My dear friends in Christ, I welcome you to this grace-filled time of Lent. Lent which prepares us for the celebration of the paschal mystery – suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a penitential period. The forty days of Lent commemorates the duration Jesus spent in the wilderness to prepare himself for his ministry. He fasted and faced difficult challenges in the desert. However, he was enabled by the Holy Spirit to overcome the challenges by praying and remaining focused on the mission entrusted to him by the Father.
As disciples of Jesus we are invited, during this period of Lent, to have a pause and to beam the search light on the aspects of our lives which need spiritual ventilation. The ashes we received on Ash Wednesday was an invitation for us to empty ourselves as we imitate Christ who, though was God, emptied himself to become human for our justification. We were enjoined to repent and believe the Good News of Christ as we recall that we are dust and into dust we shall return. Scripture relates that we are alive because of the breath of God in us, and once that breath extinguishes, our plans that day come to nothing. (Ps 146:4).
Lent is a time for a new beginning when we put God first again in our lives by avoiding vices and choosing virtues. It is a period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving should elicit a change of heart in us and enable us to renew our Baptismal covenant with God, which is to reject Satan, (evil), and place our trust and hope in the one true God, (good).
The first Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, (Deut 26:4-10), presented us with the people of Israel’s acknowledgement of their dependency and loyalty to God. In offering their first fruits to the Lord, they were acknowledging that their bounty harvest and the land on which they were living on were gifts from God. The ceremony of the offering of the first fruits also underscored God as a covenantal and liberating God who was mindful of the covenant he made with the Israeli patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hence, he was willing to go to any length to fulfil his part of the bargain like miraculously rescuing the people of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt.
In the Gospel, (Lk 4:1-13), Jesus was tempted by Satan on the exercise of power or authority, on the search for human glory and on pride. Temptation is not a sin but acting on it may be sinful. The letter to the Hebrews stated that Jesus is one with us in all things but sin, (Heb 4:15), hence, he did not succumb to the whims of Satan. He refused to abuse his power, neither would he allow temporary human achievement to thwart the eternal glory that would be his if he remained faithful to his mission; again, he kept his pride in check for pride goes before a fall. In the war between Russia and Ukraine, we see how unchecked pride and thirst for power can lead to unnecessary war with untold hardships.
Like Jesus, we are tempted daily. Temptation comes to us in subtle ways just as it came to Jesus. During this Lenten Season, one may be tempted not to do anything at all to better one’s spiritual or moral life. The Gospel narrates that after Satan had exhausted all ways of testing Jesus in the desert he “left him to return at the appointed time.” The appointed time was at the Garden of Gethsemane. Thus, we must never rest on our oars in our battle with the Evil One.
The Book of Proverbs states that an average person is tempted at least seven times a day; “… the godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked. Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble,” (Prov 24:25-26). We must nip temptations in the bud least we are overtaken by them.
During our Baptism, we promised to reject Satan and sin, and we professed to worship the only one true God. We know that we do falter from our Baptismal promises. We do fall into the trap of the Evil One by making wrong choices which may have catastrophic consequences. Lent calls us to repentance.
On this First Sunday of Lent, I invite you to re-commit yourselves to your Baptismal promises by committing yourselves to a Lenten plan. Choose an aspect of your life that you hope to work on or a cause you wish to commit yourselves to during this Lenten season. Write them down, (not more than two items), so that you may refer to them during the course of the Lenten Season.
I pray that the Lord of the Covenant will grant you a grace of renewal during this Lenten period, so that you will rise with Jesus at Easter!
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp