February 15, 2013

First Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Deuteronomy provides the first reading for this first Sunday of Lent. Deuteronomy looks to the days when the Hebrews were fleeing from Egyptian slavery, and making an uncertain way across the treacherous Sinai Peninsula.

Even so, Deuteronomy is not a story of doom and gloom. It is hopeful. All will be well for God’s people if they simply love him and follow his commandments. God already had proven to be merciful and protective. He would not change.

The decision to obey God, however, and truly to be his faithful people rested solely with the people themselves.

For its second reading this weekend, the Church provides us with a reading from St. Paul’s powerful Epistle to the Romans. The Apostle wrote this letter to the Christians living in Rome, the imperial capital and the center of the Mediterranean world in the first century.

As was the case with the other communities to which Paul sent letters, the Christian community of Rome was living in a culture that was utterly at odds with the letter and the spirit of the Gospel. Surely, many of the Christian Romans had doubts. Surely, many were afraid because the popular mood and indeed the political order were against Christians.

Paul urged these people to be strong by uniting themselves to God through faith in Jesus. Paul expressly mentions the Resurrection, the miracle by which Jesus, crucified and dead, rose again to life.

Reassuringly, and strong with his own determined faith, Paul tells the Romans that if they trust in the Lord, none will be put to shame.

Finally, Paul insists, God’s mercy and life, given in Christ, are available to all, Greeks or foreigners, as well as to Jews, who were part of the Chosen People.

St. Luke’s Gospel gives us a scene also seen in Mark and Matthew, namely the story of the temptation of Christ by the devil. The identity of Jesus is made clear. The Gospel says that Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 4:1). He is the Son of God. He also is human, because the devil used food to tempt Jesus. Fasting was a discipline for Jesus.

In the exchange, the devil, so often depicted in myth as so very powerful—as indeed the devil is powerful—comes across as indecisive and struggling. The devil cannot grasp the full meaning of Christ’s identity. The devil foolishly seeks to tempt Jesus not to be faithful to God but rather to worship him.

Jesus, by contrast, is serene and strong. He is in control.

Nevertheless, although defeated for the moment, the devil does not relent but only lies in wait for another opportunity.

Reflection

On Ash Wednesday, the Church invited us to use the season of Lent as a means to grow in holiness.

Never deluding us by implying that the path to holiness is a walk along an imagined primrose path, the Church frankly tells us that holiness requires discipline, focus and unfailing faithfulness to God despite difficulties and the forces, very real in the world, that are absolutely at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

In so many ways, we are similar to the Hebrews as they fled from Egypt and slavery to the land of prosperity and peace that God had promised them. We are in flight from the slavery and hopelessness of sin.

The first people to hear this reading from Romans, and the reading from Luke, also were in flight from sin and death. They were weak. We are weak because selfishness attracts us. They could not see. Neither can we.

God alone gives strength and insight. Lent gives us the opportunity to strengthen our own resolves to resist sin, to be with God, and in God to find our way. †

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