February 28, 2020

First Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first reading for Mass on this first weekend of Lent 2020 is from the Book of Genesis.

Few passages in the Scriptures are as abundant in literary technique and theological message as this reading from Genesis. It goes to the heart of sin in bluntly confronting abandoning God, and the tendency of all humans to avoid accusing themselves of fault.

Sin is essentially a freely chosen act by humans. While in this reading from Genesis the role of the tempting devil is clear, it also is obvious that the devil only tempts but never forces anyone to sin. Adam and Eve sinned of their own will. All humans sin by their own choice.

Temptation is powerful, nonetheless. Rebelling against God was hardly the best thing to do, yet, imperfect even in their pristine state of goodness, the first man and woman listened to bad advice and failed to place their trust in God.

It is a process that has been repeated countless times in the lives of us all.

The second reading is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In this passage, the Apostle looks back to the incident described in Genesis, recalling that by that original sin the first humans introduced sin and all the chaos and trouble that results from it into earthly existence.

Death and hardship are not God’s designs for us. God did not create us to suffer in misery and bewilderment, only then to die. Misfortunates are not curses sent upon humans by an angry God. The first humans chose bad consequences when they sinned. Sin, voluntary and deliberate, always bring devastatingly bad results.

God is the center and source of everlasting love and mercy. He sent his Son, Jesus, as our Redeemer because he was unwilling to leave humanity in the whirlpool of death and despair created by sin.

St. Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. It recalls the temptation of Jesus. Similar stories appear in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke.

As was the case with Genesis, this reading is heavy in its symbolism. Having fasted, Jesus was hungry. Bread in the time of Jesus much more obviously represented survival than bread does today.

Modern refrigeration and quick transportation of food products have given us in our day a great selection in food. In the time of Jesus, the selection was considerably less. Without refrigeration and with transportation being slow, few foodstuffs were moved across any distance without spoiling.

Grain and flour could be stored, however, so bread was a principal food. The devil used the Lord’s natural hunger to draw Jesus into a trap.

Finally, the devil takes Jesus to the top of the temple, tempting the Lord, in effect, to renounce God.

The ultimate message is that Satan deceives and tries to exploit human weaknesses. Jesus knows and voices truth, commanding even the devil.


In this first weekend in Lent, the Church teaches these basic facts of spiritual life, namely, that sin removes us from God, and that sin is not thrust upon us. We are not captured by sin against our will. We choose to sin.

Another important lesson follows. The deadliest effect of original sin is ultimately the human tendency to minimize the danger of sin and to deny human adequacy when tempted.

In these readings, the Church calls us away from sin and to face facts directly. It reminds us of our own personal role in sin. It pleads with us to resist temptation with the help of God’s grace, reassuring us that, although temptations may appeal to our wants or perceived needs, Jesus will give us the strength to overcome any temptation.

We must renounce sin and ask for the Lord’s strength. Lent calls us to this request. †

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