February 8, 2008

First Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis, the first in sequence among the books of the Old Testament, furnishes this Lenten weekend’s first reading.

Genesis teaches a powerful lesson about life. God is the Creator. Therefore, God reigns over all things. God creates humans, in God’s own image, who are able to think and decide, to love or not to love. Humans possess a free will.

In this story, temptation appears under the appearance of a snake. What is important from the religious point of view is that temptations come and they can be very powerful. Even as blessed as they were, the first humans succumbed to temptation.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans furnishes the next reading.

Very well educated in the Hebrew religion, Paul knew quite well the story just read from Genesis. He knew that sin is real, that humans sin, that sin began with the first humans, that sin separates the sinner from God, and that being removed from God causes eternal death.

For Paul, the consoling element in the story is that Jesus came to open for us the way to eternal life that Adam and Eve, the first humans, discarded for themselves and for all their descendants.

The Church next gives us a lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel, telling us about the temptation of Jesus by the devil.

This story is a Synoptic tradition, not unique to Matthew’s Gospel. Similar stories appear in Mark and Luke.

Knowing the context helps to understand this reading. At the time of Jesus, much more than today, bread represented survival itself since there were few options for food. Today, ­refrigeration and the ability to transport food over great distances add many options to our diets.

So when the devil referred to bread, the association in the minds of those people who first heard the Gospel was not just of bread, in the most literal and simplest sense, but of the maintenance of life itself.

With this reference being the case, another powerful lesson appears. By rejecting the devil, Jesus affirms that God alone is the source of life. The devil offers not life but death.

The Lord also teaches that life is not simply of the earth or of nature. It has an eternal, non-material quality. It is spiritual. In other words, we may die insofar as physical death is concerned, and indeed we all shall endure physical death. But we can live eternally if we scorn sin as Jesus scorned the devil when he was tempted.

Finally, we need not fear the devil nor feel that we are helpless before temptation. Jesus is God. He can drive the devil away. His strength, with us in grace and born in faith, vests us with the power to turn temptation away.


Ash Wednesday began Lent. For many Catholics, however, this First Sunday of Lent is the first occasion for the Church to teach us about Lent. It begins by giving us some very basic facts.

These facts are that we are not supreme, despite our occasional assumption that we are subject to no one. We belong to God. He created us. He is the source of life. No one else, nothing else, gives us true life.

However, we are free to make our own decisions. We can even make decisions not in our best interests, such as a decision to turn away from God. If we are free, we also are free to turn to God. But influences drawing us to sin are strong, and we need God’s strength to withstand temptation. This strength is available to us if we ask God for it.

So, with these facts, the Church points us to the path of Lent. We are exposed to temptation. We can resist, especially if God empowers us. His power awaits our asking. Sin leads to death. God is life.†

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