Five days into Lent, I am sure some of us have been tempted to give up our Lenten promises. Perhaps we've felt the sting of our sacrifices and we already asked ourselves, “Is it too late to change my penance?”
This is okay. Temptation is normal for us humans. And today, as we follow Jesus into the desert in a game of “follow the leader” that really isn't a game, we look toward our future with confidence knowing that He was Himself tempted and overcame the sting of that temptation.
Today, in the desert where we have to face-up to ourselves, we see Jesus in a sort of duel - a wrestling match between Himself and the Devil's cunning temptations. And the lesson for us today is that we don't defeat the Devil at his own game. If we play his game, we lose no matter what.
Look at Christ. Jesus doesn't beat Satan by doing what he tells Him: turning stones to bread to satisfy his physical wants; worshiping him to receive power and dominion; or hurling himself off the temple to receive the praise and adoration of others. Rather, Christ conquers these attacks by His lowliness, by His humility, by His trust in God His Father. Not that he couldn't have shown the Devil who's who, but He responded this way to leave an example for us. And in that victory we are shown a way to win in our own struggles and temptations, whatever form they take (for me right now it is in the form of yummy looking sweets and snacks between meals!). We have to follow our leader.
The desert reminds us that we will fail on our own. This is why Moses commands the people of God to proclaim the story of their ancestors, of how God saved them by mighty works: so they never forget that they are nothing without God. We must confess our trust in God over these next 40 days as Paul reminds the Romans. We see today the truth in the words of Saint Paul, who said in 2 Cor. 10:12 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. Here's one example of that. If on Ash Wednesday we cannot survive the 16-or-so hours of fasting (or at least Fr. Terry cannot) without being either irritable, grumpy, or lazy, then how do we expect to survive the forty days of Lent ahead of us? No, Lent is not a muscle-building program for us to be self-sufficient; Lent is a habitual re-orienting of the eyes of our hearts and minds towards God so that we find in Him our only true strength. When we are weak, then we are strong. This is the humility that Christ exemplified for us today, and this is how he defeated the Devil in that challenging competition.
So whether we have already stumbled in our Lenten program or have survived the first days of Lent, we know that we must trust in God our Father, after the example of Christ in the desert. With absolute humility, let us creatures acknowledge Our Creator and Defender, and find ourselves strong in our weakness. CCC 2097 To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the "nothingness of the creature" who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.
This humble adoration is the way to victory. This is the program for our entire Christian life, and especially for our next six weeks. Let us follow our leader with His humility and His strength to the desert and the cross, and so receive the promise of eternal life that we taste in this Mass.