but to “call on the name of the LORD” presumes an attitude of repentance and humility, an acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves, that we need God’s help, and we are ready to do what God tells us to do in order to be saved. To “call on the name of the LORD,” but then disobey God’s instructions for salvation—which include baptism (Mark 16:16), Eucharist (“eating his flesh and blood”, John 6:53), and a transformed life (1 John 1:6))—doesn’t really make sense.

  1. The Gospel is Luke 4:1-13:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.

It may sound strange that the Lord was not hungry until after the forty days.  Yet during long fasts, the body adapts to burning stored fat, and after a few days one does not feel hungry until one’s fat stores are burned up, which may take weeks.  At that point, the body begins to break down muscle to stay alive.  The body is beginning to die, and the hunger returns.  Jesus was at that stage after forty days.

The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

The three temptations of Christ correspond to the “threefold concupiscence,” that is, the common three ways in which we experience the temptation to sin.  In 1 John 2:15, St. John summarizes them as follows: “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”  “Lust of the Flesh” is physical lust, for food, sex, drugs, comfort, etc.  “Lust of the Eyes” is greed or avarice, the desire to own and possess things of beauty and value.  “Pride of Life” is simply pride.

Sin entered the world when Eve gave in to the threefold concupiscence.  Genesis 3:6 says that she looked at the apple and saw that it “was good for food” (Lust of the Flesh), “pleasing to the eye” (Lust of the Eyes), and was “desirous to make one wise” like God (Pride, to be equal with God).

In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus undoes Eve’s threefold disobedience.  First Satan tempts him in the area of Lust of the Flesh: “Turn these stones to bread.  Wouldn’t some nice, hot bread taste so good after all your fasting?”

Then, Lust of the Eyes: he shows him all the “power and glory” of the kingdoms of the world in an instant and offers it to him.

Finally, Pride: Satan takes Jesus to the most public place in all of Israel, the Temple, and encourages him to perform a miraculous “stunt” that will make him a celebrity, receiving fame and adulation from the whole populace.

In every case, Jesus responds to Satan’s temptations by remembering God’s Word.  Of course, this is what Eve failed to do: she refused to remember, that is, to call to mind and obey, the command of God.

There’s another connection here, this one between Jesus the Son of David and Solomon the Son of David. We remember that on his death bed, David charged his son and heir Solomon to “keep the Law of Moses,” which meant Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy has three laws for the king (Deut 1716-17): the king was not to have excessive wives (lust of the flesh), nor excessive gold (lust of the eyes, greed), nor excessive horses and chariots (pride in his military strength).

How did Solomon do with that?  Not so good.  In 1 Kings 10-11, we read that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, 666 talents of gold a year, and so many horses and chariots he had to build cities to house them all.  Three strikes, you’re out, Solomon.

So Solomon failed to uphold the Law of Moses and fell prey to the threefold concupiscence.

How does Jesus do?  He is also tempted according to the threefold concupiscence, but each time he responds by upholding God’s Word: specifically, the Book of Deuteronomy, the Law of Moses.  Our Lord quotes Deuteronomy three times (8:3; 6:13; 6:16).  In this way, he shows that he is the better Son of David than Solomon.  Truly, “something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31).  Jesus is the true king.

As we begin Lent, we should remember that the three acts of piety—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are meant to help us resist the threefold concupiscence.  Thus we learn to be kings and queens like Jesus: persons who rule their passions and are not ruled by them, who command demons and are not commanded by them.

Prayer combats Pride, because prayer is the humble acknowledgement that we need God’s help, that we cannot do it on our own.

Fasting combats the Lust of the Flesh, teaching us to have control over our physical appetites.

Almsgiving combats Lust of the Eyes, teaching us to be detached from our wealth, to give up on greed, to share our wealth rather than hoard it for ourselves.

During Lent, we re-live Jesus’ forty days in the Wilderness in our own experience.  Through an intense life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we do spiritual warfare with the Devil and drive him from our lives with the help of God’s grace.  We don’t struggle by ourselves, because we have received the Spirit of Jesus the victor through baptism and the other sacraments.  We call to him for strength, and can be assured of victory because “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved,” and as our Psalm said:

“He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.”

-Dr. John Bergsma