Through faithfully practicing the disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—we are led not only to more fully understand the meaning of those words but to make them the meaning of our life.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
5 March 2017
In today’s gospel (Mt 4:1-11), we hear about how Jesus Christ was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Christ, then, walks into the desert with a firm purpose in mind: not only to encounter the devil and resist him, but to definitively defeat his temptations. The way in which Christ deals with the devil shows forth his divine perfection, and offers us a prelude to the ultimate purpose of his saving mission. Jesus’ encounter with Satan and his subsequent resistance to the evil suggestions of the devil foreshadow the victory he would win over sin, evil, and the devil himself by his voluntary sacrifice on the Roman cross (see Edward Sri, Mystery Of The Kingdom, 1999).
In the first temptation, the devil plays on Christ’s hunger, and suggests he satisfy it by miraculously transforming stones into bread: ”If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” The Tempter urges Jesus to use his divine power in a self-centered way, in a way that is outside of his salvific mission. Jesus, of course, cannot be diverted in this manner. Thus 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.”
One lives “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
The whole point of Lent is to reorient our lives to Christ, who is the eternal Word made flesh, God-made-man, who, for our sake, offered his life on the cross in perfect human obedience to the will of the Father. Lent is a season in which strive to become like Christ, as “little Christs,” and direct our lives always and everywhere by the Word of God. We are to live by the Word of God, for it is indeed life itself. The entire meaning of the sacred season of Lent is, then, summarized in these words of our divine and human Savior: One lives “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
Through faithfully practicing the disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—we are led not only to more fully understand the meaning of those words but to make them the meaning of our life. Yet we cannot live by the Word of God if we refuse to give free and loving obedience to it; nor can we hear the Word of God if it is squelched by worldly listening.
Today we live in an age of many words. Many arguments. Many competing voices. We might think of the endless stream of sound bites; the constant and frenetic media clamor, polarized by competing interests, often rooted in obstinate biases; the information we absorb and memorize in order to compete in the workplace; the blaring chant of relativism and religious indifference; the refusal of silence in exchange for distraction . . . . the endless small talk which merely takes up space.
The desert of Lent stands in stark contrast to these things. Its silence exposes what is truly real. It reminds us that ultimately there is only one Word whose voice is life itself; one Word whose voice beckons us to absolute Truth, to the horizon which lies beyond death and marks the journey into eternity: Jesus Christ, who is himself the “way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).
How do we more fully join to the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ, this Lent? We, too, need to walk into the desert with purpose. In doing so, leave the competing and clamorous voice of secularized culture behind. In its place focus on the divine whisper of God. Purify your desires by holy fasting; unite yourself to Christ in sublime prayer. Love your poor neighbor in charity, providing for his needs for the love of God.
Each and every one of us needs to, by imaging the incarnate Son of God in our life, defeat the devil and his temptations. We must leave sin behind, for it is unceasingly at war with what is holy, good and true. To do these kinds of things—these holy things—to engage in combat in order to win eternal life, we have the help of Jesus Christ, our divine and human Savior, who has already defeated the devil and destroyed sin by his self-offering on the cross.
Commit yourself diligently to the disciplines of Lent. Prove to God by these intentional, concrete and spiritual acts that you truly love him above all else for his own sake: that you are willing to die to self as did Christ on the cross; that the transcendent beauty, goodness and truth of God is worth any price. Place the distractions of the world behind you and join to the Person of Truth, Jesus Christ, who offers us not the world but what the world cannot offer: the Word of life upon which man lives.
Last, let us never forget that the spiritual food Christ offers is the Bread of God, which is his flesh, given for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). May you enter into his perfect life this Lent.
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Photo Credit: By Lehightrails [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.