Lent is here. It begins with our Lord Jesus Christ submitting himself under the prophetic call to repentance from his cousin, John, the Baptist, and allowing himself to be submerged in the water of the Jordan river for the ritual baptism, a commitment to convert and render his life to God.
We see the heavens opening up, the Holy Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove; and we hear the gentle voice of God, the Father, declaring: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
God the Father loves Jesus and declares to all creation of His love for His only-begotten Son. In so doing God the Father also declares His love for you. God loves you and He loves you first; that’s why He sent Jesus to you. So “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Love is the motif and the motivation for all that Jesus does for us. He loves God, the Father, and thus enters into this world to live, suffer and die for us. He reveals to us not only through His stories and examples, but also by His life and death, the love of God the Father reserved for us from all eternity.
The very first act of love Jesus wants to show us is fasting. He enters into the desert with the Holy Spirit for forty days and forty nights to confront His own human weaknesses and the Devil. He endures hunger and thirst, the lonely life in the howling desert and the assaults of the Devil. He fasts, He prays and He trusts in the Word of His Father. This is to show us how to repent and render to God what belongs to Him.
Following Jesus’ footsteps we are called to embark in this pilgrimage of forty days of Lent. With Jesus we listen to the loving voice of God, the Father; we do penance and deny ourselves. The following meditations are 40 straight-forward acts of repentance to help you look back and re-examine your own life with Jesus.
Let us take this pilgrimage of repentance to pray for our Catholic Church, especially for our priests.
O Mary, Queen of the Apostles: Walk with us on this pilgrimage.
Let us pray.
Grant us, O Lord, to begin our Christian warfare with holy fasts; that as we are about to do battle with the spirits of evil we may be defended by the aid of self-denial and the protecting gaze of our Blessed Virgin Mother Mary. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Devil keeps asking again and again: “Who is this man?” Jesus tells us: “Ask and you shall receive” (Luke 12:9). The Devil does exactly that; and he got what he asked for. Every time he asks the wrong question, he gets rebuked with a humiliating answer. But he is persistent; he doesn’t give up. He keeps coming back for more. He will not stop until he gets what he wants.
In his mind he suspects that “the man” was “the Son of God,” but because of his supernatural pride the truth keeps eluding him. “The man” doesn’t look like “the Son of God” at all; He looks human. But how could a “mere man” survive without food and drink for such a long period of time? He must test Jesus.
Observe how the Devil probes Jesus for the answer. Being full of himself, he gives commands to the Lord. From ground zero he incites pride: “If you are 'the Son of God', command that these stones become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3). In other words, “prove yourself God with power.” Instead of satisfying his vain curiosity, the Lord humbles the Devil with a human answer: “It is written:...” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus relies on the written Word of God for His life instead of relying on His personal pride. In humility Jesus proves Himself God, but the Devil could not comprehend this truth because for him, humility is the sign of a weakling. It all the more shows that Jesus is a man, not God.
Still, something keeps bothering him. “God is powerful,” the Devil thinks in his mind, “He could not be humble!” So he makes another attempt. This time he imposes his magical power on the Lord by carrying Him to Jerusalem and making Him “stand on the parapet of the Temple” (Matthew 4:5). Instead of resisting Jesus welcomes the challenge.
Imagine you standing on the edge of a high-rise building by yourself and looking down below, what would the people looking up to you from ground zero say? There is only one reaction: that you are attempting to commit suicide. That’s exactly what the Devil wants the Lord to do: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” (Matthew 4:6). It’s only because the Devil dares you to kill yourself, so you would make yourself a daredevil?! Again, he provokes the Lord: “prove yourself God with power.” This time it is not about using your power to serve your own need, but showing it to the people so they could admire you. This time the Devil incites not only pride but self-aggrandizement.
Since the Devil has caught on to the fact that, Jesus, as a devout Jew, loves and lives by the Word of God, he plays friendly with the Lord by acting like a religious and quoting Psalm 91. He wants to make Jesus feel that he is on His side. But there is a catch. The Devil takes God’s Word and twists it upside down by putting it in a different context. He changes its meaning completely, saying, “‘He [God] will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you’” (Matthew 4:6; Psalm 91:11-12). In a word, that God cares for you, so even when you kill yourself, He will protect you.
This is the wile of the Devil. As the saying goes, he wants “to kill two birds with one stone!” First: he wants to see Jesus proving Himself God with power; but even if Jesus uses His power to prove Himself, it only proves that He is not God either, for how could God obey the bidding of the Devil?! Second: suppose Jesus plunges Himself off the Temple and dies, it’s all the better; His death proves that He is no God; the Devil doesn’t really care; nonetheless, he is ready to catch Him and carries Him into Hell. On this part, it is not untrue that “God’s angel” will catch you; for the Devil is an angel, an evil one. But he has another scheme in mind: he wants to prove to Jesus and the people of Jerusalem that God doesn’t really care; if God cares then why doesn’t He stop people from committing suicide? That’s the wile of the Devil for you.
How did Jesus respond? Once again, with humility: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Matthew 4:7). The Lord humbles Himself again. “That settles it,” the Devil reasons, “the man cannot be God; he’s too weak!” So he decides to treat the Lord as a mere man. Thus comes the third test…
…. Since you have been watching and praying in the desert with the Lord for 12 days already, you should realize by now that you are not really alone with Jesus. The Devil has been accompanying you all along. He has been bombarding the Lord with questions after questions; and you are the witness.
Suppose you do the same. Suppose you ask Jesus questions as well. The Devil doesn’t know for sure “who the man is,” but you do. You know it by faith. But do you understand what you know and believe? Suppose you decide to be honest and say, no, you could ask the Lord Himself. “Who are you Lord?” “What does it mean to be You, Lord?” “What am I to You, Lord?” Suppose you decide to ask the Lord again and again, not out of curiosity or for vainglory, but only to be like Him. Yes, to be humble like Him. He’d love it.
Take a deep breath…. Let us pray for priests to be humble like Jesus.
O Mary, Queen of the Apostles: Make all your priests humble like your Son, Jesus.