First Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2019
Lent is an ancient tradition. It was established as a universal practice in the Church in the year 360 at the Council of Laodicea-a penitential season of 40 days in preparation for the celebration of Easter. During Lent, we imitate Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the desert prior to the beginning of his ministry, as described in each of the 3 Synoptic gospels. We traditionally tell the story of this desert time on the first Sunday of Lent.
This passage from Luke is, other than the Christmas story, perhaps the one I remember most vividly from my childhood. I can still picture the large classroom calendar at Blessed Sacrament school for month of March 1963.
On the left hand margin was the depiction of the second temptation of Jesus. Jesus on a mountain with exotic kingdoms stretching out before him, and the devil towering over Jesus with massive green wings, a leering smile and of course prominent horns-his arms sweeping out in a gesture of offering.
To my second-grade self it was absolutely terrifying…and MAGNIFICENT! I think I spent every catechism class of that whole month just staring at that image.
And, I have to say, now that I am approaching my mid-sixties, that this whole temptation thing has turned out to be a major disappointment. I have never once experienced anything quite so dramatic as the story told in today’s gospel. Not even as dramatic as the third temptation–the earliest historical description I know of the activity we now call “bungee jumping.”
Temptation for me has always been so much more mundane, so ordinary-even petty. And that second-grader in me is pleading, “C’mon God, just once, throw something dramatic at me, it doesn’t have to be ALL the kingdoms of the world…just a couple. I can do it. Like Jesus I’ll make you proud.”
While I suppose there is still time, I suspect it’s not going to happen. At least, it hasn’t happened this year. Instead, in March of 2019, I am presented with the church’s annual invitation to walk into the desert with Jesus-destination unknown. And this desert, or wilderness or just “emptiness” is a place to which I come by small, intentional acts of fasting-
Fasting from busy-ness.
Fasting from noise.
Fasting from whatever form of consumption distracts me from the presence of God and keeps me from allowing my self:
To stand in Her presence.
To be enveloped by Her love.
To be caught up in her tender concern for the sick, the poor, the marginalized and the very earth itself.
This is what Lent is. It’s not about self-flagellation or abuse or even grand gestures that will make God proud of me. Lent is about the desert-the place of encounter with God. And it can be a frightening place. Because no true encounter with God ever leaves us the same. God’s infinite capacity to love me and to forgive me always contains, not just the possibility, but the inevitability that I will be put on a new and unfamiliar path.
That I will be asked to care about and for the world and the people in it in ways that I just haven’t been able to…yet.
In 2019, a good part of that—for me at least–has to do with examining the way in which I and we affect the very climate of the small planet that is our home. This past year we have seen devastating volatility in weather systems, life-threatening record temperatures in Australia and India, accelerating loss of ice at both poles and alarming mass death spirals for aquatic species in our rapidly warming oceans.
Our failure as a people to address the well-documented and accelerating impact that our patterns of consumption and energy use have upon the earth finds its perfect metaphor in the temptation at the pinnacle of the temple. In our denial of scientific evidence and our failure to adopt the personal habits, and systemic technological and economic reforms that can curb green-house gas emissions, we are casting ourselves and future generations from the parapet in the hopes that God or technology will somehow rush in and save us at the last second.
Can such willful stupidity have a source other than the “Father of Lies,” who is such a central character in today’s gospel?
So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe the temptations that I and we face this advent season are every bit as stark and dramatic as ones Luke describes.
Let us pray
Creator God, help us to resist the temptation of seeing every part of your creation as a commodity-something to be traded and consumed. Teach us instead to honor and care for the earth, our common home and to love deeply and share generously with all our fellow creatures.
Merciful God, protect us from vain-glory, from bowing before Satan in the form of racial and national identity, the weapons of war or economic power in an effort to possess and dominate all the realms of the world
Eternal sovereign, lift from us the desire to test you, by failing to take practical action to limit and mitigate the effects that human activity have had upon our climate. Give us the courage to change and to confront our political and economic institutions so that we might leave more hospitable world to future generations.
I would like to close our intercessions today with a short excerpt from the prayer Pope Francis includes at the end of his encyclical letter, “Laudato Si:”
“All powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.”
In Jesus’ name.