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Lent and the Path to Freedom: Doing Battle with the World, the Flesh and the Devil

God does not need Lent, we do.

When I was a young man I had a priest friend who I now recall every time we begin the Forty Day Observance of Lent. About a week before Ash Wednesday he would say, "I am looking forward to Lent." The comment would perplex me greatly. Now I understand. 

Jesus being tempted in the Desert

Jesus being tempted in the Desert


CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - "Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil." (Luke 4:1)  "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light." (Gaudium et Spes, # 22, Second Vatican Council) When I was a young man in College I had a priest friend who I now recall every time we begin the Forty Day Observance of Lent. About a week before Ash Wednesday he would say, "I am looking forward to Lent." The comment would perplex me greatly. In fact, I was dreading Lent, thinking it to be an onerous time with a lot of external practices which I did not really understand. In my 20 year old mind, mistakenly thinking as most 20 year olds do  that I knew everything, I would dismiss the comment from my priest friend as some sort of "weird piety."  Now, decades later, I find myself joined with my old friend, seeing the wisdom of his well formed piety. I welcome this remedial season of grace in my life. Now that it has come, I pray that I can enter into its invitation and find the path to Freedom. God does not need Lent, we do. This ancient practice of setting aside 40 days in order to enter - in Jesus - into the desert places in our own daily lives and confront the temptations and struggles we face is a gift. It comes from the Lord and is offered through the Church who is our mother. The Church as mother and teacher knows just what we need. We all know the truth and need to be honest, particularly so during Lent as we examine our lives in the light of the call to repentance. We all struggle with disordered appetites and unconverted ways of thinking and living. We also demonstrate in our daily lives a lack of charity in our relationships with others. We have developed unhealthy habits which cause us untold sadness and impede our progress in virtue. None of these set us free or help us to flourish as human persons. They are the bad fruit of sin. The Desert of Lent is where we learn to conquer in the One who both shows us the Way and is Himself the Way. Lent is a gift given to us by the Lord, but we have to unwrap it and apply its remedial and healing prescriptions. The Lord in whom we now live through Baptism, is Risen from the Dead. He is walking through time now, in his Body, the Church. He wants to save us and set us free as we live our lives in that new world which is the seed of the Kingdom to come. However, as another priest friend of recent acquaintance regularly reminds his parish, "Lent  won´t work unless you work it!" Lent invites us to journey in Jesus, into the Desert. It is there, in that pace of struggle, the field of engagement, where we can learn the root causes of our challenges and be equipped with the weapons of our warfare to fight what the Scriptures and Tradition refer to as the "world, the flesh and the devil." The "world" in this meaning is NOT referring to the created order. Creation is good and given to us as a gift. Rather, the "world" refers to the system which has squeezed the primacy of the Creator out of daily life. When we succumb to its seduction we give ourselves over to the idolatry of self. The "flesh" is not our body - which God fashioned and which will be raised from the dead, made glorious by the Resurrection. Remember, the Word became flesh and was raised BODILY from the grave. Jesus was the "first fruits" and we too will be raised in Him. Rather, the "flesh" refers to the disordered appetites which are one of the bad effects of sin at work within us. The "devil" is not some figment of our imagination, but a malevolent fallen angel who, just as He tempted our first parents and tempted the Lord, now tempts us. These 40 Days of Lent are a classroom in which we learn to conquer the "world the flesh and the devil" so as to live differently, beginning now. The Author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, "we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin."  (Heb. 4:15) Jesus, the Word made flesh is our Model. The temptations He engages in the desert are the prototype of all of the challenges we face as we respond to the continuing call to conversion. After all, the Christian vocation is just that - a continuing call to conversion. We respond to the Lord´s invitation. The first temptation Jesus faced was to His identity. After all, he IS the Son of God! We, through our Baptism, have also now become Sons (and daughters) of the Father in Him. The next temptation was to idolatry. We regularly commit the horrid sin of idolatry, succumbing to its lies almost on a daily basis. Like the Christians in ancient Rome, we live in an age which has "exchanged the truth of God for a lie, worshiping created things rather than the Creator. (Rom. 1:25) Finally, there was the subtle but deadly temptation to violate integrity, to use the gifts and power of God improperly and put the Lord to the test. How clearly this poisonous serpent lurks in our daily life! In each of these encounters with the Tempter, Jesus shows us the method by confronting the lies of the truth of God´s Word. He is the Living Word, and we, through our Baptism, now live our lives in Him.That is why I say we enter the desert IN Him. We do this by living within the communion of the Church which is His Risen Body on earth. The Church is not some-thing but Some - One.

There in the Church, living in the Lord, we find the resources we need to grow in holiness and struggle against the lingering effects of sin. There we embark on the journey of holiness, becoming what the Scriptures call "perfected´ or completed in Jesus Christ. His Divine Life (Grace) is mediated to us through the Sacraments, in the Living word and the communion of love in which we now live. We are invited during these 40 days to take every gift, every grace, offered to us. We are invited to learn to wield the weapons of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. By these practices we grow in freedom by putting away the "old man/woman" and putting on the "new man/woman", created anew in Jesus. It is Jesus in his Sacred Humanity who fully reveals that new man. He is the model, showing us the method. However, in His Divinity He is Himself the Means. In Him we are redeemed. We are also capacitated to grow in holiness and virtue by overcoming temptation. Through His Saving Life, Death and Resurrection, he makes it possible for us to live new lives, in Him - beginning now and leading into eternity. Too often we forget that sin is a wrong choice, an "abuse of freedom" (See, Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1731- 1739, 386 - 402). We were created in the Image of God and at the very core; the heart of that Image is the capacity to freely choose to respond to his loving invitation to communion with Him. From the first sin, the original sin, onwards, every sin is an abuse of that freedom and leads us into slavery. However, as the Apostle Paul reminds the Galatians, "It was for freedom that Christ sets us free"! (Gal. 5:1) Our freedom has been fractured and the Cross is the splint which, when applied in our daily lives, restores our capacity to live freely! In his homily on Ash Wednesday in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI sketched for the faithful the portrait of this Holy Season as he reflected on the 40 Days that Jesus spent in the desert on our behalf: "That long time of silence and fasting for him was a complete abandonment to the Father and to His plan of love. Going into the desert meant voluntarily exposing himself to the enemy's attacks, to temptation.entering into battle with him on the open field, defying him without any weapon other than his infinite trust in the Father's omnipotent love. "Adam was expelled from the earthly paradise, the symbol of communion with God.... Now, in order to return to that communion and thus to eternal life we must pass through the desert, the test of faith. Not alone but with Jesus who proceeds us and who has already conquered in the fight against the spirit of evil. This is the meaning of Lent, the liturgical time that, each year, invites us to renew our decision to follow Christ on the path of humility in order to participate in his victory over sin and death". Let us choose enter into the desert, in Jesus. Let us welcome Lent by embracing its way of voluntary sacrifice, of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Lent is a path to Freedom.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.

Keywords: Lent, world, flesh, devil, spiritual warfare, fasting, almsgiving, prayer, temptation, Deacon Keith Fournier



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1 - 5 of 5 Comments

  1. Hilton Peters
    2 years ago

    Opened by eyes to the actual meaning of the word desert.
    Thank you for sharing this article.

  2. joe
    2 years ago

    We all start our journey kicking and screaming how we don't want to do it, because we don't know what we are doing or what the future holds, but they force us. We get better ,but we still don't like the trip, but they make us keep going. As we get better the resistance recedes and the trip gets easier until finally we not only enjoy it, but look forward to each new day.The single greatest lesson of Lent has been this for me. Do what is necessary whether you want to or not. Then do what is possible with the best attitude you can muster and at some point you will be doing the impossible with joy in your heart. I think that pretty much describes Lent and the life of every Saint for that matter..

  3. Joseph
    2 years ago

    Well reasoned article, Deacon, an article pointing us towards the roots of our faith as a confrontation with Sin - the world, the flesh and the devil - that seeks to lead us astray and, ultimately, lead us to damnation or salvation: the choice is ours in our exercise of freewill as part of the freedom that Christ - as you rightly point out – has given us through his sacrifice on the cross.
    This is precisely the sort of shift in emphasis, in pastoral terms, that we need to adopt in the Church at large, a return to a more measured explanation of the gospel, one that more fully embraces the spiritual richness of our tradition, one that embraces salvation but also the possibility of damnation, the reality of both heaven and hell. Our Church has for a number of decades played down the reality of Sin and Hell as terrible and destructive realities that face each of us. In a world that has turned its back on Christ there is an urgent need to explain both God’s saving grace but also the terrible reality of hell and damnation if we reject his offer. It was to save us from this terrible reality that the Word became flesh, to offer us a chance to escape its implacable logic, a chance to triumph over its deadly grip on the human mind and the human soul, through the liberatory logic of love, sacrifice, justice and righteousness, in obedience to the will and commandments of God.
    But even more, pronouncing this truth - however unfashionable it may be in today's contemptuous secular progressive society - is a moral imperative placed upon the shoulders of each of us and on the shoulders of Mother Church collectively. A moral imperative the Church has too often neglected, adopting a pastoral approach that has perhaps placed too much emphasis on love, mercy and forgiveness at the expense of an appropriate counterbalancing emphasis on sin, personal responsibility, and the possibility of eternal perdition.
    As God himself told us: "If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life." (Exekiel 3: 18-20).
    We must, therefore, as Catholics, recover our sense of urgency in the face of the choices before all of us, and before our civilisation, in this specific period of human history in which we live. Lent, and the observance of Lent, becomes a symbol of the spiritual, moral and intellectual struggle we must wage first and foremost with ourselves, to purify ourselves, but secondly, with the world, as commanded by God, in an attempt to warn it, to open its eyes to the reality and potential consequences of its thoughts, intentions and actions, that it may save itself, and avoid the eternal damnation that wrong choices, wilfully pursued, must inevitably lead to. If we do this, we have done our duty. If we fail to do it, if we fail to warn our generation, God has told us that he will not only punish those who wickedly reject his truth, he will hold us responsible too.

  4. jh
    2 years ago

    Really good, Deacon. Thank you.

  5. abey
    2 years ago

    Israel in the wilderness made a golden calf to the worship, borrowed from the Egyptian/Heathren beliefs, also signified worship through material, today called materialism & since GOD is in no need of materials as all things of Him are eternal , this act is not to worship God , but the desire of man unto himself off his mind, in other words worship of himself, his mind, to the golden calf & when Moses enquired, Aaron out of fear said that when the gold ornaments collected from the people were put into the fire, the calf came out of the fire, but the bible says the calf was crafted by the tools from melting the gold , which goes on to say that idolatry in any form & its worship is off the carnal mind & the stories wound around the idols are the lies, originally from the serpent from Eden in the continuation to the present day against which is the truth of lent.

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