1stSunday of Lent 2019 ( C )
Here we are at the first Sunday of Lent. People came to the church on Wednesday to receive their ashes, to begin Lent well. Many people give up things for Lent; chocolate is a popular one, alcohol is another, some people who smoke give up cigarettes. Lent is meant to be penitential. It is good to give up something so that you don’t forget it’s Lent. It would be easy to forget. I went passed our local pub on Ash Wednesday and saw lots of people drinking to their hearts content. I resisted the temptation to tell them it was Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. It wasn’t really much of a temptation, but I did think of it. For many people Lent is something they’ve heard about, and that’s all. But for us Catholics it must be real; and by giving up something, something small, it keeps Lent before our eyes.
Jesus we are told lived in the wilderness for forty days during which time he ate nothing. Now that’s what you call fasting! And if that wasn’t enough he was tempted by the devil for forty days. It was a strange kind of temptation, not a “go on have a chocolate; go on, only one!” But something very different. He’s asked to turn a stone into a loaf. That’s not something we would normally feel tempted to do; at least, I wouldn’t. What’s the big deal about changing a stone into bread? For Jesus it is a temptation. Now temptation is something we do know about. We are masters of temptation. We have Phd’s in temptation. The great Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, once said, “I can overcome everything, except temptation”. Temptation is our daily experience, and it’s not easy to overcome.
Lent is a good time to look at ourselves; to stop and reflect, to ask ourselves: how am I doing? What more can I do? What do I need to repent of. A good Christian will always be tempted. He/she will fall sometimes. St. Paul, who was certainly a good Christian, did not always overcome temptation. Lent can be a good time to acknowledge our sins and our failures. To beat our breasts and say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner”.
But to fall is not the worst thing in the world. God can use sin to help us. He lets us fall into temptation so that we get to know ourselves better. Yes, it’s true. When I fail, when I fail, when I sin, I am learning a valuable lesson about myself. I learn how weak I am without God. And that is a valuable but difficult lesson to learn. God is teaching us through failure that no matter how strong our resolve is not to sin, how self-disciplined we are, we will still not be able to overcome temptation. Rather than become disillusioned with ourselves we need to learn that without God’s grace we are weak, pathetic and cowardly. This is not nice to admit; all of us would like to be considered strong, and self-disciplined and morally upright. But the truth is the opposite: without God we are weak, fragile and prone to falling into temptation.
There is an old saying; ‘we learn from our mistakes’. And it is so true. It would be a big mistake to believe that my will power alone will help me overcome. It won’t. I need God’s grace; only with His grace will I overcome sin and temptation. God is trying to teach us that we need Him, we need His grace, if we are to succeed.
And so we may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we can learn from Jesus. He died to overcome our sins. His death is our victory. He has already overcome sin. When you are feeling weak, remember that: remember that He is offering you the grace to overcome sin in yourself. His victory over sin is our victory. But don’t expect to learn this quickly; this is lesson takes a lifetime. Put your trust in Him, not in yourself.