FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT
Dying to self
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
In today’s Gospel we see Christ in the desert, struggling with the tempter. Through prayer, fasting, and fidelity to the word of God he emerges victorious.
We all have to face temptations. Lent provides us with a great opportunity to intensify our efforts to overcome them. Let us reflect for a moment on our worst and constant temptation. [Pause]
Through the grace of Christ we too can be victorious over our temptations.
Lord, through the grace of this holy season you call us to repentance. Lord, have mercy.
Through the grace of this holy season you help us to die to self. Christ, have mercy.
Through the grace of this holy season you help us to renew our hearts and our lives. Lord, have mercy.
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Genesis 2:7-9;3:1-7). This deals with the tempting of Adam and Eve. In spite of all God did for them, at the first suggestion of the tempter, they disobeyed him.
Second Reading (Romans 5:12-19).. By his obedience to God, Christ undid the harm done by the disobedience of Adam.
Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11). This Gospel shows that, like us, Jesus had to struggle against evil. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not succumb.
Lent may not be taken as seriously as it once was. Even so, it still has a, great pulling power for all those who are serious about living a spiritual life. It provides a great opportunity and a great grace. Yet one gets the impression that it doesn’t achieve much. Perhaps our problem is that we don’t really know how to use it. We don’t know what to aim at.
Lent recalls the forty days Christ spent in the desert. He was about to embark on his real work in life – to bring the Good News to his brothers and sisters. He went into the desert to fast, pray, and reflect. Before setting out to help others he got himself right first.
In the desert he was confronted by the same basic temptation which confronts us all: whether to serve the true self or the false self, whether to seek honour and glory for himself or to seek honour and glory for God. In the desert he not only encountered God. he also encountered his true self. He made an irrevocable decision: to serve the true self and to do God’s will.
This desert experience came at a crucial moment in his life and at a time of great awakening. It would be impossible to exaggerate its importance for him. Later on, when people and events threatened to engulf him, he would steal off to lonely places to recover himself and rededicate himself to the Father. What he was doing was deepening this ﬁrst desert experience. Now if we find all this a little too much for us, here is a more homely example.
A nun tells about something that happened to her when she was only twelve years old. One summer morning she was waiting for her friend to come over. But her friend was delayed, so she got annoyed and began to give out, complain, and generally to make a nuisance of herself. Finally her father could take it no longer. He told her to get a book, a blanket, and an apple. Then he took her in his car and drove her eight miles out into the country. There he left her, saying: ‘You’re not fit company for anyone. Stay here until I come back for you in the evening.’
At first she was very angry and full of defiance. She wanted to walk back, but the thought of her father’s anger made her change her mind. So she decided there was nothing for it but to settle down and let time go by. Even so, it took a lot of time for her anger to subside. Meanwhile she just sat there doodling, in a sulk. But slowly as time passed her anger died down. She ate the apple sitting under a tree.
As things quietened down inside her, she felt .more at peace. Then she opened her eyes to the world around her. She looked up at the blue sky, and around her at the beauty of the countryside. When she saw all this beauty she began to feel ashamed of her behaviour. She saw it as childish and selfish.
And surprisingly as her mood changed to one of peace and even joy, she realised that it was good to be alone. She got a feeling of her own goodness. At the same time she felt at one with the world around her, and had a distinct feeling of being close to God.
Time flew. By the time her father came for her she was almost a new person. She had grown like a young plant in the sun. She thanked her father for the risk he had taken, and for giving her an opportunity to grow. This experience had a profound and lasting effect on her. She grew to love solitude, and made a habit of seeking it at important and difficult moments in life.
This should give us some idea of what Lent could do for us. How we need it! We too must seek our true selves. But often we live almost completely for the false self. We live foolishly, superficially, and unspirituaily, driven on by a multitude of senseless, stupid desires and habits. We are surrounded by noise and constant activity. We have no priorities. We lose ourselves. We are unable or unwilling to be alone, to be silent, to be still. And we wonder why we aren’t happy, why we don’t find it easy to get on with others, and why we can’t pray.
We cannot find ourselves in the crowd or in the hurly-burly of everyday occupations. We need to stand apart. We need solitude. But solitude can be realised, not just in the country, but anywhere. In solitude we come face to face with the basic option: to live for the false self or to live for the true self. Solitude helps us to identify the false self and to see the dominance it has over us. It also helps us to cast it off, so that the true, deep, and secret self can gradually emerge. In solitude we begin to stand on our own feet before God and the world, and accept full responsibility for our own lives.
The spiritual life is not in the first place a matter of saying prayers. The spiritual life is the life of one’s real self, the life of that interior self whose flame is often allowed to be smothered under the ashes of anxiety and futile concerns. The basic realities of this interior life are: faith, humility, charity, meekness, discretion, and self-denial.
We have to die in order to live more spiritually. But if we die it is only that we may rise to a new, deeper, fuller, and more spiritual life. This is why Lent has no meaning without Easter. We must keep our eyes on Easter. We must have a passionate longing for resurrection and renewal. The goal we are aiming at is to rise to a new life with the risen Christ.
‘People accept more readily outward penances than the task of changing themselves, or even examining themselves.’ (Hermann Hesse).
‘It is impossible to see one’s face in troubled water.’ (Thomas Merton).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray that through prayer, self-denial, and attention to the word of God we may celebrate this holy season fruitfully, and so prepare well for Easter. R. Create a new spirit within us, O Lord.
For all the followers of Christ: that they may take the path of self-denial and renewal this Lent. [Pause] Let us pray to the Lord.
For all those who hold public office: that they may not seek their own interests and glory, but seek to serve others humbly and faithfully. [Pause] Let us pray to the Lord.
For all those who are totally enmeshed in the care and worries of this life, and who have no time or thought for the things of the spirit. [Pause] Let us pray to the Lord. ‘
That we may have the courage and strength to tackle our worst and constant temptations. [Pause] Let us pray to the-Lord.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, in your gentle mercy, guide our efforts at renewing our lives this Lent, for we know that left to ourselves we can do nothing. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
The American writer, Thoreau,
lived for two years in the woods.
‘I went into the woods,‘ he says,
‘to confront the essential facts of life,
lest when I come to die
I should discover that I had not lived.
‘I did not read books the first summer;
I hoed beans.
Nay, often I did better than this.
There were times when I could not afford
to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment
to any work, whether of head or hand.
I love a broad margin to my life.
‘Sometimes in a summer morning,
I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon,
rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines,
in undisturbed solitude and stillness,
while the birds sang around me.
‘I grew in those seasons like corn in the night.
They were not time subtracted from my life,
but so much over and above my usual allowance.
‘It is not enough to be industrious;
so are the ants.
What are you industrious about?’