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  • Writer's pictureFr. Paul MacNeil

First Sunday in Lent - Deacon Gunther

I confess! I like chocolate. It’s one of my favourite temptations. Which is why the following story resonates with me:

A husband took his young daughter to the store to help buy groceries. In addition to the healthy items on his wife’s carefully prepared list the two of them returned home with a large bag of M&Ms. His wife said “Why did you buy this?” “You know M&Ms are not good for you”! The husband replied “Don’t worry honey this bag of M&Ms has one-third less calories than usual”. The wife looks over the package and says “what makes you think that there is one-third less calories than usual”? The husband says “Well … we ate about a third of the bag on the way home so there’s one-third less calories”.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden temptation has been a constant unrelenting part of human life. We can try to avoid resist or ignore it but no person has ever found a place or circumstance that can make us safe from temptation. No matter how hard we try to avoid temptations they find their way into our life. It seems as though they lie in wait for us trying to catch us when we least expect them or when our resolve to avoid them is weak. But the story of the temptations of Jesus in the desert gives us hope. His response to the tempter came from a realization that his mission was from God and not from the attractions offered by the devil.

In the face of temptation our strength comes from remembering our true self. We are all daughters and sons of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is greater than that.

During this Season of Lent, we will hear in each of the first readings about salvation history. Every Sunday the readings will show us different models of sin, of repentance, and of God’s overflowing mercy.

Hearing these stories reminds us that we are all sinners and we are invited to turn back to God for his generous mercy.

Today on the First Sunday of Lent we hear from the Book of Genesis where it all first started. We learn about the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden. Then in our Responsorial Psalm we repent and cry out: “Have mercy … O Lord … for we have sinned”.

We should use our time during Lent to deepen our awareness of how much our merciful God loves us. And as our awareness deepens allow our love for God and our love for others to deepen as well.

Theologian Martin Connell nicely summarizes this awareness when he writes: “Lent is an opportunity for the community of faith to pause and reawaken to the bounty of God’s love”.

It would be good to align our Lenten disciplines with the needs of the world so that those living in suffering today may also experience hope, love, and the mercy of God through our actions.

Setting Lenten resolutions to pray, to fast, and to give alms can be a real and powerful way to engage ourselves during this penitential season. But be aware that sometimes these Lenten practices can feel like New Year’s resolutions, where we put ourselves onto an aggressive regiment only to burn out very quickly. Perhaps these private resolutions could be enhanced with challenging ourselves to care for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized. Lent should include both personal improvement and the improvement of the difficult conditions of others.

As you are fasting or skipping some personal refreshment or entertainment, pray also for those who do not have the luxury of giving up anything.

Perhaps give the money you would have spent to a charity that serves those in need like the St. Vincent DePaul Society or Share Lent through Development & Peace.

Lent is not merely a time of giving up pleasures and dwelling on our sins. It is equally important to tie the sacrifices to some acts of generosity toward the needy. Certainly, we practice these types of activities during the rest of the year as well, but this is a wonderful time to rethink our love of others that are in need.

We are called to pray, learn and break bread together making sure that no one goes hungry or thirsty. Donating some of your time for example to our new Parish Breakfast Program might be another good Lenten Resolution to consider.

As we enter Lent It is comforting to know that even the Lord was tempted. The Gospel portrays Jesus as tired and alone when temptation strikes. However, his firm foundation and commitment allow him to reject the easy solutions offered by the devil.

We have to ask … is our foundation in the Lord firm? Are we following in the footsteps of Christ?

In today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis the story of creation ends with the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve. This dramatic event sets the tone for the many stories of God’s merciful interventions in human events despite our human weaknesses.

In the Gospel message the desert is a place of testing and isolation. There Jesus encounters the devil. Like all temptation notice the devil challenges the self-identity of Jesus by beginning with the phrase … “If you are …”. “If you are … the Son of God, command those stones to become loaves of bread”. “If you are … the Son of God, throw yourself down”. In the same way the devil constantly tempts us challenging our identity and our mission in life. To be disciples of Christ!

Lent becomes for us a time to remember who we are. A reminder that we are baptized in the Lord for the work of the Lord.

Now, we don’t normally experience sin in as dramatic a fashion as Eve in the Garden or Jesus in the desert. Often our sins are harder to acknowledge and more difficult to recognize. Merely giving up M&M’s … is not enough! So, Lent can be a time to explore our inner-self and acknowledge those things that separate us from God’s love. Reconciliation is always a good place to start. When we ask God for forgiveness, we draw closer to him. Remember that God created us and loves us no matter what our circumstances. Being as faithful as we can to God helps our relationship with him grow stronger. Then when we choose to love others and follow Christ we continue to grow in trust and faith.

This Gospel story gives us hope. The response from Jesus to the devil’s temptations came from the realization that his mission was from God not from the attractions offered by the devil. In a similar way our strength to fight temptation comes from remembering our true self as sons and daughters of God. Think about how much God must love us to still hold us as special despite all our flaws and failings.

Spend time during this special season of Lent, recalling those times, you were not your best self, a time of sadness, a time of doubt, or a time of sinfulness. Place them before God. And try to feel God’s love.

May God bless you!

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