1st Sunday of Lent

In the Gospel today, we hear about Our Lord’s temptation in the desert.  Our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted for our benefit.  The fact that He was able to be tempted, is a proof that Jesus, Who is fully God, also really and truly did become man: God cannot be tempted, but because Jesus was a man like us in all things except sin, He was able to be tempted.

Our Lord’s temptation in the desert teaches us several things about temptation.  We should keep in mind, first of all, that temptation is a part of our fallen human condition: as long as we live in this world, we will experience temptations and so we need to be constantly vigilant.  Our Lord says often in the Gospels: “Watch and pray.”  The watchfulness that He commands is watchfulness over our own hearts, in order that we may not fall into sin.  We need to do all that we can to avoid sin; we may not be able to root temptation out of our lives, but we can root sin out of our lives by rejecting temptation as soon as it arises.

The fact that Our Lord was tempted also teaches us that temptations are not sinful in themselves.  Just because a sinful thought presents itself to our minds, does not mean that it is a sin; sin is in the will: we have to choose to sin.  In order for a thought to be a sin, one has to make a choice.  Each time that Our Lord was tempted, He immediately rejected the temptation.  We are to imitate His example: we are to reject temptation as soon as it arises in our minds.  Sin starts off as a thought.  If I do not reject the thought right away, it takes root and becomes harder to reject.  Saint John Vianney said that sin is like a tree: if we root it out right away, when it is a little sapling, it is easily removed.  A sapling can be uprooted with two fingers.  If we allow a sin to take root and grow, it becomes more and more difficult.  If a person has allowed a sin to grow for many years, it will only be removed with much difficulty, as a full-grown tree takes much effort to uproot.  It is important for us to root out temptation as soon as we are aware of it and not allow it time to take root.  Sinful thoughts lead to sinful actions and sinful actions lead to sinful habits and sinful habits can be very difficult to break free from; sinful habits enslave us to sin.

If we reject temptation immediately, we act virtuously.  If we repeatedly reject a temptation we grow in virtue.  Virtue is a good habit that has been developed through practice.  Virtue can only grow if it is exercised and we cannot exercise virtue unless we are tested by some temptation or trial.  That is not to say that we should seek out temptation: on the contrary, we should flee from temptation and its occasions.  We ought to call upon the Lord as soon as we are aware of a temptation.  We should also avoid places and situations that lead us into temptation.  Our fallen human nature is very weak, and we should not allow ourselves to become overconfident in our own virtue, but do all we can to avoid the occasions of sin.

Another thing that we learn from Our Lord’s temptation is the importance of prayer accompanied by fasting.  Regular prayer is indispensable, of course; but it is also essential to the spiritual life to practice self-denial.  Our Lord said that if we want to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross and follow Him.  Through self-denial, our will is strengthened.  Through self-denial we conform ourselves to our crucified Lord.  Through self-denial we win many graces for ourselves and for others.  Self-denial is also the best way to put our own pride to death.

Pride is one of the greatest enemies to our spiritual growth.  It was through pride that Satan fell from Heaven and it was through pride that our First Parents sinned and were cast out of the Garden.  Pride is that impulse that is within the human heart which causes us to want to put ourselves first.  We are called to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, but pride tempts us to love ourselves before God and above others.  By denying ourselves, we let our actions show that we place God first: ahead of our own comfort.

The Church gives us this holy season of Lent to assist us in detaching our hearts from the things of this world.  This season is an opportunity for all of us to examine our hearts and root sin out of our lives, thereby making of our hearts a more acceptable dwelling place for Our Lord.  Let us take advantage of this opportunity to grow in love for God and in love for others.  Lord Jesus, help us to make the most of this Lenten season.  Purify our hearts through our Lenten observance, and make our hearts conform every more closely to Your own Sacred Heart.  Amen.