By Anne Armstrong, RE Curriculum Coordinator
In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, after his baptism, Jesus is reported to have spent forty days in the desert, fasting and praying. For the ancients there was nothing romantic or attractive about the wilderness. It was a place of danger and deprivation. It was a place of testing, but it also could be a place of encounter with the divine. The Gospel reading on the First Sunday of Lent traditionally takes us to this place of encounter.
Fr John McKinnon tells us that encounters of temptation to the Hebrews were situated in the wilderness, traditionally the scene of Israel’s temptations as it crossed the Sinai desert on the way from slavery to freedom. The wilderness was also paradoxically the spot where Israel encountered God and entered into covenant with God. In the human condition, as people move into their unexplored inner world on their way to their truest self, encounter with God and temptation cannot be separated.
Fr Gerard McCormick says that by entering the wilderness, Jesus reveals is solidarity with humanity. Although Son of God, he enters into our human story with all its struggles, in order to show us the way to life in all its fullness and richness.
In Luke and in Matthew, the devil presents three temptations to Jesus. The devil tempts Jesus to use his power to appease his hunger, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship him, and he tempts Jesus to put God’s promise of protection to the test. In each case, Jesus resists, citing words from Scripture to rebuke the devil’s temptation.
Fr John McKinnon invokes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand this story in the context of human experience. In some ways, he says, the three temptations were grounded in the three basic needs and drives of the human person: survival, control and belonging (or acceptance).
This Gospel highlights for us one of the central themes of the Season of Lent. We are dependent upon God for all that we have and all that we are. Anything that leads us to reject this dependency or to distrust its sufficiency, is a temptation from the powers of darkness.
Jesus’ responses to the temptations teach us how we can respond to temptation. As we start our journey through Lent, this Sunday’s Gospel calls us to adopt the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation: God’s word alone will suffice, God’s promise of protection can be trusted, and God alone is God.
James Healy, the first African-American bishop, gives us a helpful meditation to reflect on this wilderness experience. ” Whether we gaze with longing into the garden or with fear and trembling into the desert, of this we can be sure- God walked there first! And when we who have sinned and despoiled the garden are challenged now to face the desert, we do not face it alone; Jesus has gone there before us to struggle with every demon that has ever plagued a human heart. Face the desert we must if we would reach the garden, but Jesus has gone there before us.”
This reading is a powerful one to share with young people. Temptation is something that faces us all, but it is how we confront it and deal with it that needs to understood. Giving in to temptation, even occasionally, can lead to chronic feelings of guilt and failure. Young people are especially prone to such feelings. The need to teach resilience in the face of temptation or giving into temptation is paramount to equip young people with positive living skills.
Father Terrance Klein says in a recent edition of America Magazine,
There is little reason to fear devils as they are imagined by Hollywood. Fear the one who wanders your soul, darkening your mind and confusing your thoughts. Reject a darkening world of “ifs” and turn to your saviour. His Spirit of truth is also within you. Our young people need to be freed by this Spirit of truth. The following advice reminds us that we all face challenges or temptations in daily life. Our task is to really reflect on our own mindsets and consciously make efforts to remove those negative habits that lead to negative thinking and consequences.
The following reflection is good to adapt/share with students, to remind them that sometimes their fears and anxieties can be dealt with effectively with some simple strategies
Overcoming Temptations of Daily Life – 5 Suggestions for a Stronger Self
As we mature, we recognize that the daily temptations we face are more about being a better or weaker version of our best self. Here are some suggestions on how to become your best self.
1. Withholding Your Best Self.
Have I withheld my encouragement or my attention? Do I withhold forgiveness or kindness? Stop to think of ways you withhold your gifts and talents from your family, at work, or in the community, and then bring the gift of your best self to the world.
2. Not Dealing with a Chronic Core Problem.
Core problems might be bad habits, unhelpful responses to stress, or over-the-top emotional reactions. Whatever the problem, the moral challenge is to face it and deal with it. The help may come in the form of prayer, talking openly to a friend about the problem, or seeing a professional counsellor. Reach out for strength where it may be found.
3. Getting Paralysed by the Many Needs in the World.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by the many needs in the world – pick one or two causes, research them, and do what you can to contribute. No one can do everything, but the moral distance between doing something and doing nothing is significant.
4. Letting Fear Guide Your Life.
How much of what you do is guided by fear? Fear of failure, fear of losing your possessions, fear of not being respected–any fear that may sway your life Trusting in God is the greatest antidote to fear because it allows us to make good use of our fear. The Psalm in this week’s Sunday readings echoes this Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble. (Psalm 91:1-2,10-11,12-13,14-15)
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”
5. Choosing Easy Answers to Tough Issues.
An old Franciscan prayer asks that God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts. Difficult decisions and choices require contemplation and consideration.
Lord as Lent begins,
We pray that we become a more loving presence to others.
We offer our challenges and temptations to you.
We ask that we become our best selves, the self that brings glory to you.
We ask that we deal with the core problems of our lives and turn to you to reveal the grace which will assist us in opening our eyes and hearts to the truth of our selves
We ask for wisdom to discern the causes we should support.
We ask that we be guided by love and trust in you and live our lives with truth and courage.
We ask for patience when deliberating on tough questions.
St Francis Xavier, Pray for us.
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