Lent still does provide a great opportunity and a great grace. Yet one gets the impression that Lent doesn't achieve much.
Perhaps the problem is that we really don't know how to use Lent. We don't know what to aim at.
Lent recalls the forty days Christ spent in the desert. He was about to embark on His true work in life -- to bring the Good News to His sisters and brothers. Before undertaking His mission to save others, Our Lord Jesus Christ got Himself precise, exact, and resolved about His role and His way of being the Messiah. He went into the desert to fast, to pray, and to reflect.
In the desert, He was confronted by the same basic decision which confronts us all: Whether to serve the true self or the false self, whether to seek honor and glory for Himself or seek honor and glory for God.
Our Lord Jesus made an irrevocable decision: To serve His true self and to do God's will. He arrived at the decision after mastering three temptations. They are the same temptations we must constantly face and conquer. The temptations dwell in the areas of bread, glory, and possessions.
- Bread: This is the temptation of catering to bodily comforts, giving free rein to all our appetites for food, drink, sex, sleep, leisure, entertainment -- the easy life. It's only natural for sinful human beings to want the best if we can get it, and to forget about self-denial and discipline. Our Lord Jesus knew, however, that this was not the way to prepare for His Cross -- where He would be thirsty, naked, and tortured. So, Our Lord Jesus resisted the temptation to partake of the bread we can bake by self-indulgence.
- Glory: Was the second temptation. Now Our Lord Jesus was tempted to show off and be spectacular. He could, if He had wanted to, put on a dazzling display and the people would have jumped with excitement and applause. Our Lord Jesus could even have convinced Himself that it would be good for His mission, because it would have attracted an enthusiastic following. How often we love to be the center of attention and be popular in the eyes of others. Sometimes this clouds our minds, causing us to say and do foolish things. Our Lord Jesus had to be in control, because later He would be challenged to come down from the Cross and save His life. But we know He didn't do that, either! In resisting this desert temptation to glory, Our Lord Jesus manifested the divine strength which destroyed our sins!
- Possessions: Were the third temptation Satan offered Our Lord Jesus. Just imagine all the things that people do for the sake of money. They kill for profits and payments. They endure cold, darkness, and fear to obtain gold and riches. Some people sacrifice every decent principle to obtain an exalted position or promotion. The Devil offered these to Our Lord Jesus. Satan doesn't really own the world and couldn't give it to Our Lord Jesus -- God created and possesses all Creation. Nonetheless, Satan could remind Our Lord Jesus of His freedom to forsake His Father's will and take possession of the world. Abandoning the Father's will would be tantamount to worshipping the Devil. Our tough Redeemer told His adversary to get lost!
Our Lord Jesus undid what Adam and Eve had done: He did not succumb to Satan's tempting apple. Our Lord Jesus remained true to God His Father.
There, in the desert, Our Jesus knew and re-affirmed that His true self and true mission was to seek honor and glory for God -- by sacrificing Himself to save US. Our Lord Jesus made His irrevocable decision to do God's will, by serving US!
Later on, when people and events threatened to engulf Our Lord Jesus, He would sneak away to lonely, desert places to recover Himself and re-dedicate Himself to the Father. Every time Our Lord Jesus did this, He was deepening his forty-day desert experience. This should give US some idea of what Lent could do for us -- if we use it correctly!
We, also, must seek our true selves. But, often, we live exclusively for our false self.
We live foolishly, superficially, and un-spiritually -- driven on by a multitude of senseless, irrational desires and habits. And, so,
- We subtly give in to the temptations of bread, glory, and possessions.
- We blanket ourselves with noise and things and constant activity.
- We set no priorities.
- We become unable or unwilling to be alone, to be silent, to be still.
- And, then, we wonder why we aren't happy, why we don't find it easy to get along with others, and why we can't pray.
"It is impossible to see one's face in troubled water," said Thomas Merton. Only solitude can help us to identify our true selves.
Only by prayer and fasting can we recognize our false selves, cast it off, and accept full responsibility for our own lives -- free and faithful and happy!
That's why Our Jesus went out to the desert for forty days of solitude. That's why we have the season of Lent for forty days.
The forty days of Lent put before us the experience of Jesus Christ in the desert in which He fasted, prayed, and determined NOT to yield to the temptations presented to Him. Lent is now in progress, dear Academicians, placing this experience of Christ before us, in order to inspire us to have our own desert purification every springtime.
The program of spiritual revival has begun. Are you with it?