Perhaps this column’s headline is somewhat shocking. We tend to think of Lent as a season of penance and conversion, not of temptation. Nonetheless, temptation is an unavoidable reality in this liturgical time that prepares us for Easter. Just notice how keenly you crave meat on Fridays, precisely when we should abstain from it.
During Lent, we go deep with Jesus, “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Jesus himself had to go through temptation in the desert as part of his preparation for his ministry. And he was truly tempted — these were not mere theological debates that Jesus easily won, but true situations in which Jesus considered doing what the devil proposed. Otherwise, they would have not been temptations.
By overcoming each temptation, Jesus shows the devil once and again that he is the Lord; he proves he is like us in all things but sin; he restores what was broken when the people of Israel fell into temptation during their journey through the desert; and he shows us how to overcome our own temptations.
Throughout Lent, it will be hard to keep fasting and abstaining from meat. We will crave everything, even meals we don’t like. Jesus teaches us, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (4:4).
We may feel tempted to undertake Lent as a personal challenge, seeking to prove to others and ourselves that we are true Christians, fulfilling all the prescriptions of the church and our self-imposed penances, thinking we can succeed on our own effort. We may push God aside, believing he will sustain us even without prayer, confession or Scripture reading. To this, Jesus says, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (4:7).
Lent is a time to intensify our prayer. But we will be tempted once and again to quit and to focus instead on all sorts of idols, or on spending our days at the beach while Jesus dies on a cross for our salvation. But Jesus teaches us to push Satan away firmly, warning him that it is written, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone you shall serve” (4:10).
Lent is a season of conversion. This requires learning to overcome temptation radically. Therefore, we must be tempted and deflect the strikes of the evil one, always following Jesus’ example and imploring his constant grace. Only then will we be truly ready for Easter.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - March 2020