REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS.
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and He remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.” Mark 1:12-13.
Mark’s wonderfully short one sentence account of Jesus’ temptation leaves us with no doubt as to the result - Jesus did not give in to the temptation. Jesus 1 Satan 0 - Simple!
Jesus then returns out of the wilderness and begins his public ministry proclaiming “the time has come and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News!” Jesus did not succumb to the temptations set before him by Satan and nor should we!
Easier said than done you might say? But some of the best conversion stories in the Bible and in the history of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, have their great stories of those who against all odds won against the various temptations they encountered or struggled with. We might think of St Ignatius of Loyola, St Augustine, William Wilberforce, St Theresa of Avila, John Newton etc. This is why reading the lives of the great Saints or converts is such an inspiration for us.
The lack of detail of how Jesus was tempted in the Gospel of Mark gives us an opportunity to ponder what may have happened or as St Ignatius of Loyola would suggest, we might like to imagine ourselves in the place of Jesus, how would Satan tempt us, as a way of revealing how we are tempted in our own life, what we call an imaginative contemplation exercise.
Once we accept that we are tempted, and we all experience it, or admit to ourselves that we struggle with a particular bad habit or vice, we can do something about it with the help of God and the support of others. By naming the bad habit we shine the light of the Gospel on it and we can start working on reducing the bad habit, getting help with it, and banishing it all together. Repentance enables us to face the dark side of our lives.
One thing I do know is that Satan always operates in the realm of secrecy, in the dark recesses, or out in the open as a wolf in lambs clothing, Satan’s mantra being anything is permissible so long as you don’t get found out! People with extreme bad habits or vices like to keep them secret, look at problem gamblers, alcoholics, porn addicts, or abusers of any kind, they are all case book examples of this.
We also know of big organisations or institutions which try to cover things up or cloak things in secrecy are often hiding something sinister. By sweeping things under the carpet, what or who is being swept under the carpet we might ask. Or the dreaded elephant that looms large in the room, who or what is the elephant that nobody is prepared to name?
The Catholic Church we know full well is not exempt from the action of covering things up. The recent reports concerning the cover up of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults is shocking reading for us all, but we also know that other organizations like the BBC, The Anglican Church, Oxfam, and Football Clubs have also fallen foul of covering things up and not shedding the light of Truth on extreme sinfulness and vice.
Evil always lurks in the dark and in secrecy. But when a person or an organization owns up, admits there is a problem and asks for help, the truth comes out, something can be done about it and a light can be shone on the issue for all too see. This allows for justice and healing to take place and possible future harm to be avoided. For “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Luke 12:2).
So what does all this mean for us on the first Sunday of Lent?
God calls each of us to different states of life, to different vocations and He has a plan for all of us. Satan wants to draw us away from this, being tempted is to be drawn away from who God calls us to be. The good news is that any temptation can be overcome with God’s faithful and loving help.
Pope Francis recently said in an interview concerning the traditional wording of the Lord’s prayer and who it is that leads us into temptation: “I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen,”. “A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation, that’s his department.”
Christian morality is about being the person God created you to be – a person who chooses to be good and fight the good fight! To be tempted in spiritual and physical terms is to be deceived with the purpose of drawing us away from who we are called to be by God.
Lent gives us the opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit into the wildernesses of our lives. To examine more closely those areas in our lives that lead us away from God, to own up to them, to shine the light of the Gospel upon them, to seek help or guidance if a bad habit has formed and to repent of it through a good confession.
The Angels watched over Jesus during his temptation and we can be very sure that our Guardian Angels and the loving providence of God watch over us to lead us to true repentance and there we will find Christ in the heart of that wilderness, banishing evil for good! For: “A broken and contrite heart you will not despise O God.”
A Happy Lent to you all, Fr Ross