Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

First Sunday of Lent—26 February A.D. 2012

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert,
to be tempted by the devil.”

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance
Psalm 90-Translated from the Old Latin

    One of the criticisms that is leveled against Catholics in our observance of Lent is that it is often a negative thing -- that we give up this or that, that we seem to be punishing ourselves for being Christians. And if that is really the way we approach Lent, then the criticism is more or less correct.

    On the contrary, Lent should be a period of spiritual growth. If we give up things, or otherwise deprive ourselves, we should do so for positive reasons—to do penance for our sins, or those of others; to develop a measure of self-control in good things, so that we can resist the temptation to do evil; or perhaps so that we can share what we have with those who are less fortunate.

    But, even at that, Lent should not be viewed only in terms of what we are going to give up. It is also a time for doing positive things -- a time to get in the habit of doing good things which we sometimes find difficult; to get in the habit of prayer, and meditation, and spiritual reading; to get in the habit of attending Mass even on days when it is not of obligation, an extra day or two a week; to get in the habit of making a regular Confession of our sins, even if none of them are seriously evil, just simply out of devotion.

    The Gospel today suggests one of those positive things that should come out of a good Lent, the ability to resist temptation. Perhaps we are a little bit surprised by the concept of our Lord being tempted. The Gospel implies that He may have arranged this purposely, just to give us this lesson—it says that the Holy Ghost is the one who led Him into the desert—Spirit with a capital “S.” But yet, it still bothers us—“How can the Son of God be subject to temptation?”

    The answer is that temptation is a very normal and natural part of human life—and our Lord shared our humanity with us. Please understand that I am talking about temptation, and not about sin. A few years ago, someone made a very bad movie that portrayed Jesus as a sinner—and that was wrong simply blasphemy. But temptation by itself is a different matter, as we see in this Gospel.

    To understand what temptation is, we must understand what we mean when we say that something is “good.” That's a simple word, but one that is often misused. First of all, understand that nothing which God created is evil in itself. All “being” —all things that “exist”—are a positive improvement over not existing. And if we think about those things which we consider “evil,” we will recognize that it is not the thing that is evil, but rather its misuse that is evil.

    To put it in a more practical perspective, we can say that things are “good” for us when they help us to achieve our appropriate “end”—our proper “goal,” if you will. They are good when they help us to achieve long term goals like the glorification of God and our eternal happiness in heaven. They are good when they help us to achieve short term goals, like knowing, loving and serving God—or simply being in reasonable health and the right frame of mind so that we can do these things which are appropriate for us as rational men and women.

    But that is where temptation comes in. It is often difficult to make judgments about the things that come to us in the short term realities of life. It is easy to be misled, and think that something is good for us, when in reality it actually works against our achieving our proper human goals.

    For example, food is good. Or, romantic love is good. One is necessary for us to stay alive, the other to continue the human race. But we all know how these two “goods” can be misused. We eat too much, or eat the wrong things and we can ruin our health. Be attracted to the wrong person and we can wreck a life, or a whole family, or worse.

    That's why God gave us our intellect. With it we can examine the things that attract us—that seem to be good—and try to determine if they really are good for us—to see if they will help us to pursue God's plans for us on the one hand, or if they will actually hurt us in the long run.

    Now, we may make mistakes, and we may do things that are not in our own best interest because our intellects are limited—but if we at least intend to follow God's plans for us, we won't fall into sin.

    By definition, then, our Lord couldn't fall into sin, because His will was always the same as God's will. But we can fall into sin, because our will is not always so well directed, as it should be. So, for us, it makes sense to avoid the more obvious sources of temptation—to avoid the “occasion of sin,” as we say. For us, it makes sense to avoid the persons, places, and things that have caused us to sin in the past or are likely to do so in the future.

    And, that in itself is one of those positive things that we can try to achieve this Lent: to develop the good habit of carefully examining things that seem to be attractive and good, and to see if they really are.

    It is not a sin to experience temptation; to be drawn towards false “goods.” But it is a serious sin if we don't bother to consider the outcome, or if we ignore God's will in the matter.

    So make a positive thing out of Lent. Make it a time of practice, to avoid that which is evil and to do that which is good—to properly use your intellect, and to conform to the will of God.


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