A Fruitful Lent Begins With God.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent. We hear at today’s Mass (as on every First Sunday of Lent) the account of Jesus’ time in the desert where he undergoes temptation. Mindful of the many significant details that are taught to us in these scenes of temptation, might we focus on one particular aspect of them for our Lenten journey: that Jesus remains united to the Father.
In keeping with Lent, it is quite likely that every one of us has desires to grow in holiness, and many are acting upon these desires either by giving up something pleasant or embracing a new opportunity for growth. Our goal by such actions is to be closer to God. Yet, here is the rub: God is already very close to us; closer than we can imagine. What, then, if God is already closer to us than we can imagine, will be gained by our attempts to get closer to God? Does not such presence of God already with us make our efforts seem as though they do not matter? We know, however, that our way of life does matter. What, then, can we make of such reality of wanting to be close to He who is close?
The real issue here is not with our acts; it is in the mistaken mentality that through our efforts alone we can earn our own closeness to God. Christ’s
temptations can help us see this error. Notice in the first temptation how Jesus is tempted to use his divine power for his own human advantage (by turning stones into bread.) Jesus rejects this temptation on the basis that “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Jesus’ words here speak in reference to the true nature of life for man. His words contain neither a decision to make an act of self-denial nor to do a deliberate action (or non- action) to move Himself closer to God. Instead, His reason to reject the temptation is all about His God-given purpose – that He, who is God-become-man, is called to remain faithful to both His divinity and humanity as willed by God the Father. In other words – and here is the real point: Jesus rejects the temptation because to give in is to not be who the Father has willed Him to be. To accept the offer of the temptation is to reject who the Father willed Him to be, and to no longer live as “man ought to live.” The same can be said of the other two temptations – as they seek to cause Jesus to reject His true purpose.
Let’s apply this truth to ourselves. As we embrace Lenten practices, the goal of being closer to God is to be attained by becoming truer to whom God made us to be. Living in accord with our purpose then begins with God Himself, who made us and knows us best. What is our part? To embrace the way of life that God has revealed to us in Christ: living the truth in love; keeping the commandments; etc. Practically speaking, this way of life means that whether we give up something or take on new practices for Lent, we are doing so as ways to return to our true purpose for which God has made us. So if I give up my favorite food, I should do so as an opening of my heart to live with less desire for that food and more in keeping with the person that God Himself made me to be – in so many words, to be more human. On the other hand, if I take on a new act of charity, this act is to be carried out in keeping with God’s will – which is to love and keep His commandments, and not to live without proper regard for who God intends me to be (which can happen even with good acts).
In summary, our keeping of Lent invites us to be drawn closer to God by His works on our behalf and not our own human efforts. Accordingly, may we take the
focus off ourselves (what we do) and to focus upon God Himself, allowing He who loves us perfectly, to give us His own life.