February 19, 2010

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 recalls the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt, where they had been slaves. This trip, called the Exodus, was filled with risks and hardships. The Egyptians pursued them. The Sinai Peninsula, through which they passed, was unforgiving, harsh and sterile of the necessities of life.

Even so, Deuteronomy is not a story of doom and gloom. It is hopeful. Always ahead is the Promised Land. Always God intervenes with mercy, provisions and guidance.

But God’s unfailing mercy was not always accompanied by the people’s faithfulness. They rebelled against God, and they doubted God. Nevertheless, God came to their aid again and again.

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 epistle, or letter, to the Christians living in Rome, the imperial capital and the center of the Mediterranean world in the first century A.D.

These Christians of Rome, a group of converts from Judaism and former pagans, lived in a culture that was utterly at odds with the Gospel. The conflict was decidedly more pronounced since Rome literally was the center of the culture. In a short time, the political and legal order turned against Christianity.

Paul urged these people to be strong by uniting themselves to God through faith in Jesus. 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.

Paul expressly mentions the Resurrection, the miracle by which Jesus, who had been crucified and died, rose again to life.

Finally, Paul insists that 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’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel, namely a story of the temptation of Christ by the devil.

Here the two figures, Jesus and the devil, stand in contrast. The devil, so often depicted at least in myth and lore as so very powerful, as indeed the devil is powerful, is indecisive and struggling.

While the devil himself clarifies the identity of Jesus, Satan 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 Satan.

Jesus is “full of the Holy Spirit.” He is serene and strong. He is in control.

He is the Son of God. He also is human because the devil used food to tempt Jesus. Fasting was a discipline for Jesus.

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


Several days ago, on Ash Wednesday, the Church invited us to use the season of Lent as a means to holiness.

In so doing, it is not asking us to begin a walk along an imagined primrose path. Rather, it is frank in telling us what holiness requires of us in daily life. It clearly unfolds reality before us. We live in a world in which evil abides among us.

The devil is real. Popular lore in this time has taken to the image of the devil. The occult fascinates people. There are here and there darker implications of this interest in Satan.

The reading from Luke’s Gospel clearly presents to us the fact of evil. It reveals the devil. It also shows the conflict between Jesus and the devil. Finally, it shows that in this tension Jesus prevails.

Jesus alone offers strength and life. No evil can outdo the Lord. Nothing offers greater reward.

Lent invites Christians to use the next six weeks to fortify ourselves to live in a conflict between good and evil. It calls us to Jesus. †

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