My brothers and sisters in Christ:1
As I was saying, we started this Lenten season — this special time in the life of the Church. And as we just heard in the Gospel passage, we start with the time that Jesus spent in the desert. So, in a sense, we start with him — we are in the desert with Jesus.
We have started our Lenten journey with Jesus.
So we pray that this will be a special time in our lives. It is always a beautiful time in the liturgy of the Church when we remind some of the basic aspects of Christian life. And it is a — should be — must be a wonderful time.
We pray that we will use these 40 days to deepen our relationship with God and come to know more deeply his love for us.
And as we begin Lent, the Church always asks us to reflect on who we are and where we came from and what God wants for our lives.
And as you may know, this is the main theme of the pastoral letter that I wrote and it was published this past week. So I hope that if you have extra time, that you can read it during Lent and that it will be useful to all of you.
Today, in our first reading, we heard from the first pages of the Bible – it is the story of our “beginnings.” But it is not only the story of how the human race began. It is also the story of your life and mine, the life of every person.
It is beautiful what we just heard:
The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground
and blew into his nostrils the breath of life,
and so man became a living being.
I love this image from the Scriptures, because it shows us that God is totally involved in creating us. It is so thoughtful, it is so special. God is bending down and picking up the clay of the earth in his hands and shaping it and forming it with love and then breathing his own life into it. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful.
And this is how it is with us. This is the truth about who we are. We are the work of God’s hand.
We are made in his image. And we are God’s children. We are God’s work of art. And he made us to live in his creation and to serve him with love.
It is indeed beautiful when we stop and think about it. How much God loves each one of us in such a special way.
And then, something happens. And we just heard about it in the story of our “beginnings.” We heard about “original sin.” The “original sin” of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents.
Sin is also a part of who we are. We all know that. We are all sinners.
We know that from our own experience, every day. And we know that sin is a reality of the human condition. Sin is what happens when we reject God’s love. Sin is what happens when we don’t trust God’s plan for our lives — when we disobey his commands.
But, my dear brothers and sisters, as we know, that is not the end of the story. That is the beautiful truth of our lives! God loves us so much that he will never abandon us to sin. The devil never wins. Sin is not the last word in our lives.
That is why God in his mercy sends Jesus Christ to set us free. And that is what we see in our Gospel reading today.
I guess the first question when we read this passage of the Gospel, of the temptations of Jesus in the desert — we need to ask always ourselves: Why did Jesus undergo this extreme fasting in the desert? Why did he allow the devil to tempt him?
The answer is that Jesus did it for you. He did it for me.
Jesus faces the same temptation as Adam and Eve did. And he faces the same temptations that you and I face everyday.
Like Adam and Eve, Jesus is tempted with food — he is tempted to satisfy his material needs without God. Like them, he is tempted with power and glory. The devil tells Adam and Eve, “You will be like gods.” And he tells Jesus the same thing — that he will give him “all the kingdoms of the world.”
But Jesus does not give in to the devil’s temptations. Jesus responds with obedience to God’s word. He responds with trust in God’s promises: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
So because Jesus won the victory over the devil, because he resisted his temptations — that means we can too. Jesus sets us free!
As St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
So my dear brothers and sisters, because of Jesus — we are sinners who can be made righteous; we are children of God who can become saints.
We should never forget that. So special. Creation — God creates us in his image and likeness. And Jesus comes to redeem us from our sins and give us the opportunity to have a wonderful life!
And then go to heaven and become saints.
So Jesus goes with us now — in the desert of our lives. And we know that everything we face in our lives — Jesus has already faced before us. If we walk with him, he will show us the way to face temptation and hardships in our own lives.
So, in this Lent — and always — but especially this wonderful liturgical time, we need to concentrate on Jesus. Keep our eyes on Jesus.
Keeping in mind that conversion is not a one-time deal. It is the work of a lifetime. It is the daily decision to follow Jesus. A daily decision to walk in his truth. To life according to his word and his example.
So let us ask for the grace to begin and begin again in our personal lives, in our life of faith, and especially to do it during this Lenten season.
For Lent, we always have the tradition to give something up, right? So I was saying yesterday that last week I was at the Religious Education Congress and I had one of those Google Hangouts — something that you do to communicate with other people — and it was with some children at St. Francis of Assisi School.
So of course, one of the questions that they asked me was: what are you giving up for Lent? Oh my gosh. I was not expecting that question so I had to come up with something. So I going to make my confession with you all — so the first thing that came to my mind was well, I’m giving up snacks. Oh my gosh, you have to pray for me.
So, and then I was still thinking, you know that’s something that’s kind of like ‘don’t do something,’ but what am I going to do something positive? So, what came to my mind — it was total surprise to me as you can imagine, what came to my mind was maybe I should be more patient with people. So, now you have to even pray more for me, because now I have to be patient with everybody for Lent!
I don’t have to after Lent — but for Lent that will be okay. That’s a joke, please.
So, Lent is a wonderful time where we can do practical things. You know, there is the old tradition of going to daily Mass during Lent — it’s a beautiful tradition. There is also a tradition of doing works of mercy — going out of our way to help people. So I hope and pray that this Lenten season will be really special for all of us
These practices are a great help to intensify our imitation of Jesus, even as simple and superficial that not eating snacks can be —but it makes a big difference in our lives.
So let’s ask Mary our Blessed Mother for her intercession, to accompany us through these forty days. May she help us — to trust in God’s love for us and be obedient to his will for our lives.
1. Readings (First Sunday of Lent, Year A): Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps: 51:3-6, 12-13; Rom. 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11