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By Fr. Joseph Muszkiewicz
Associate Pastor, Catholic Community of Manistee

We began our 40-day Lenten journey this week Ash Wednesday. In the Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent we hear of Jesus’ own 40-day journey which he spent in the desert. This desert experience immediately followed his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, where he heard that affirming voice from heaven about his identity: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” We are told Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, and it was the Spirit that led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

That seems like an odd thing to do to a beloved son; to send him off on a forty-day ordeal to be tempted -- and in a harsh desert environment to boot. It almost appears as though God is in cahoots with the devil. Instead of a loving Father, God appears to be more like a sadistic celestial drill sergeant, forcing his Son to navigate through a horrendously temptation-ridden obstacle course -- and, for what purpose? What’s going on here?

Maybe the point is not that the Son of God, who came into the world to do the will of his heavenly Father, was forced to endure a uniquely designed trial; but rather, that the very human Jesus experienced the same fundamental temptation we all face at some point: thinking we are in control.

The insidious thing about temptation is that it lures us by things that are good and desirable such as being able to feed the hungry, to have power to influence the world in a good way, to trust in God’s protective care, while obscuring something even greater – relying on and being in right relationship with God, who is the source of all that is good.

As for the desert, well, deserts are places of vulnerability, whether to the physical elements of a hot, sun-scorched barren landscape where wild animals roam, or to the demands of everyday living with busy schedules and a poor economy. Being vulnerable is an uncomfortable state to be in and if we can’t, or don’t, put our trust in God, we often try to exert our own control.

So, what does this mean for us this Lent? After his baptism by John and having been affirmed by the declaration, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” Jesus was led on a 40-day journey of fasting and praying, and the temptations he experienced focused on his identity as the “beloved Son.” Jesus’ “Sonship” did not depend on whether he could prove it by fulfilling the devil’s demands. No, he showed who he was by staying faithful to the will of his heavenly Father.

When each one of us was baptized, we too became one of God’s children, a beloved daughter or son with whom He is well pleased. Our 40-day Lenten journey as a child of God is more than just about having ashes put on our forehead, praying the Stations of the Cross, or abstaining from meat on Fridays. It’s about being faithful to the will of our heavenly Father (which we know by following his Son), and of being open to the transformation that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving can produce in our lives.

If we do all these things, can we expect to be free of temptations? Even Jesus didn’t experience that. Luke’s gospel tells us that after the episode of temptation in the desert, the devil only “departed from him for a time.” But Jesus did model for us what to do in the face of temptation: He turned to Scripture and relied on God. His example provides a good advice for us to follow throughout our lives.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.