The Church nurtures us in both Word and Sacrament. We're very familiar with how the Church feeds us in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. However, we often miss how the Church nurtures us through the Liturgy in the Word of Christ.
Sometimes it's obvious. For example, when we attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, we see exactly what the Church is telling us through the readings that have been selected.
"Rend your heart and not your garments." Jl 2:13
"Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned." Ps 51
From 2 Corinthians certain phrases jump out to me: "Be reconciled to God."
"Do not receive God's grace in vain."
"Now is the acceptable time."
And of course, the Gospel reading we are all so familiar with. Jesus' admonitions to give alms, pray, and fast. Not so that others can applaud our holiness, but out of love for God.
|The Pharisee and the Tax Collector|
Lent is beginning, says Mother Church. Here are the things you need to remember. God loves you. You love God, but you have sinned. Repent, reorient yourself to Christ, recognize that you have placed things above God, that you are in constant need of God's mercy and God is constantly willing to pour out his mercy to you. Whatever you do, not just for Lent but at any time, do it out of love for God and not to be recognized or applauded. Include these three things in your life and reap great spiritual benefits: prayer, fasting, and alms.
That's Ash Wednesday. What we often forget is that the Liturgy of the Word is not an isolated event each Sunday. The readings throughout Lent lead us on a pilgrimage, a journey of transformation. They provide advice, encouragement, and warnings.
Let's look at the readings for today, the First Sunday of Lent.
We begin with the story of the Fall. Adam and Eve were tempted and disobeyed God. Hint: you are a like them. You are tempted and disobey God.
So we cry out to God in the psalm, "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned (you, me, all of us). Wipe out our offense; wash me and cleanse me of my sin (I can't do it. You, God, need to do it for me). Give me a new heart and a strong spirit (I want my Lenten sacrifices to turn my heart to you. I need the grace of your Holy Spirit to strengthen me). Give me back the joy of salvation (Adam and Eve lost it; show me how to get it back).
In the second reading, God responds to our plea: The joy of salvation is possible. It is here, in Jesus Christ. Adam was disobedient and brought sin into the world. Jesus was obedient and brought life to all those who follow Him. So follow Him!
Now Holy Mother Church reminds us what it means to follow Jesus, because if it happened to Jesus, it will happen to us. We've been 'in the desert' for only four days. If your anything like me, you've already been tempted to forget or relax whatever resolution you've made.
|Jesus Tempted by Satan|
Our will may still be strong, but there are six more weeks to go.
There are three things we are likely to face. Whatever you gave up, you'll be tempted to give up. And even if you take the approach of "taking up something" like Bible reading or prayer or volunteer service, that means you've given up something too--time that you might have spent on something else. The temptation will be that you suddenly need that time for something else. Our response should be the same as Jesus'. "I do not live by (desserts, coffee, Facebook, Candy Crush) alone, but on the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ."
Peter Kreeft once said that we think of God's mercy before me sin, and God's justice after we sin when it should be the opposite. That's our next temptation. The Devil will remind us of God's mercy in order to get us to relax, just this once. And even though we know that once we do, it's that much harder to begin again, we sometimes listen to the tempter instead of the One who keeps us from temptation.
Notice how Satan uses the Scripture.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.For it is written:He will command his angels concerning youand with their hands they will support you,lest you dash your foot against a stone.”First do something you know you shouldn't and on the way down the angels will fix everything. Wrong, Liar. The angels hold us up as we walk the path of righteousness. They give us strength to keep going and help us not to trip up. Stay strong during Lent, and the angels are there to help you. Don't put the Lord God to the test.
Third, Satan will tempt us to value the things of the world, to desire power and the goods of the world. In the process, we set ourselves above others and forget the poor and marginalized of the world. Jesus responds, "The Lord, your God, you shall worship (not the world, not yourself), and him alone you shall serve (and how do we serve God? By serving others.)"
Notice how these three temptations connect to Ash Wednesday? Do you see how the first temptation is countered by fasting, the second with prayer, and the third by almsgiving?
Holy Mother Church is taking us by the hand. She's had thousands of saints who have walked this pilgrim road and in the Scriptures she provides the tools we need to follow them. To follow Christ.