Saint for the day: John Joseph of the Cross (1654 – 1734)
Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1 – 7 – Psalm 51 – Romans 5:12 – 19 – Matthew 4:1-11
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” (Today’s response verse for Psalm 51)
If we had to have one “banner saying” for the entire season of Lent, the above verse from today’s Responsorial Psalm could easily fit the bill. There are two other thoughts that are whirling around in my head: “Let’s start from the very beginning…” and “Haven’t we done this before?”
To start with, the “response verse” above, might better be spoken, “Be merciful, O Lord for we SIN” putting it in present/perfect tense, rather than simply looking at it as something that is done and over with.
Secondly, the holy scripture reading from the beginning of the Book of Genesis takes us all the way back to paradise and the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. And this is put up against the Holy Gospel of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry. And the one important difference between them and Jesus, was that He was “tempted, like us, in all ways but sin!” (Hebrews4:15)
In the “Genesis temptation” Eve is wooed into biting the apple (which she shares with Adam) and “…their eyes were immediately opened …” and what happened? “they realized that they were naked!” Their innocence was lost and something that God intended to be a beautiful gift was forever changed. I’m sure that we all have experiences of seeing little children in their innocence come running out the bathroom – stark naked after their evening bath – shouting, “Daddy, daddy, look at me! I’m all clean!”
And so we spend the rest of our lives struggling to return to this paradise lost. I think that one of the lessons that we always need to learn (maybe over and over again) is that we are constantly confronted with situations where we think there is nothing wrong with just taking a little bite from this attraction or that. Remember – and I’ve said this many times before – St. Thomas Aquinas says that we never choose evil because it is evil; but because we fool ourselves into thinking it’s really not all that bad!
In the Gospel, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness fits into three general categories: a quest for physical satisfaction. “Turn these stones into bread.” The apple was sweet tasting and has remained that way even after the fall. Perhaps that’s why we have to be so careful about what we think is “no big deal” that ends up being the cause of our falling. Notice, again, that I put this into the present/perfect tense.
The second temptation that Jesus faced is the challenging of God to do some outlandish act to “prove” God’s care and protection. I’ll let you take a moment to think about the ways in which you try to make deals with God: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
The last temptation that we hear about in today’s Holy Gospel is “false worship” and none of us should have any trouble identifying the things in our lives that we make into gods. In today’s world where anything is OK the last line of today’s Holy Gospel is very important: “It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” (Matt 4:10)
Your homework? Look up the “Anima Christi” prayer which is a good way to begin each of these “Lenten Days” along with the Morning Offering. In our present world we need all the help possible to avoid temptations that banish us from God’s Love. Amen!