First Sunday of Lent
If you ever had the experience of having your house burgled or of having property stolen, you know that one of the questions you ask yourself is: ‘how could I have been so casual or foolish about my property?’ ‘I was asking for it’. We give out to ourselves for letting our guard down. We were not vigilant and pay the price.
You might next ask: ‘how did they (the burglars) know I was out?’ It is scary, and a further violation, to think that a stranger was on the watch, watching our movements in and out of the house for some time.
That’s how the devil operates. He knows our weaknesses and vulnerability. He is patient, and then he pounces. We are tempted, but never beyond our means. On one occasion he is compared to one.
The Lord Himself is tempted by the devil on three occasions when he is at his weakest in body. He survives and succeeds in these mysterious trials and is strengthened for the ministry He is about to undergo. Lent commemorates this 40-day trial, and reminds us of our ongoing life-long battle (or what used to be called spiritual combat' with the ever-present realities of sin, temptation and of Satan.
There is great and, sometimes, unhealthy interest in Satan. The reality that there can in 2011 be commercial films about exorcism points to curiosity but also to the fact that the Church has been too shy or overly cautious (or too embarrassed) to remind us of the dangers of the Evil One. But we are not preaching the Gospel in its entirety if we neglect the many references of Jesus to the Tempter as well as the many exorcisms Jesus and His followers performed.
Temptations differ because we are different in our tendencies to sin. Self-indulgence opens the way to sin, and therefore fasting as one of three remedies – the others being prayer and almsgiving - is recommended. Pope Benedict said in 2009, that the practice of fasting is the means by which we can avoid and overcome sin. We may recall, or it may be recalled for us, that fasting and abstinence was a lot stricter in the past than today. Yet fasting has not lost its power and value, despite the fact that its relevance has not been understood, or the fact that we are still obliged to do penance every Friday, once we have reached our fourteenth year has not been taught sufficiently. This year 2011 is also a Year of Penance, as directed by Pope Benedict and we are called to do penance for our own sins but this year too for the sins of clerical sexual abuse – see the Irish bishops website.*
I am not sure that dieting was a familiar term until recently. A wise bishop once said that what the Church drops, the world picks up in a secular manner. Fasting was abandoned, but the world picked up fasting and turned them into ‘diets’ and commercialised it.
If you want a day to go slowly, fast. Fasting is not meant to end in a splurge of gluttony at Easter, but rather the season helps us to attain moderation and appreciation as well as a certain measure of self-control. Fasting and abstinence helps us to remember to give thanks for what we have received as well as what we ought to do to provide for others who hunger out of poverty - out of a sense of solidarity helping to address the imbalance in the world. We atone too for our personal sins of waste and gluttony as individuals and as a society. We can fast from food, but more importantly we must always strive to fast from sin.
The Lord has a number of names for the devil in the Gospels as ‘a liar, a murderer from the beginning’. We will see him referred to again because in Holy week he enters Judas.
And yet on this occasion in the wilderness he does not call him by his name(s), but counter-argues the Scriptures with him. This is a reminder that we too conquer evil with the Word of God. Knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ (St Jerome). We ought to realise that familiarity with Scripture is also a safeguard from ‘the wickedness and snares of the Devil’.
*I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a
period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask
you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your
works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the
Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of
Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming
power of its grace.
Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and
in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted
to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and
monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have
an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real
presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that
have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed
strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests,
religious and lay faithful. I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness. [From the Pope's letter, March 2010]