1st Sunday of Lent B

B205: Our gospel today (Mark 1:12-15) says that Jesus was “tempted” – what does that mean?

The word “temptation” in this sense means an attraction to act contrary to right reason and the commandments of God. So when one is “tempted,” it means either that the Evil One is trying to seduce you to disobey God and his laws, or that you are confronted with an “occasion of sin” (e.g., an immoral book, movie or TV show placed in your path by others). “The world, ourselves, or the devil” can be the source of trial or temptation. By itself temptation is not a sin. It becomes “sin” for us only when we permit it to overcome us.

Whenever you draw apart into your “private desert” – a place to seek God in prayer and fasting – you may well be the object of temptation, just like Jesus was. But the very act of seeking God in prayer and fasting also shows the way that Jesus won his victory over the devil and temptation – by prayer and fasting! It may weaken us physically, as we share in minor, willed deprivations so that we can better understand the major, unwilled suffering of the poor. But it will also strengthen us spiritually, which is the objective, so that we will have our heart and our will disciplined to listen to God’s word for us. It also moves us away from selfishness as we perceive more readily the needs of our neighbors.

In the “Our Father” we pray that God “lead us not into temptation.” God does not tempt us, but allows other to do so. Any temptation can be overcome by asking for God’s help to strengthen us. He will indeed help us, and always gives us sufficient grace to overcome temptation.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! I’m sure everyone recognizes temptation when it surfaces (or I certainly hope you do!). But do you know how to deal with it? Learn about the gift and purpose of Fortitude (CCC #1808). Do you know the benefits of making the sign of the cross (CCC #2157) in times of temptation? Most importantly, if you wish to honor your baptismal promises made to God, you ought to be aware of the helpful ways to remain faithful (CCC #2340). Finally, be aware that Jesus was tempted also, and knows the battles we face (CCC #538-540) and reveals the way to be strengthened for those skirmishes with the Evil One.

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Q361: In the gospel today, Jesus calls us to “repent” but doesn’t say “how” to do that. Any suggestions?

I suspect that just about everyone thrilled to the excitement of the Winter Olympics, just completed in Torino, Italy. Every athlete wants the prize – “the Medal.” Gold, Silver, or Bronze, it doesn’t really matter, because winning any one of those will put one’s name in the recordkeeping books forever. We heard stories of months and months of training, indeed years of training, to enable these athletes to reach a level of performance sufficient for them to represent their country at the Olympics.

Sadly, several athletes fell by the wayside, succumbing to the temptation to take performance-enhancement drugs. Others partied too much at night, which affected their skill levels the next day in a negative way. Still others got wrapped up in “self” and forgot the “team” effort. Only those who adhered to a disciplined regimen were able to overcome all the temptations and distractions around them, and perform at their peak level.

We like to make jokes about temptation; it never really is taken seriously. Some people even plan their New Year’s Resolutions months in advance. What a contradiction: to plan on giving up overindulgence, but not before celebrating the annual party that facilitates that overindulgence!

Lent is underway, and we have today’s Gospel example of Jesus to guide us (Mk 1:12-15). “Spiritual training” to overcome temptation must include regular prayer and fasting, otherwise the smallest “distraction” will make us fall by the wayside. Jesus’ first words in public ministry in Mark’s gospel are a call to “change our ways now,” because the reign of God is at hand. No “eternal medal” can be won without conversion, prayer and fasting. It is not “our” effort that spells success, but the sacramental grace of God that strengthens us when we act upon our desire for a closer relationship with God. This desire is expressed in prayer and fasting.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church year, reminding us of Jesus’ forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. The Tempter certainly tried his best to “distract” and tempt Jesus, but was unsuccessful (CCC #540). When Jesus calls us to “repent” (CCC #541), it is a call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving – holy and traditional ways of acting out our conversion, finding spiritual strength and living the Christian life (CCC #1434). Take temptation seriously; your eternal life is at stake!

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Jesus was Driven into the Desert And Tempted by Satan

Mark tells us that immediately after his baptism Jesus was driven into the desert where he was confronted by the power of evil. The desert setting is something like that of Adam who was tempted by Satan to indulge himself. But unlike Adam Jesus is not overcome by the temptation. He rejects the lure of self-exaltation, but his struggle does not end there. Throughout his public ministry Jesus attacks the suffering and ignorance that result from sin. His battle with evil ends only on the cross which is his ultimate victory as manifested by his resurrection. As we begin our Lent we are reminded that the Christian life is a constant struggle. We may not confront the obvious and dramatic force of evil, but we do face the temptation to give way to self in small and apparently insignificant ways. We are called to a life of day to day self-giving in imitation of Christ. Lent is the time to renew our commitment to become one with Jesus and his way of life.

Lord God, our Father, send forth your Spirit to guide us in the ways of Your son. Help us to take up our cross and follow him to Calvary and the resurrection.

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