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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

1st Sunday of Lent - A

About a year-and-a-half ago I decided to get rid of my smartphone. I now have a phone that is only able to send and receive texts and calls. There are no apps, no connection to the internet, no social media, no games, nothing. It seems like a strange choice in a world that grows increasingly dependent on smart technology. My decision has elicited bewilderment and light-hearted ridicule from some of my family and friends. It was not an easy decision and I quickly realized how attached I was to my smart-phone, an attachment whose strength I had not fully grasped. Whenever I was bored, my hand would drift towards my pocket for my phone. If I was in a crowd of strangers and did not want to interact with anyone, I would reach for my phone. The phone was the remedy to which I would turn when I experienced some form of deprivation whether it be boredom or even sadness. When I rid myself of this attachment, it was painful. It took time to adjust to this new lifestyle.

When we are separated from our ordinary comforts and pleasures, our attachments are quickly revealed whether they be food, entertainment, human relationships, or anything else. The automatic driving force in most of our lives is to avoid pain and seek comfort. However, our purpose, our end is not comfort in this world. In the words of Pope Benedict, “Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched” (Spe Salvi, 33).

This is what Lent is for. In these forty days we stretch our hearts and rid ourselves of those things which prevent us from being filled by God. Too many of us drift through life on autopilot, being driven by our natrual tendencies and attachments with little regard or motivation to stretch and rise above to greatness. Lent is a time of imposed deprivation and poverty, a time of living in the desert. It is a time when we ask ourselves “what do I reach for when I am hungry? What do I reach for when I am bored? What do I reach for when I am sad? What do I reach for when I am hurting? How am I seeking fulfillment?” Just as my hand would search my pocket for my smartphone, our hearts search for fulfillment when they experience deprivation from ordinary pleasures to which they have become enslaved. And these attachments quickly rise to the surface in these forty days. We all have attachments. Most of us even have soft addictions. They are quickly revealed to us when we take up penitential practices. Sometimes the objects of our attachments are not intrinsically bad. Sometimes they are. The bottom line is that we must beware that our hearts do not become enslaved to anything less than God. We were created for greatness, to be filled by God.

Christ has shown us that we need not give in to the tendency to satisfy our hearts with things less than God. We don’t have to go through life on autopilot. Immediately following His baptism Jesus goes out to the desert to be tested, to do battle with Satan. In the words of one Scripture scholar,

“Christ does not seek comfort; he goes only to the places where divine battles are fought – the heart of man … the desert, where only the saint or the demon can survive. If Satan is the hero of the world, the lord of the earthly minded who proposes disruption of the divine order at every step, Christ is the divine Hero who comes to confront Satan’s logic with stout clear-headedness and humility. The desert offers an occasion for two diametrically opposed solutions to the plight of man: either [submission] to the comforts of the satanic attitude … or surrender to the mercy of God’s providence. The desert is the place of utter poverty, and therefore, potentially, of heroic trust in God” (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word volume I by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, 139).

The victory of Jesus in the desert is more than a personal victory. It is a victory for all mankind. Christ could have vanquished Satan with His divine power but He chose to fight him with His human will. He fought this battle in a human manner. He did not cease to be the Son of God yet He won the battle as a man. This creates two primary practical implications for Christian discipleship.

First, Jesus has given us an example to follow. How should we act when we encounter temptation? We ought to act as Jesus did. Notice that each time He encountered temptation He responded with Scripture. He was rooted in the Word of God and used it as a weapon against the enemy. He was committed to live by the words of Scripture. Scripture is a powerful tool against our spiritual enemy that we do not use enough. St. Paul even calls the Word of God the "sword of the Spirit" (cf. Ephesians 6:17). We need to penetrate every aspect of our lives with the Word of God given to us in Scripture. Perhaps this Lent we ought to develop habits of reading our Bibles more often.

The second implication is that Jesus has shown us we can remain faithful even if it seems nearly impossible in time of temptation. He is no stranger to our weakness. He lived it. He knows the pain we experience when we do battle with sin. This truth should make us more ready to turn to Him when we encounter temptation and testing. When we are tempted to sin or try to break an unhealthy attachment, do we call to mind that Christ has experienced the very same pain we feel? Do we cry out for His help? Lent is not a self-help program that helps us shed a few pounds or find peace of mind. It is a time when we recognize and grow in our dependency on a God who does not scorn our littleness and our weakness. He is able to sympathize with us.

During this time in the desert, the season of Lent, we do battle with our own weakness. We have stepped into the desert, the arena, the battlefield, to wage war on our enslavement to sin and attachments of the heart. Like Jesus, we are given the chance to be heroes in the desert. But to be a hero is to be rooted in the Word of God and dependent on Him. This only comes through poverty, the kind of poverty with which Lent provides us. When we experience our own barrenness and the deprivation of ordinary comforts, then we are given the option to turn to Jesus or feed our attachments. Will we give in to easy and immediate remedies, compromising our resolutions and commitments to God? Or will we embrace our poverty in steadfast silence and privation, fasting from what the world has to offer us? The choice is ours.


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