When I was a child, I hated Lent. More specifically, I hated fish, and my mom would make fish sticks, boxed macaroni and cheese, and peas every Friday. Plus, I couldn’t stand the incense used during Mass, and Lent seemed to be the time the entire church was covered in a gag-inducing smog. Not to mention all the fuss the week before Easter Sunday. Thankfully, my parents never made me go to Mass on Holy Thursday because the idea of seeing all those people bare their feet to be washed made my stomach flip. But now, Lent, with all of its “bells and smells,” fish fries, and penitential practices culminating with all of the beautiful liturgies of the Easter Triduum, has become my favorite time of year.
Today, the first Sunday of Lent, we enter Mark’s Gospel right after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist (Mark 1: 12-15). The heavens open up with the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove and a voice from heaven states, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1: 11). Then, immediately, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness for forty days to be with the wild beasts and tempted by Satan. At least he did have angels ministering to him during this time. But, there was no break after His baptism, no party or cake, and no time to stop or even think for one moment what had just happened. No. Instantly, Jesus is alone and battling temptation from the evil one.
These events are vital lesson for us. First, Jesus being driven into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights mirrors the Israelites who marched in the desert for 40 years before coming to the Promised Land. It also mirrors how Adam lived amid wild beasts in the garden. Both Israel and Adam failed to resist the temptations of the devil, but Jesus succeeded in His test. Jesus models for us how to overcome evil in our lives through the example of his behavior in the desert with Satan.
Many in today’s society may question the very existence of evil, but we know it is very real. All we need to do is look at the evils of war, human trafficking, and childhood abuse for examples. Sadly, these evils touch us personally, taking lives, or leaving victims with a lifetime of suffering as they attempt to overcome their trauma. Through all of it, we need to remember; Jesus battled the same evils as us and is present with us, loving us, and sends His angels to minister to us.
Lent also trains us by asking us to fast, pray, and focus totally on Him. It is through turning to the Lord, keeping our eyes totally on Jesus, and never wavering from Him that we gain strength to battle the evil of our world. An evil which gives us no time to rest in His blessings, but charges at us full speed the instant we have received an amazing grace through a sacrament or simply deep prayer.
So, welcome to Lent! I pray the training is good for you, the Graces are abundant, your fish is fresh, there are no peas on the menu, and you allow yourself to fully engage in the journey which will lead all of our hearts to Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. I pray you breathe deeply and savor the intoxicating smell of the incense. And when Holy Thursday arrives, all of us are ready to give ourselves fully to the Lord.