Today we run into a bit of providence again where the readings relate so well. Last week, in Ordinary Time, my homily was on trust. Today, the readings show us the same theme from a new angle.
Do we trust today? In many ways, that is what Lent does. Just as detox programs for people with serious addictions take a little time of pain and difficulty, so does Lent, and then you feel a little better, a little stronger, a little healthier each day.
Today our Lord Jesus goes out for something much more important than a detox program, more important than getting any physical gunk out of our systems. He goes out as an example for us. He goes to show us what our priorities are really supposed to be: to discover the Father's plan for His life in a way deeper than ever before, because that vision is the foundation for everything that occurs over the next 3 years of His public ministry. He also shows us how to overcome temptations.
In Lent we are all called to go to the deserted wilderness. We are called to a spiritual purification, to detox from the corruption that we experience in our souls thanks to the Fall of Adam & Eve. And eventually, after that time of being renewed, strengthened, and focused, we are called to face our temptations with a strength that is not our own, but comes from above and from within (from the same Holy Spirit that drove Christ to the desert).
According to the 1st Letter of St. John, there are three sources of temptation in our lives: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The beautiful stuff, the “mammon” of the world, grabs our attention and ultimately can grab our hearts, if we aren't serving God with our whole heart. The body (or as St. Francis called it, “brother donkey” - to use the family friendly version) can draw us to be self-absorbed, whether it is food, exercise, laziness, or (once again, to be family-friendly) other physical pleasures. The devil works in other ways: the desire for power, to be at the top and in control and not have to share power.
All three of these ultimately tempt us to the same thing: pride and selfishness. We heard again today how, when it all started, the snake sowed the first slanderous rumor of them all: “God cannot be trusted. He is holding something back.” Then he expands on those seeds of doubt by enticing their selfishness: you will be like gods, knowing good and evil. Knowing good and evil, for sure; being like God, not so much. And that's what makes a lie really dangerous: it is a twisting of a half truth. The better the lie is, the harder for us to see where the truth ends and the lies begin, or even tell it is a lie at all.
Original Sin, and God's response in redemption, is one of the best themes of Catholic Literature. If you want to get a glimpse of the horror that one person's malice can sow in the lives of others, I recommend the reading either J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion (especially Chapters 6 and 7), or if you like plays, Shakespeare's Othello. There are no characters I could think of that are more vile at a deep level - that is, without losing my family-friendly rating! There's so much good Catholic literature (and movies) out there that are great to read but also great for strengthening your faith. I recommend giving some of it a try!
These forty days, we are sent to the desert wilderness to detox from these deeply sown lies, these twisted half-truths, and the doubts that grow from them. Because of the sin of Adam, which we all re-echo in our own lives, we are messed up, but not to the core, and not beyond restoration. Lent reminds us of that, it gives us hope, and it keeps us moving forward. So don't be afraid of the desert. Don't lose trust even when you can't see the road ahead, even when this "detoxing" from our concupiscence hurts. The effort and perseverance will be worth it when on Easter Sunday, with pure hearts and minds, we can rejoice fully in our Lord's Resurrection and know the meaning of the A-word that we give up for Lent (the family-friendly one!) God bless you!