Sunday, March 9, 2014
First Sunday of Lent
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
Matthew 4:1-11

My life easily assumes the rhythm of the Church calendar. Perhaps it is because I work in the Church. More likely it is because I write this column and the liturgical seasons are always before me. This is the first Sunday in Lent. This is a time when I intuitively move to my own interior desert and seriously examine my life. During Lent, my focus is always on Easter so this is not a time when I look at the past. I am very well aware of my past failures. What will I do about them? During Lent, I am looking toward the future.

In all three cycles, the Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent tells the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert as he begins his missionary journey. So I, too, look at what is ahead. Lent becomes a preparation, not a retrospective. Lent has a power that transcends even the demands of the official Church. People feel a need to seek a special kind of truth about themselves during this time. We want and need a “desert experience.” The readings of the season encourage this kind of introspection. Even without consciously trying, most of us are forced to look at our lives with “Lenten eyes.”

The Gospel tells the story of how Jesus used the time he spent in the desert.  When we look at Matthew’s story by itself, it is messianic.  Put into the context of the first reading, though, it has yet another meaning.  First, we hear of the temptation of Adam and Eve.  Then, we see Jesus as the new Adam being tempted.  Now, in Lent, another scene emerges.  We are asked to put ourselves into the third scene of this triptych: Adam--Jesus--and ourselves.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul tells us that death spread to all of us because all of us are sinners.  Our Lenten challenge is to examine our own sinfulness and the temptations we face every day because we are sinful. All Jesus’ answers to the tempter are quotations from Deuteronomy 6-8, which ought not to surprise us since all the temptations are sins against the commandment to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”  The decision to live by this great commandment demands a radical turning toward God as the center of our lives.  This is not done once and forever.  All of us are continually called to conversion.

Most of us move from day to day making small decisions out of a value system that we seldom examine.  During Lent, we are asked to look at our lives again. We are asked to discover the temptations that we face and to consider our response in light of the great commandment.

We move to the altar on this First Sunday of Lent with a renewed conviction that Jesus, the new Adam, has reordered our lives.  With him, we enter this holy season.