Believe it or not, we are at war, a spiritual war and we see this most clearly during this first week of Lent. The Church has two Sunday scripture readings that reflect this war with evil, our thoughts, and our pride. One, the Gospel of Mark 1: 12-15 speaking about how immediately following Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert for 40 days to suffer temptation. How many of us are already there in the desert? Suffering from illness, loss of work, addicted children, mental illness, caring for aging parents, divorce, grieving a loved one, etc., and feeling temptation to relieve ourselves from our sufferings. Our pride crying out, “why me?” Well, why not me? If it happened to Jesus why wouldn’t it happen to me?
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:12
Pope Francis speaks further about this battle and temptations when he says,
For this reason read the Gospel every day and reflect on its meaning, even for just 10 minutes and carry around a copy in one’s pocket or bag every day. The Lenten wilderness, he continued, “helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to “idols”, it helps us to make courageous choices in line with the Gospel and to strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”
I can remember a time I was physically in the desert of Sedona, Arizona. I had climbed a mountain where the last 50 feet had me crawling, on my hands and feet. When I reached the top and sat on the highest rock, I laid down to look into the sky (heavens) and listen to God speak. I became overwhelmed by fear for no reason, and I immediately related it to Jesus in the desert on a mountain being tempted by the devil. I felt the three temptations He did. The first hunger, only mine was not for physical nutrients, but pride and ego.
The second temptation was the desire for success, to be on top, where everything goes smoothly with luxury and comforts. This temptation is where the devil showed Jesus the kingdoms he could possess and rule. Again this temptation is about pride. The third temptation was fear of everything including the self and the devil enticed Jesus to jump off of the mountain to gain control and security on His accord instead of waiting on God. Another temptation of pride and I too felt the need to jump to safety. The fear was gaining power over my thoughts as I imagined the small rock holding my body crumbling to the ground and me falling to my death or would God save me? Then I remembered how Jesus overcame this temptations by dying to self and facing His enemy.
“The phrase, ‘You must die before you die,’ is found in most of the world religions. If you don’t learn how to die early, you spend the rest of your life avoiding failure. When you can free your True Self, the whole spiritual life opens up.” —Richard Rohr
Pope Francis reminds me of this when he points out that each time the devil tempts Jesus, He is able to overcome the temptation by reciting scripture back to the devil. If we do not know the scriptures we could fail.
The desert is the place where the voice of God and the voice of the tempter can be heard. In the noise, in the confusion, this cannot be done; only superficial voices can be heard. Instead, we can go deeper in the desert, where our destiny is truly played out, life or death.
And how do we hear the voice of God? We hear it in his Word. For this reason, it is important to know Scripture, because otherwise we do not know how to respond to the attacks of the evil one. And here I would like to return to my advice of reading the Gospel every day. Read the Gospel every day! Meditate on it for a little while, for ten minutes. The Lenten desert helps us to say no to worldliness, to the “idols.”
Pride is a good thing to shed during Lent, at least for me. One of the problems I often experience when I attempt to shed my pride is it is hard to kill, it is like a cat with nine lives. I believe Jesus was able to empty Himself in the desert for 40 days as this scripture reveals,
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11
In addition to the topic of killing our pride, temptation and dying to self Genesis 9:8-15 describes another form of death, the death of life. This could be a toxic relationship we were unable to let go of or the end of anything we loved and didn’t want to die. What is helpful to remember is that whatever kind of death we experience that God allows it will always be followed by His promise of new life; by the rainbow after every storm. If we look closer at Genesis, we see that the righteous protected themselves from the storm by hovering in the arch. The arch for us, today can be found in the Church. We run for cover every Sunday and some of us at daily mass to gather in the arch sheltering ourselves from the storm. We drink from the well of the Eucharist to conquer the evil that desires to steal us away from dying to our former selves and prevent us from new life. We are nourished by the Church when we consume Christ in the form of body and blood.
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14