POPE FRANCIS ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A
Saint Peter’s Square
First Sunday of Lent Year A, 26 February 2023
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
The Gospel of this first Sunday of Lent presents to us Jesus in the desert, tempted by the devil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). “Devil” means “divider”. The devil always wants to create division, and it is what he sets out to do by tempting Jesus. Let us see, then, from whom he wants to divide him, and how he tempts him.
From whom does the devil want to divide Jesus? After receiving Baptism from John in the Jordan, Jesus was called by the Father “my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17), and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (cf. v. 16). The Gospel thus presents us the three divine Persons joined in love. Then Jesus himself will say that he came into the world to make us, too, partake in the unity between him and the Father (cf. Jn 17:11). The devil, instead, does the opposite: he enters the scene to divide Jesus from the Father and to distract him from his mission of unity for us. He always divides.
Let us now see how he tries to do it. The devil wants to take advantage of the human condition of Jesus, who is weak as he has fasted for forty days and is hungry (cf. Mt 4:2). The evil one then tries to instil in him three powerful “poisons”, to paralyse his mission of unity. These poisons are attachment, mistrust, and power. First and foremost, the poison of attachment to material goods, to needs; with persuasive arguments the devil tries to convince Jesus: “You are hungry, why must you fast? Listen to your need and satisfy it, you have the right and the power: transform the stones into bread”. Then the second poison, mistrust: “Are you sure the Father wants what is good for you? Test him, blackmail him! Throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple and make him do what you want”. Finally, power: “You have no need for your Father! Why wait for his gifts? Follow the criteria of the world, take everything for yourself, and you will be powerful!”. The three temptations of Jesus. And we too live among these temptations, always. It is terrible, but that is just how it is, for us too: attachment to material things, mistrust and the thirst for power are three widespread and dangerous temptations, which the devil uses to divide us from the Father and to make us no longer feel like brothers and sisters among ourselves, to lead us to solitude and desperation. He wanted to do this to Jesus, he wants to do it to us: to lead us to desperation.
But Jesus defeats the temptations. And how does he defeat them? By avoiding discussion with the devil and answering with the Word of God. This is important: you cannot argue with the devil, you cannot converse with the devil! Jesus confronts him with the Word of God. He quotes three phrases from the Scripture that speak of freedom from goods (cf. Dt 8:3), trust (cf. Dt 6:16), and service to God (cf. Dt 6:13), three phrases that are opposed to temptation. He never enters into dialogue with the devil, he does not negotiate with him, but he repels his insinuations with the beneficent Words of the Scripture. It is an invitation to us too; one cannot defeat him by negotiating with him, he is stronger than us. We defeat the devil by countering him in faith with the divine Word. In this way, Jesus teaches us to defend unity with God and among ourselves from the attacks of the divider. The divine Word that is Jesus’ answer to the temptation of the devil.
And we ask ourselves: what place does the Word of God have in my life? Do I turn to it in my spiritual struggles? If I have a vice or a recurrent temptation, why do I not obtain help by seeking out a verse of the Word of God that responds to that vice? Then, when temptation comes, I recite it, I pray it, trusting in the grace of Christ. Let us try, it will help us in temptation, it will help us a great deal, so that, amid the voices that stir within us, the beneficent one of the Word of God will resound. May Mary, who welcomed the Word of God and with her humility defeated the pride of the divider, accompany us in the spiritual struggle of Lent.
Saint Peter’s Square
First Sunday of Lent Year A, 1 March 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning,
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel (cf. Mt 4:1-11) narrates that, after being baptized in the River Jordan, Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v. 1). Jesus prepares himself to begin his mission as proclaimer of the Kingdom of Heaven and, just as Moses and Elijah (cf. Ex 24:18; 1 Kings 19:8) had done in the Old Testament, he does so by fasting for 40 days. He enters into “Lent”.
At the end of this period of fasting, the tempter, the devil, breaks in and tries to put Jesus to the test three times. The first temptation arises when Jesus is hungry. The devil suggests, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (v. 3). A challenge. But Jesus’ response is clear: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (v. 4). He refers to when Moses reminded the people of their long journey in the desert, through which they learned that their lives depended on the Word of God (cf. Dt 8:3).
The devil then makes a second attempt (vv. 5-6). He becomes more astute, and he too, quotes the Sacred Scripture. The strategy is clear: if you are so confident in God’s power, then experience it. For Scripture itself affirms that you will be aided by the angels (v. 6). But also in this case, Jesus does not allow himself to be confounded, because those who believe do not put God to the test, but rather they entrust themselves to God’s goodness. Thus, to the words of the Bible that Satan interpreted for his own purposes, Jesus responds with another quotation: “Again it is written; ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (v. 7).
Lastly, the third attempt (vv. 8-9) reveals the devil’s true reasoning: since the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven marks the beginning of his own defeat, the evil one wants to distract Jesus from accomplishing his mission by offering him a perspective of political messianism. But Jesus rejects the idolatry of power and human glory and, in the end, drives the tempter away, and says “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (v. 10). At this point, the angels draw near to serve Jesus, who is faithful in handing himself over to the Father (cf. v. 11).
This teaches us one thing: Jesus does not dialogue with the devil. Jesus responds to the devil with the Word of God, not with his own words. In temptation, we often begin to dialogue with temptation, to dialogue with the devil: “yes, I may do this…, then I will go to confession, then this, then that…”. We must never dialogue with the devil. Jesus does two things with the devil: he either sends him away or, like in this case, he responds with the Word of God. Be attentive to this: never dialogue with temptation, never dialogue with the devil.
Today too, Satan breaks into people’s lives to tempt them with his enticing proposals. He mixes his own voice to the many other voices that try to tame our conscience. Messages come to us from many places, inviting us to “allow ourselves to be tempted”, to experience the intoxication of transgression. Jesus’ experience teaches us that temptation is an attempt to walk paths that are alternative to those of God. Do this, there’s no problem, then God forgives! One day of joy for yourself …”. “But it is a sin! — No, it is nothing”. Alternative paths, paths that give us the impression of self sufficiency, of enjoying life as an end in itself. However, all this is illusory. We soon realize that the more we distance ourselves from God, the more defenceless and helpless we feel when facing life’s big problems.
May the Virgin Mary, the Mother of he who crushed the head of the serpent, help us during this Lenten period to be vigilant when confronted with temptation, not to submit ourselves to any idol of this world, and to follow Jesus in the struggle against evil. Thus we too will be victorious as Jesus.
Saint Peter’s Square
First Sunday of Lent Year A, 5 March 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
In this First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel introduces us to the journey toward Easter, revealing Jesus as he remains in the desert for 40 days, subjected to the temptations of the devil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). This episode takes place at a precise moment in Jesus’ life: immediately after his Baptism in the River Jordan and prior to his public ministry. He has just received the solemn investiture: the Spirit of God has descended upon him, the heavenly Father has declared him “my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17). Jesus is now ready to begin his mission; and as this mission has a declared enemy, namely, Satan, He confronts him straight away, “up close”. The devil plays precisely on the title “Son of God” in order to deter Jesus from the fulfillment of his mission: “If you are the Son of God” (4:3, 6); and proposes that He perform miraculous acts — to be a “magician” — such as transforming stones into bread so as to satiate his hunger, and throwing himself down from the temple wall so as to be saved by the angels. These two temptations are followed by the third: to worship him, the devil, so as to have dominion over the world (cf. v. 9).
Through this three-fold temptation, Satan wants to divert Jesus from the way of obedience and humiliation — because he knows that in this way, on this path, evil will be conquered — and to lead Him down the false shortcut to success and glory. But the devil’s poisonous arrows are “blocked” by Jesus with the shield of God’s Word (vv. 4, 10), which expresses the will of the Father. Jesus does not speak a word of his own: He responds only with the Word of God. Thus the Son, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, comes out of the desert victorious.
During the 40 days of Lent, as Christians we are invited to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and face the spiritual battle with the Evil One with the strength of the Word of God. Not with our words: they are worthless. The Word of God: this has the strength to defeat Satan. For this reason, it is important to be familiar with the Bible: read it often, meditate on it, assimilate it. The Bible contains the Word of God, which is always timely and effective. Someone has asked: what would happen were we to treat the Bible as we treat our mobile phone?; were we to always carry it with us, or at least a small, pocket-sized Gospel, what would happen?; were we to turn back when we forget it: you forget your mobile phone — ‘oh! I don’t have it, I’m going back to look for it’; were we to open it several times a day; were we to read God’s messages contained in the Bible as we read telephone messages, what would happen? Clearly the comparison is paradoxical, but it calls for reflection. Indeed, if we had God’s Word always in our heart, no temptation could separate us from God, and no obstacle could divert us from the path of good; we would know how to defeat the daily temptations of the evil that is within us and outside us; we would be more capable of living a life renewed according to the Spirit, welcoming and loving our brothers and sisters, especially the weakest and neediest, and also our enemies.
May the Virgin Mary, perfect icon of obedience to God and of unconditional trust in his will, sustain us on the Lenten journey, that we may set ourselves to listen docilely to the Word of God in order to achieve a true conversion of heart.
Saint Peter’s Square
First Sunday of Lent Year A, 9 March 2014
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Each year, the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent sets before us the narrative of the temptation of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit, having descended upon him after his Baptism in the Jordan, prompts him to confront Satan openly in the desert for 40 days, before beginning his public ministry.
The tempter seeks to divert Jesus from the Father’s plan, that is, from the way of sacrifice, of the love that offers itself in expiation, to make him take an easier path, one of success and power. The duel between Jesus and Satan takes place through strong quotations from Sacred Scripture. The devil, in fact, to divert Jesus from the way of the cross, sets before him false messianic hopes: economic well-being, indicated by the ability to turn stones into bread; a dramatic and miraculous style, with the idea of throwing himself down from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and being saved by angels; and lastly, a shortcut to power and dominion, in exchange for an act of adoration to Satan. These are the three groups of temptations: and we, too, know them well!
Jesus decisively rejects all these temptations and reiterates his firm resolve to follow the path set by the Father, without any kind of compromise with sin or worldly logic. Note well how Jesus responds. He does not dialogue with Satan, as Eve had done in the earthly paradise. Jesus is well aware that there can be no dialogue with Satan, for he is cunning. That is why Jesus, instead of engaging in dialogue as Eve had, chooses to take refuge in the Word of God and responds with the power of this Word. Let us remember this: at the moment of temptation, of our temptations, there is no arguing with Satan, our defence must always be the Word of God! And this will save us. In his replies to Satan, the Lord, using the Word of God, reminds us above all that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3); and this gives us the strength, sustains us in the struggle against a worldly mind-set that would lower man to the level of his primitive needs, causing him to lose hunger for what is true, good and beautiful, the hunger for God and for his love. Furthermore, he recalls that “it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (v. 7), for the way of faith passes also through darkness and doubt, and is nourished by patience and persevering expectation. Lastly, Jesus recalls that “it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve’” (v. 10); i.e., we must rid ourselves of idols, of vain things, and build our lives on what is essential.
Jesus’ words will then be borne out in his actions. His absolute fidelity to the Father’s plan of love will lead him after about three years to the final reckoning with the “prince of this world” (Jn 16:11), at the hour of his Passion and Cross, and Jesus will have his final victory, the victory of love!
Dear brothers and sisters, the time of Lent is a propitious occasion for us all to make a journey of conversion, by sincerely allowing ourselves to be confronted with this passage of the Gospel. Let us renew the promises of our Baptism: let us renounce Satan and all his works and seductions — for he is a seducer — in order to follow the path of God and arrive at Easter in the joy of the Spirit (cf. Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Anno a).
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