NE OF THE OLDEST practices in the Church is the observance of Lent. Many of the details are lost in history. But some things can be said with certainty. The original idea comes from our Lord spending forty days and nights in the desert alone before He began His public ministry or preaching. That is why from time immemorial this event in the life of our Lord is always recounted at Mass on the First Sunday of Lent.
As Catholics we claim to be followers of Christ. What does that mean? Or what should that mean? Briefly stated it should mean that we try to live as Christ would want us to live. But it is important that this not be just some vague abstract idea that has no meaning or bearing in our everyday living. Quite concretely or really we are now observing Lent, a time of extra praying and penance because that is what Jesus did for forty days in the desert. Now whatever we do might seem to be very little and puny in comparison with what Jesus did, but at least we are doing something. At least hopefully we are doing something. I think it is important that we be very specific in what we are determined to do especially in our prayer, or in our extra time that we are willing to spend with God. I fear that if we leave it too general, often we never quite get around to doing anything. Make it an extra rosary, or attendance at Mass or the Way of the Cross, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I can assure you that it will have eternal benefits. I do believe that the more a person prays the easier praying will become for them. If you don’t like to do it, make yourself do it. It’s a wonderful way of imitating Jesus.
As Catholics we claim or want to have Christ as our model. That is one reason why every Sunday, and really at every Mass, the Church presents us with some selection from the Gospels, from the life of our Lord, for our inspiration and imitation. These stories and events about the life of Jesus are not supposed to just go in one ear and out the other. If we would just take in a little each time when we hear something, just think how improved our lives would soon be! Jesus certainly gives us some good pointers on how to deal with the devil in today’s Gospel incident.
ENT—THE ACCEPTABLE TIME: In one of his Epistles St. Paul speaks about the acceptable time. Lent is certainly an acceptable time to take stock of how we are doing spiritually. I believe it was the famous liturgist, Fr. Pius Parsch, who suggested that we look on the season of Lent as a time of spiritual retreat for our souls. The Mass formulae for each day of Lent certainly offer much material for that lectio divina so recommended by spiritual writers for the good of our souls. You can do this with profit even if you are not able to get to daily Mass during Lent. That would be a very practical way of making your time of Lent a spiritual oasis for your soul.
The various temptations: Spiritual writers see a progression in the various temptations that the devil presented to our Lord. The first of changing stones into bread was on a material or sensual level. And probably that is where the devil is able to get or trap most people. The second one would refer more to vain glory or boasting. We can probably see how this is a worse kind of sin than merely sensual sins. I suspect that the devil really saved his best one for the last, somehow or other feeling that this Jesus could not resist this offer. We know that each time Jesus answered without any hesitation and that is how we should respond in the face of temptation.
Unfortunately we almost have to say that the devil has won on two scores or fronts today. First of all, lots of people don’t even believe in him anymore or take him serious. That is probably the biggest victory he can win. Secondly, many people and sources are doing the devil’s work for him. Just think of the availability now of pornography on the internet today, which wasn’t there a few years ago. And then the way the devil is able to get a hold on people’s souls through the use of drugs and other substances so that they end up doing things that they never would do otherwise. I was glad to hear a young priest—now a pastor—tell me that this Lent he is introducing the praying of the St. Michael prayer in his parish at every Mass. You can’t tell me that the devil isn’t behind all this filth on the internet and the use of drugs especially among our young people. Yet some authorities in the Catholic Church seem to be very wishy-washy about the need of any kind of exorcisms anymore! Almost all of them have been removed from the new rite of Baptism.
Psalm 90 (91): The proper parts of today’s Mass make great use of psalm 90 or 91, depending upon which numeration you follow. I recall one of our Chant teachers saying that we pray and chant this psalm on this day in praise of and reparation to Jesus for allowing Himself to be tempted by the devil. That is one of the wonderful things about the psalms; they can be prayed from so many different aspects or vantage points. This is true because Jesus is both human and divine. Sometimes in praying the psalms we are praying with Jesus and sometimes we are praying to Jesus. And sometimes the same psalm can be a combination of both. This psalm is also one of the Biblical sources for our belief in Guardian Angels. And so while we do believe that the devil is very real and is out to harm us, we also believe that St. Michael is even more powerful, and that God has given each of us an angel to watch over us. We just have to be more aware of them and consciously ask for their assistance.
We hope you enjoyed this homily by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.