Forty Days and Nights of God’s Grace and
As we enter into the Lenten season the Church invites us to look within
ourselves in order to observe and reflect upon our inner landscape.
Augustine, in his day, invited the faithful to “return to
their heart” especially during these forty days of preparation
for the celebration of the great Paschal mystery.
What we tend to discover on this interior journey is strikingly
similar to a battlefield where a constant struggle is being waged,
in this case between the desire to do good and the temptation
to seek primarily my own personal benefit, without taking into
consideration the common good nor the harm done by my acts of
selfishness. This inner battle is much more significant than the
primary contests currently being waged, even more important than
the struggles on the field of battle in Afghanistan and Iraq.
More significant, yet intimately related at the same time.
On our journey within we are invited to discover what might yet
be present there of the primeval paradise, where “God caused
to grow from the ground every kind of tree that is pleasing to
see and good to eat”, where God walked and talked with us
as friends, where people lived in harmony. Unfortunately, that
original communion was disrupted by our failure to reject the
temptation of putting ourselves in God’s position.
In our daily struggle to live the Christian life and promote growth
in holiness there are many enticing distractions in the garden.
Of course they are good in and of themselves, since they were
created by God as a gift for us, but we are called to worship
not the gift but the Giver. Overcoming that temptation is a daily
struggle, complicated by our consumer mentality, battered by the
droning drill of commercial advertising enticing us to need what
we want rather than to want what we truly need. Lent is the time
to discover precisely what we truly need.
In stark contrast to the primordial paradise, today’s Gospel
passage paints the picture of Jesus being led into the barren
desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted. After forty days
without food, Jesus was hungry, his attention was focused, he
was prepared for the inner struggle. He was tempted and he beat
back the enticement with the inner strength derived from the wisdom
of Scripture. In this struggle he has taken on our human condition
in its entirety, teaching us by his example the manner of managing
our temptations today.
We too, while not exactly physically hungry, experience the want
and need for nourishment and strength. We struggle to fill the
inner void caused by the meaningless struggle to accumulate, to
possess more material goods, bigger and better, ultra and maxi.
We convince ourselves that we need these things, that we deserve
them, that we have a right to possess all that we can. Sooner
or later the futility of this path becomes evident to us and we
are once again invited to “return to our heart”. It
is there that we will find what we truly long for.
Our hearts are restless and they find true peace only in God’s
love. God’s grace abounds – as Saint Paul assures
us - and although we have done nothing to merit that grace, we
can count on it. This is our rock, our source of strength, out
inner force and consolation. God loves us, personally and as a
people. This outpouring of gratuitous love inspires us to respond
in kind, out of gratitude. The One who loves us boundlessly asks
us to demonstrate our gratitude by loving one another, even to
the point of loving those who despise us in return.
Lent is a time for journeying into the inner desert, led by the
Spirit, to face our temptations, to do battle with all that seeks
to separate us from the true source of life. Like Jesus, and with
his help, we can rely on the divine wisdom of sacred scripture
as well as the Bread of eternal life to guide us in discovering
God as the true center of our lives.