The LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
1) Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. (Refrain:)
2) For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always:
"Against you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight." (Refrain:)
3) A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence, and your holy spirit take not from me. (Refrain:)
4) Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (Refrain:)
Brothers and sisters: Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned — for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many. And the gift is not like the result of the one who sinned. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. For if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ. In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.
The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)
On the first Sunday of Lent every year, we hear this same gospel as retold by the three evangelists: first Matthew, then in succeeding years by Mark and Luke. Both Matthew and Luke include the same three temptations. Mark is the most cryptic of all, merely saying that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert where he remained forty days, was put to the test by Satan and was ministered to by the angels.
Before we look more deeply into this passage, there are three things that we must realize. First of all, we have to answer the question: why did Jesus go into the desert? In all three of the Synoptic gospels, Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit after the Spirit has descended on him at his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. "His task had come to him; God had spoken to him; he must now think about how he was to attempt the task which God had given him to do; he had to get things straightened out before he started; and he had to be alone. In the wilderness, Jesus could be more alone than anywhere else in Palestine...." (1)
The lesson for us should be abundantly clear: if we believe that our Lord came to show us how to live, then we have to imitate his example and spend some time alone with God. We don't need to spend forty days at a time in the desert. But we do need to spend some time each day in prayer. That is why the Church in its wisdom has required that priests, deacons and religious recite morning and evening prayer on a daily basis.
Secondly, we have to realize that this was not the only time that the devil tempted our Lord. As Luke points out in his recounting of this incident "When the devil had finished all the tempting, he left him to await another opportunity" (Lk 4:13). Our vigilance can never end in this world. When we feel that we are at our highest point, we need to be at our greatest guard because that is when we are most vulnerable to temptation.
Thirdly, the devil selected the temptations which he used on Jesus because he knew that Jesus had supernatural powers which could have accomplished what he was suggesting. It is often those who appear to be the most successful, who "have it made", who are the most "at risk" of succumbing to temptations and misusing their talents and gifts for their own benefit. For example, I have received many positive comments about my homilies both from members of the congregation here and from readers on the Internet. It would be a quick and easy transition for me to take all of the credit for them. But I have to realize at all times that I am merely an instrument of the workings of the Spirit. I am humbled to be so used, to be a part of the circle from the Spirit through me and then to my listeners who may feel the Spirit working in their own lives. If I break that circle by taking the credit for myself, then the work of the Spirit will not be accomplished. Everyone who has been given a special gift will have been tempted at some point in their lives by the question "What can I do for myself with this gift?" But the question for every Christian must be "What can I do FOR OTHERS with this gift?" So it is that all of us who have been blessed with special gifts and talents must constantly be aware of where those gifts and talents have originated. And the answer is that it wasn't with us. I am reminded of one of the antiphons we recite in morning prayer when we celebrate the feast of a pastor which says “What you say of me does not come from yourselves. It is the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”. We have to remember that we are not the source, only the instrument.
Actually, this is the basis of the first temptation. Jesus was tempted to use his powers selfishly, to satisfy his own hunger, and he refused to do this. Our Lord did not come to save himself; he came to save others. This fact reaches its culmination on the cross when the crowd challenges him to come down from the cross and save himself but he would not. And even though we are not tempted by the devil to change stones into bread, we are challenged on a daily basis to think first of others and not of ourselves.
In the second temptation, the devil challenges our Lord to throw himself down from the temple and let the angels save him. In our own lives, we are often called to take risks. But before we make a final decision, we have to look deep into our hearts and discern which way we should go and why we should go in that particular direction. For example, in November 1997, I had the opportunity to retire from my full-time position with the Federal Government. Before I made my ultimate decision, I had to look deep inside myself and see what my motivation was for seeking retirement. Was I trying to "get back" at my superiors for some reason? Perhaps there were some feelings of "they'll really miss me when I'm gone and see how important I was". But I didn't have any of those feelings. I sincerely felt that the Lord was calling to me to use the homiletic gift that he had given me to touch the lives of others. And I believed that God would provide. And I believe that he has continued to bless my efforts. In everything we do, we have to discern whether we are doing something because it is God's will for us or because it is our will for us. How often in our own lives do we find ourselves wanting to force God's hand to do our will and not his? How often do we find it so difficult to accept God's will in our own lives? And yet that is what we are called to do, just as our Lord accepted the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And this brings us to the third temptation, our Lord was tempted by the devil to use his power for his own glory. But Jesus did not come to achieve glory for himself but, by his actions, to give glory to the Father who was the source of his power. How many times in our own lives are we tempted to use our own gifts for our own glory instead of using them to give glory to God who has so graciously bestowed those gifts upon us? And I am always so humbled to be so blessed, as I mentioned earlier, and often wonder "Why me?" We do not know the reasons why we have been chosen to accomplish God's will in our lives. We are called only to be grateful for those gifts and use them "ad majorem Dei gloriam", as the Jesuits are fond of saying, "for the greater glory of God".
There is one last point here. In two out of the three temptations, the devil says "IF you are the Son of God, THEN..." And the last temptation could easily be rephrased as "IF you wish all of these kingdoms, THEN bow down and worship me." What the devil is probably saying in each of these statements is: "If you are the Son of God, then PROVE IT by ...." Each of these are a challenge to our Lord to use his powers to: first, satisfy his own needs; secondly, impress others; and thirdly, achieve his own glory. But our Lord doesn't have to prove anything to anyone. And neither do we. I am reminded of a poem by Rudyard Kipling which contains much truth:
- If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all may doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, but don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, but don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same...
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings [and not] lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all may count with you, but none too much;...
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be [my own blessed child]!
We don't have to prove anything to ourselves or to others. We only have to prove who we are to the One who made us. So, the proof of who we are is not only in what others see externally, but in what God sees internally. In essence, the proof is in the living, the external based on the internal.
So as we begin this Lenten journey, we are called to spend some time every day alone with the Lord. Then we too can face our temptations in the same way that Jesus faced his: 1) by focusing on the needs of others and not on ourselves, 2) by using our gifts and talents for the greater glory of God and not of ourselves, and 3) by yielding our will to the will of the Father with the words that Christ himself used: "Father, not my will but yours be done".
1. From the Gospel of Matthew, copyright 1975 by William Barclay, St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Reprinted with permission.
(Copyright 2017 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at email@example.com.)
(Here's an optional opening song you might consider using to welcome in Lent:)
[Tune of "My Favorite Things"]
Sackcloth and ashes, and days without eating,
Mortification and wailing and weeping,
A hair shirt that scratches, a nettle that stings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Penitence, flagellants, memento mori,
Spending nights sleeping on rocks in a quarry,
The sound of a cloak'd solemn cantor who sings,
These are still more of my favorite things.
Tossing and turning and yearning I'm spurning,
Passions aflame like an ember day burning,
Corpus and carnis and wild drunken flings,
Forsaken are they for my favorite things!
When it's Christmas,
When the tree's lit,
When the cards are sent,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I can't wa-a-a-a-it till Lent.
Lord Jesus, you came to save us from our sins. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you came to give glory to the Father. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you came to do the will of the Father. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: Christ came to be one like us in everything but sin. Therefore, in confidence that he understands our needs and will intercede for us, we bring our prayers and petitions to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That all of the Christians throughout the world will use this season of Lent to draw closer to the Lord and to one another, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will do all in their power to eliminate terrorism and injustice from the face of the earth and restore peace, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who may be tempted by suffering or grief to lose faith may be strengthened by God's grace, we pray to the Lord.
That all of those preparing for their first sacraments, their families and sponsors, may grow in their knowledge of the gospel, we pray to the Lord.
That this Lenten season, and the upcoming celebration of Easter, may bring those who have fallen away back to the practice of their Catholic faith, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who are hungry and homeless may find the assistance they need through the generosity of our community, we pray to the Lord.
That all those affected by natural disasters will be strengthened in their efforts to rebuild their lives and not give in to despair, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: Merciful Father, your Son was tempted and became one like us in everything but sin. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to return to your Word, contemplate your Son's life and follow his way. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.