In Our Gospel today Jesus goes into the wilderness, or the desert, for 40 days where He is tempted by Satan.
You will notice that it is the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit which came upon Him shortly before, at His baptism in the River Jordan, who leads Him in to the wilderness.
The number 40 is highly significant in the Bible. We think of 40 days of the Great Flood, mentioned in our first two readings today, when God cleansed the Earth, and a new world began, which prefigured a new and greater Covenant between God and humans.
40 also reminds us of the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years, a time of trial and purification. We also think of the Apostles who were being prepared by Jesus for 40 days after His resurrection, and before His Ascension into Heaven. So 40 signifies purification, trial, and preparation. This is why Lent is 40 days long (plus six Sundays).
Jesus of course was a great healer, He was a great teacher, but He begins His Public Ministry with spiritual warfare. The Holy Spirit leads Him to be tempted. St Mark mentions wild beasts in the desert, and this brings us back to Adam in the Garden of Eden who was accompanied by wild beasts. Adam fails the test and the garden becomes a desert, but Jesus will overcome the devil who tries to dissuade Him from the cross.
Temptation is part of our ordinary human experience. We can be tempted by the flesh, the world or the devil. It starts off as a “suggestion”, as Jesus experienced, but if we entertain the temptation it grows into a “desire”, and then finally it becomes harder to not act on. The key is to fight at the “suggestion” stage. If you stand up to the devil by making an act of faith, like a Hail Mary Prayer, he will run away, like all bullies. If we can just hang in there we will receive an abundance of graces!
I remember in seminary I was tempted to leave many times. This never happened when I was having a good day, but rather when things were difficult, or someone annoyed me etc. I used to hear a whisper in my ear: “it’s always like this, you can’t have this for the rest of your life,” or something like “what’s the point of all this?” There were times when I was being tempted to think God wasn’t there.
By the grace of God I overcame these temptations, but not without much struggle. Probably the best advice I received was to keep a spiritual journal. I wrote each night about what was going on in my soul. I began to see that most of the time I was in great form and happy. I was now living in truth, in the light, and the devil couldn’t tempt me in the same way anymore. When I experienced difficulty I knew it would pass.
So as we begin our Lenten journey we can expect to face temptations, and enter into spiritual warfare. The enemy will try and tempt us too away from the cross….away from prayer, fasting and acts of charity. We will be told it’s serving no purpose, and easier options will be proposed. This is because the devil knows the power of your Lenten sacrifices. They are bad news for him!
May our Lenten observances transform our hearts to become more like Jesus, and to answer the call to “repent (take an honest look at our lives) and believe the Gospel.
May we be blessed with an abundance of graces.
Let’s keep praying for one another!
God bless you,