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1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

It’s Lent, and it’s also the Year of Prayer.  So my task today is to link together these two themes, say a bit about the readings and also the Our Father.  Here goes!

 

Obviously we don’t need to get through the whole of the Our Father today, as there are more Sundays in the year still to come, but a line that goes together with today’s Gospel is this one:  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.  On the First Sunday of Lent we hear about the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.  The accounts in Matthew and Luke are similar in many ways, but this year we read the account in Mark, which is very brief.  Brevity is one of the hallmarks of St Mark’s Gospel, and the whole thing is condensed down into two sentences:

 

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan.  He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.”

 

The first thing to spot is that it’s not that Jesus decided one day to take a walk and explore a lonely place; the Spirit drove Him to go to the wilderness, which was seen as the dwelling place of demons, Satan’s back yard.  He goes with the purpose of taking him on, and there, even Our Lord Himself has to undergo temptation.  The Letter to the Hebrews explains:  “because he has himself been through temptation he is able to help others who are tempted” (2:18).  Temptation isn’t something we particularly enjoy, or shouldn’t particularly enjoy – we’re talking about sin here, not having another chocolate.  At times, we can be scandalised about the temptations we get:  is there something wrong with me, we might sometimes wonder.  But temptation is part of human living, and different ones come and go throughout life.  Some perhaps don’t make sense – they seem pointless or they are not something you have any interest in doing.  The more dangerous ones are the ones that you easily go through with, and it might depend on what’s going on.  If the fridge and cupboard are full, and you have plenty of money in the bank, then stealing food is pointless – why risk being caught, with all the embarrassment, humiliation and punishment that could go with it?  But if you are penniless and starving, then it can seem much more tempting.  And we can’t allow ourselves to be guided by our feelings when it comes to what is right and wrong in a given situation:  if two men go down the pub and have too much to drink, and then get into a heated argument, when the one starts to hit the other, it might feel really good for the one doing the punching, but that doesn’t make it right.  We need to be guided by thought and principles, rather than feelings.

 

So, as I mentioned, we might sometimes be shocked or scandalised by some of the temptations we experience, whether it’s something others suggest to us, or just thoughts that appear in our minds.  How does the devil get involved in all of this?  Well, St Thomas Aquinas had the theory that demons don’t throw thoughts into our minds; rather they are able to change the working of different glands and organs in the body, adjusting the flow of what we might call today, for example, adrenalin, and so they act in an indirect manner.

 

We all know the result of different temptations:  we’ve either fallen for them ourselves, or been on the receiving end.  The first reading comes just after Noah and his family have left the Ark, once the waters have receded.  There’s the story of a young boy who asks his grandmother:  “Granny, were you in the Ark?”  She replies:  “No, of course I wasn’t!”  To which the lad replies:  “Then how come you weren’t drowned?”  The book of Genesis says the Flood was because of how bad mankind had become, and that flood symbolises the disorder in the world because of sin, just like the disorder of water being in the wrong place and flooding everything.  As human beings we are weak and, at times, inclined towards sin.  The second reading reminds us of our baptism, in which we received God’s grace to live a new life.  But just like a car needs petrol, so we need ongoing assistance from the Lord, or else we won’t get very far. The grace of baptism needs further grace to go with it. So in the Our Father we ask God to help keep us away from temptation and the scheming of the Evil One.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful not to have any temptation?  Yes, but that has to wait until heaven.  When we successfully resist, then we make progress and grow spiritually.  Padre Pio used the example of soap on laundry, in that it appears to dirty the clothes, but ends up cleaning them instead.

 

May Lent be a time of purification for us all, of spiritual growth and renewal.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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