Sunday, March 05, 2006

First Sunday of Lent

"Divine Intimacy" by Fr Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen OCD.
'The Great Combat'
PRESENCE OF GOD - O Jesus, I withdraw in spirit with You into the desert; teach me how to fight the triple concupiscence of the flesh, pride, and avarice.

1. On this day, which is the real beginning of Lent, the Church invites us to the great combat, the struggle against sin which will bring us to the Easter resurrection. Our model is Jesus, who although exempt from the incitements of concupiscence, willed to be tempted by the devil for us, in order to have "compassion on our infirmities" (Heb 4,15).
After forty days of rigorous fast, while He is feeling the pangs of hunger, Jesus is tempted by Satan to change stones into bread. No one can undertake a serious program of penance or mortification without feeling its discomforts; but that is the time to resist the insinuating voices which invite us to condenscend to the demands of nature; that is the time to reply with Jesus, "not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God" (Gosp.: Mt 4,1-11). Man's life is far more dependent on the will of God than on material food. If we are convinced of this truth, we shall have the courage to submit to privations, trusting in divine Providence for our sustenance. Jesus was next tempted by pride. "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down...and in their hands the angels shall bear thee up." Such a miracle would have aroused the admiration and enthusiasm of the people, but Jesus knew that His Father had chosen an entirely different way for Him - the way of the Cross and of death. Because He had no desire to escape from this way, He resolutely rejected the suggestion to pride. The best means of conquering temptations to pride and vanity is to chose exactly what humiliates us and makes us appear little in the eyes of others.
The devil returns to the attack and tempts Jesus to avarice: "All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me." But Jesus replies, "The Lord thy God shalt thou adore and Him only shalt thou serve!" He whose heart is firmly anchored in God will never let it be drawn away from His service by an attraction for, or envy of, earthly things. But if this strong adherence to God is weakened or lost, the temptations to avarice will often succeed in making even those stray who have a special vocation to be "serving God alone".
2. Jesus was tempted because He willed it. We, however, are tempted without willing it, and often against our will. The temptation of Jesus was wholly exterior, for it found no echo within Him; on the contrary, our nature, wounded by the triple concupiscence of the flesh, of pride, and of avarice, is not only an easy prey for the assaults of the devil, but is itself the source of many temptations. It is impossible for us to live without temptations; our virtue does not consist in being exempt from them but in being able to overcome them. It is struggle which none can escape; God even wishes this struggle to be the price of eternal life. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life" (Jas 1,12).
Let us learn from Jesus how to conduct ourselves in temptations. Primarily, He teaches us to have a great confidence in God. Jesus would not satisfy His hunger, nor impress men by means of a brilliant miracle, nor accept kingdoms and wealth because, in a spirit of perfect filial confidence, He had entrusted everything to the Father's care - His life, His mission, and His glory. Those who will fully trust in God and who rely on His Providence, will not be easily enticed by the vain flattery of the devil, the world, or the flesh, because they know that only God can give true blessings and real happiness.
We should extend the practice of this confidence to the moment of temptation. If God permits us to be tempted beyond our strength, and accompanying every temptation, there is always a special actual grace sufficient to overcome it. Therefore, instead of being disturbed by the violence of the struggle, let us use faithfully the grace God always gives and turn to Him in humble, confident prayer.
"Lord God, our Father, Life by which all live, without which everything would be as dead, do not abandon me to evil thoughts and to pride; take away from me all concupiscence and do not give me as prey to an irreverent and foolish spirit; but take possession of my heart, that I may always think of You..... Help me now, my Redeemer, I beseech You, so that I will not fall before my enemies, caught in the snares which they set for my feet to abase my soul; but to save me, strength of my salvation, that I may not become a laughing-stock to Your enemies who hate you. Rise, O Lord, my God, my strength, and Your enemies will be dispersed; those who hate You will flee before Your face.
"As wax melts in the fire, so do sinners vanish before Your face. I shall hide myself in You, and rejoice with Your children, satiated with all Your good things. And You, O Lord God, Father of orphans, protecting Mother, spread your wings, that under them we may take refuge from our enemies" (St. Augustine).
I entrust myself to You, my God and Saviour! I wish, particularly in times of struggle, to take refuge in You with redoubled confidence, for "You are my defense and will deliver me from the nets of the fowler and from all misfortune. You will cover me with Your wings and I shall be safe. Your fidelity will surround me like a shield, and I shall fear neither the terrors of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the plaque that roams in darkness, nor the attacks of the noonday devil. You are my hope, Lord; You are my refuge, O Most High! You have commanded Your angels to watch over all my paths, and they will bear me in their hands lest my feet strike against the stone" (cf. Ps 90, 3-12).

Matins Lesson 1
From the second Epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (c. 6, 1-16)

And we helping do exhort you that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith: In an accepted time have I heard thee and in the day of salvation have I helped thee. Behold, now is the acceptable time: behold now is the day of salvation. Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed. But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God: by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left: by honour and dishonour: by evil report and good report: as deceivers and yet true: as unknown and yet known: as dying and behold we live: as chastised and not killed: as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: as needy, yet enriching many: as having nothing, and possessing all things.

Blessing for the first Lesson: May the eternal Father bless us with an eternal blessing. R. Amen.