In today’s gospel Jesus is led into the desert by the Holy Spirit for forty days of prayer, penance, and preparation and there He is tempted by the devil. We have been led to this season of Lent and we also find ourselves being tempted. This morning I would like to talk about how the devil’s three temptations present themselves to us and to let you know about an allowance in Lent that you will be happy to hear.
Most of us here have chosen to take on a penance during Lent. You have probably resolved to abstain from something good, like cookies, candies, ice cream, TV or the internet, to grow in disciple and virtue, and to offer some sacrifice to God. The devil first said to Jesus, “command this stone to become bread,” and we will probably be tempted in a similar way; “Put down the rock of your penance for awhile and let it nourish you.” It is the way of demons to first entice and then condemn. The rationalization, “Go ahead, it’s just a little cookie,” will afterwards become the accusation, “You couldn’t even sacrifice one cookie for God.” Let us preserve in our Lenten penances, for the joy of having carried a cross for the Lord is far preferable to the discouragement of a moment’s compromise.
As a second temptation, the devil, in a vision, showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant and said, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Scripture calls Satan the Father of Lies, so we ought to be skeptical about whether he really had this authority over the nations, and even if he did we should disbelieve that he would give Jesus the world if He were to worship him. Instead, I suspect that the devil would have simply laughed and left Jesus with nothing for having fallen into sin.
We human beings are creatures of habit. The same sins which you have struggled with in the past are probably the same ones that challenge you today. When we are tempted by sins they promise us the world, great peace and satisfaction. Yet we can look back at our own experiences and see that these are lies. Our past sins show us that they only lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction. We should stop swallowing the bait. We should stop accepting the lie. This Lent is a perfect time for us to commit to crushing the habitual sins in our lives, for our sins will not make us happy, even if they promise us the world.
As a third temptation, the devil took Jesus up (in a vision or in the body we do not know) to the top of the temple in Jerusalem. He said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” The temptation addressed to us sounds differently. “You are not the Son of God, you’re not even close to being saint! You should throw yourself down in shame for your sins and not dare to pray or present yourself to God!” On the contrary, as we heard in the second reading, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” Lent calls us to sorrow and conversion for our sins, not to shame and aversion from God.
We see the one-two combo of enticement and shame modeled in the case of Adam and Eve. When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about the garden they hid themselves among the trees, for they realized that they were naked before Him, and they were ashamed and afraid. Much later, in the case of Judas Iscariot, the devil led him to betray Jesus, one of the worst sins ever, and then after regretting it he was led to kill himself. If Judas had gone from the temple to Calvary, instead of to his tragic tree, Jesus would have forgiven him, because Jesus wanted to forgive him.
Jesus loves us. He doesn’t just love us because He’s God and He “has to” love everybody. Jesus loves us and He actually likes us for all the good things that we are and for all the good things He sees we can become. This is why He created us and died for us, because He loves us. So we should not be ashamed to come to Christ in the sacraments; in confession with our big sins, or at communion with our small ones. As Jesus told St. Faustina, the greater our sins the more entitled we are to his mercy. When it comes to God’s forgiveness, only we ourselves can get in His way.
Finally, I mentioned that there is an allowance during Lent which is a cause for consolation amidst our Lenten struggles. But first, did you know that there are more than forty days in Lent? The season is longer than forty days because we don’t count the Sundays. There are 40 days of penance, but every Sundays (from Saturday evening to Sunday night) we are released from our penances. At Sunday Mass the priest still wears the Lenten season’s purple, we might do less singing, and we don’t say the Gloria or say the “A”-word before the gospel, but we are freed from penances that day, for every Sunday is a “little Easter. ”
In the first reading, we heard how Moses commanded the Hebrews that once they came into the Promised Land they should come before God to present their first fruits and recount the story of how God had delivered them from slavery, brought them into the Promised Land, and filled them with blessings. Each Sunday we come before God and recall how His Son, Jesus Christ, delivered us from our slavery, brought us into His kingdom, and has filled us with His blessings, especially the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. Each Sunday gives us consolation, and this release from our penances encourages us to offer still more penance to God in the week ahead, for it is an easier thing abstain for just six days than to do it for forty in a row.
So in conclusion, be faithful to your penances, your faithfulness will have its reward. Commit to crushing your habitual sins, for sins cannot make us happy, even if they promise the world. Shame and fear are the devil’s traps, so whenever you sin, come to the Lord with trust and sorrow. And know that you are released from penances on Sundays in Lent. May this gift be a cause for thanksgiving and joy and inspire us to make a still greater gift of ourselves to Christ in this Lenten season.