The First Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2019 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria de Sousa Alvim Calado Cortes Cortes, F.S.C.B.
Chaplain, Saint John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, D.C.
Sunday Reading Meditations
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Jesus […] was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the Devil” (Lk 4:1‒2). As we begin the Lenten season, let us also be led by the Holy Spirit and enter into the spiritual wilderness of Lent. “He was hungry” (Lk 4:2). Jesus did not need to fast, as we do, but he did so in order to identify with our hunger and thirst for the infinite. Fasting delivers us from small desires and awakens in us the desire for what is great, for God himself.
The desert is a place for silence and meditation, where there are no distractions. It is a place where we can hear God’s voice (cf. Hos 2:16). It is also a place where we can feel the sweetness of his breeze: the “light silent sound” (1 Kings 19:12) experienced by Elijah in the wilderness.
The desert is a place to discover the gentleness of the divine presence, but it is also a place of hard trial and struggle against evil. If someone truly seeks God, he ends up clashing with the one who wants to prevent him from returning to the house of the Father.
Speaking of the Devil, there is the risk of ascribing either too much or too little importance to him. There are people who see the Devil all over the place and others who think he does not exist. We should not be afraid of him but we must not ignore him, either. With Christ, as today’s psalm says: “No evil shall befall you […] You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon” (Ps 91:10,13).
Christian life is a battle against the spirit of evil. Saint Paul says: “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:11‒12).
We are oppressed and often dominated by spiritual forces that prevent us from walking toward holiness. Today’s first reading speaks about the Israelites’ experience of liberation from slavery. Many Fathers of the Church identify the Pharaoh and his armies with Satan and his angels. Like the People of God, we need to pray for the gift of liberation from evil. Today’s first reading says: “We cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Dt 26:7).
Intimacy with Christ delivers us from malign influences. As Saint James says: “Submit yourselves therefore to God; resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Approach God and he will approach you” (Jas 4:7‒8). Saint Peter stresses that faith defends us from the enemy’s attacks: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith” (1 Pt 5:8‒9).
Today’s preface says: “[…] by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent, [Christ] taught us to cast out the leaven of malice.” In today’s second reading, Saint Paul says: “[…] if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved […] For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rom 10:9.13). The invocation of the name of Jesus is the most efficacious way to deliver us from evil: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Today’s psalm says: “Because he clings to me, I will deliver him. I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name” (Ps 91:14).
Devotion to Mary protects us from evil and gives us the serenity to face the evil forces. The Devil cannot conquer those who are close to Our Lady. As the Book of Revelation explains (Cf. Rev 12:1‒6), God has entrusted a very special role to Mary in the fight against Satan. The daily prayer of the Rosary protects us from the Devil.
As we begin the Lenten season, let us be led by the Holy Spirit, so that in doing battle against the spirit of evil, we may grow in love for God and neighbor. Amen.