First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent. While the church began lent four days ago on Ash Wednesday, the Lenten Sunday readings take us on a progressive spiritual journey which leads us to the heart of Triduum.
It is kind of intriguing that the church starts this season of conversion and transformation with the gospel reading of Jesus in the desert being tempted. This alone shows the seriousness of this journey. Temptations are interesting encounters. If we stand facing something that is good, right, beautiful,
even healthy, we can be fully attentive to that goodness. It has the ability to captivate us, inspiring us to rise to greater heights and gifting us with a sense of majestic awe. It’s difficult to stay in this place, however. After all, we as human beings are people of distraction. All of us are seduced by temptation on a daily basis. It’s no different for us today than it was for the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, as they created their molten calf for worship. It’s a reality that we human beings have very short attention spans.
If we are completely focused on something, after a while we have to blink or even take our eyes off of this profound goodness. Here’s where temptations engage us. They can dance and perform as players in our opera of life.
Frequently they even tap us on the shoulder distracting us to look away from that fundamental goodness, even over our shoulders. And now that we’ve been distracted we turn our gaze away from that which is ultimately good, right, and beautiful. Perhaps its curiosity or even intrigue, whatever we call it our energy shifts, our attention is redirected. And when temptation dances its way out the door, sometimes we even follow turning our back on that which we have previously deemed to be right, good, and beautiful. We discover once again that we have fallen for temptation—hook, line, and sinker.
This past Wednesday, when we received ashes on our foreheads, we were instructed to "turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel." Temptations in a tricky little way entice us to turn away from that which is good and right. This process happens to each of us hundreds of times each day. I don’t believe our goal is to remove temptation. We see in the gospel today that Jesus was tempted. These temptations that Jesus faced were very strong and bold. If Jesus was tempted, then who are we to expect that we would not be tempted? And if we look at those temptations of Jesus we see that not only was Jesus tempted with power, and authority, he was also tempted with the physical world and the spiritual world. Moreover, the tempter starts with the premise of the very core of who Jesus is, "If you are the Son of God…"
We see in this gospel that temptations can frequently start with things that are just so fundamentally good. Therefore, I don’t believe the goal is to remove the temptation as much as it is to begin purifying us. Purification happens by realizing the temptation is distracting us from our goal and making a
conscientious decision to focus again on what is right good and true. As we do this, it’s easier to see temptations as distractive lies. With this insight we can freely choose that which is right, good, beautiful, light. We choose it not because someone told us to, rather we choose it because we know its
goodness. Thus, it is a process of purification.
St. Paul of the Cross says, "Temptations are trials from God to purify us. Humble yourselves since this is what God wants, and after the storm you will experience the calm. Don’t worry about dreams, since when we are asleep we are not responsible. It is enough to fight temptations when we are awake.
May the temptations you encounter today gift you with the strength and authority to see them for what they truly are. And in doing so may you find freedom within you.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.