*SUNDAY GOSPEL READING (Matthew 4:1-11)
*40 DAYS: A TIME FOR SPIRITUAL FORTIFICATION*
With Ash Wednesday over, we have entered the Holy Season of Lent. This first Sunday, we are shown Jesus moving into the desert, driven by the spirit, and there He fasted, prayed, and was tempted. He did this to receive fortification for what He has to offer to the world and to His heavenly Father, the sacrifice of His life. Thus He fasted, prayed, and got disposed of for eternal almsgiving. These are the central messages of the Lenten season.
Forty and fortification sound good. Oh, come along let us make these forty days journeys with the Lord in the spirit of mortification and prayer. May we get fortified to combat our faulty habits during this holy period?
*WHAT HAS FORTY DAYS TO DO WITH LENT?*
The word “Lent” is derived from the Latin Quadragesima, which means forty days, that starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday evening. Christians in this period commemorate in a very special way the forty days Jesus Christ fasted and was tempted in the desert. Forty is indeed a symbolic number, a number of spiritual importance. It appeared severally in the Jewish and also Greek testaments of the Bible: It rained 40 days and nights during the flood( Genesis 7:4) Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain lasted for 40 days( Exodus 24:18), It took the Israelites 40 years to wander in the desert travelling to the promised land( Numbers 14:33), for 40 days and nights Elijah walked to Horeb( I king 19:8), Jonah’s prophecy to the people of Nineveh warned that it will take 40 days for Nineveh to be destroyed, and for these days they prayed, fasted and repented (Jonah 3:4-6).
Jesus today is in the desert, inviting us to come and get fortified spiritually through prayers these forty days to dismantle everything that is faulty in us.
*DID JESUS NEED THE FORTIFICATION?*
It is for our sake that Jesus entered the wilderness. If He who is God needed spiritual empowerment, what about us? We are weak, we need strength from above, we are surrounded by trials and temptations, and as such, we need to pray and fast to overcome the temptations of this life. Jesus needs us to be fortified for the battles ahead. Let us accept the weapons that Christ offers us in the face of the various crises in our world today.
*WHAT IS THE FORTIFICATIONS ABOUT?*
Jesus shows us what to use this period to fight against. We’ve got to fight against inordinate desires for food, drink power, pleasure, and false worship. We should be fortified against ourselves, our world, and the devil. What are the things luring you away from living a fulfilled life in the spirit? Accept the fortification from the spirit of God. Move into the desert with Jesus. It is not by bread alone that man shall live. It is not just by wealth nor by throwing ourselves down from our dignified positions as children of God. By being strong in the spirit, we shall overcome life challenges like Jesus Christ and be able to rebuke every tempter with the following words of Christ: Be gone!
Let us fortify our willpower to always say yes to God and no to the enemies of God. Let us fortify ourselves with the Spirit of God to flee from the forces trying to pull us down spiritually. Let us sharpen our prayer life by praying more devotedly. Let us sharpen our sacramental life by confession and getting reconciled with the Lord. Let us receive the Holy Eucharist regularly in the state of grace. Let us close all doors through which vices come in, through which the devil tries to settle in our homes, and through which negative energies try to take the better part of us. Let us be fortified with the weapon of charity and Christ’s brand of love. Let us get fortified by sanctifying our social media activities, recreation, and relationships with people.
Be fortified these forty days.
Never be a tempter
May you not be overcome by any temptation.
May the angels of God come to your aid in times of trials. May this Lenten season be a gracious moment for you.
May God bless His word in our hearts.
*LET US PRAY*
We thank You, Lord, for another opportunity to take part in the Lenten observance; of the suffering and death of Christ. Bless our resolve to follow You in this spiritual exercise. May it bear fruits of righteousness, joy, and peace. Touch us that we may repent and remain close to You in holiness through Christ our Lord. Amen
Happy Sunday (First Sunday of Lent, Yr A)
*Rev Fr Julian O Ekeh*
REFLECTION ON THE READINGS – LENT – 1ST SUNDAY – Yr. (A)
(Gen. 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Romans 5: 12, 17-19; Matt. 4:1-11)
THE SUBTLENESS OF TEMPTATION, THE SWEETNESS OF SIN AND THE BLESSEDNESS OF GRACE
Lent is the time we battle against sin and the enemies of our spiritual life. On this first Sunday of Lent, the readings present to us the mystery of temptation and sin which are inextricably connected (also with suffering) one to other. Without going into philosophical reasoning around temptation and sin, it is enough to say that temptation and sin are real and happen to us all – the good and the bad, the virtuous and the vicious alike. The degree they happen to us, or the degree we allow them to happen to us is what makes the difference. Our Lenten observances then will have to focus on the energy and degrees with which we can battle against temptation and sin. Two points can be reflected on, namely, the subtleness of temptation and the sweetness of sin. It is however in the blessedness of grace that the Christian soul trudges on.
THE SUBTLE TEMPTATION: “Now the serpent is the most subtle of all the wild beast.” Spiritual masters like Antony of Egypt and Ignatius of Antioch among others who teach the discernment of spirits have unmasked the wiles of the devil the enemy of human nature. The devil operates in the Christian soul as a very cunning, subtle and devious being. The enemy comes in form of suggestions, appeals, fantasies, inner desires and wants. The 1st reading today presents him as the serpent. The devil’s favourite tool is temptation or trial. From St. Ignatius, we learn that temptations come to persons differently at different levels of their Christian engagement. For those moving away from God, going from mortal to mortal sin, temptation comes as apparent pleasures with sensual delights in order to keep them away from God. For those (and many of us fall into this category in the Christian circle), who are maturing, going from good to better, temptation comes as spiritual desolations, in the forms of frustrations, spiritual dryness, obstacles, disquietude, and all with false reasoning to cause difficulty on the path to God. For more ardent Christians who have grown more spiritually, temptation comes even more subtly where the enemy masquerades as an angel of light bringing consolation to mislead them in the path of discernment. On whichever level of the Christian journey, the devil is always acting like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat. The devil always has a task appropriate for each Christian. He never rests nor sleeps. If he succeeds. He leads to sin. And sin is sweet, very sweet.
THE SWEET SIN: “The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took of its fruit and ate it”. Whatever we say about sin has nothing to do with the woman as a person. It has everything to do about all of us. During Lent, we are called one more time to think about how sweet but destructive sin is. We are called to think about how pleasing it is to want to remain in sin. Taking a look for instance at the Ten Commandments, we discover that the commandments forbid the sweet allurement of sin. For a person who is abandoning faith in another god, the sweetness of sin presents false security, and the person will claim not to be in the water while soap enters his or her eyes. For one who has become too frivolous in the use of God’s name, lies and false oaths in God’s name seem like an easy way out of trouble. Those who care less about their Sunday duties to God and the church, deceive themselves with talks like, are those going to church better? We can reason through the remaining Ten Commandments, and the marks are the same – sweet but destructive sin. The sweeter it tastes, the more wretched and sad we become. In sin, we make a false comparison between ourselves with those who do not share our beliefs and faith. We look at those we are better than instead of those better than us. We recklessly pass blame and become irresponsible. With each sin, our eyes keep opening, only that we pretend not to see, and so we remain blind. We remain stubborn in sin
THE BLESSEDNESS OF GRACE. The second reading however gives us the cheering and refreshing good news about grace: “However greater the number of sins committed, grace was even greater.” During Lent, sin does not have the final say, but grace does. While we have said how subtle temptations operate, the spiritual masters also taught how assuring grace abides. In that same person moving away from God, from mortal to mortal sin, grace continues to use sharp conscience to sting and bite. St. Augustine would testify that God continued to shout until He broke his deafness. No matter how we steep ourselves in sin, God does not abandon us. He continues to call and call. He continues to make us restless in sin. In the grace of God, a sinner will never know peace. Likewise, in that maturing Christian struggling to go from good to better, who has been tempted with every form of desolation by the devil, God never abandons. God continues to show us a way out of every trial and temptation. We only need to discern how close the awesome grace is. The spiritual masters encourage us to know the enemy can only howl and shout to intimidate the Christian soul, but the truth is that he had already been defeated. That is why the enemy acts so cowardly. But any gentle but persistent resistance makes him run away.
As we begin our forty-day-long journey of Lent then, we are called to listen deeply to how close God is to us even in sin. We are called to resist the devil guarded with holy practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We are called to vigilance. Immediately we make one step towards God, we will be surprised that our loving Father has been close to taking us in. Just one step. It can be towards a confession that has not been made for long, or towards a needed reconciliation, or towards a prayer life that has been abandoned, or towards a communion that has long been had, or towards a rejection of a way of life that has been hurting us, or towards a forgiveness that has ever been difficult, or towards a solitude that wrenches us out of bad companions and friends, or towards anything grace can do.
May God awaken us to the awesome grace so gratuitously given.