POPE FRANCIS’ REFLECTION FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B.
21 February 2021
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
Last Wednesday, with the penitential rite of the ashes, we began our Lenten journey. Today, the first Sunday of this liturgical season, the Word of God shows us the path to living fruitfully the forty days that lead to the annual celebration of Easter. It is the way Jesus trod, which the Gospel, with Mark’s essential style, summarises by saying that before He began His preaching, He withdrew into the desert for forty days, where He was tempted by Satan (see 1:12-15). The Evangelist emphasises that “the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – immediately drove Him out into the wilderness” (v. 12). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him immediately after the baptism He received from John in the River Jordan; the same Spirit now impels Him to go into the desert, to face the Tempter, to combat the devil. Jesus’ entire existence is placed under the sign of the Spirit of God, who animates, inspires and guides Him.
But let us think of the desert. Let us pause for a moment on this natural and symbolic environment, so important in the Bible. The desert is the place where God speaks to the heart ofthe human person, and where prayer is the answer, that is, the desert of solitude, the heart detached from other things, and which only in that solitude opens itself to the Word of God. But it is also the place of trial and temptation, where the Tempter, taking advantage of human frailty and needs, insinuates his lying voice, as an alternative to God’s, an alternative voice that makes you see another road, another road of deception. The Tempter seduces. Indeed, during the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, the “duel” between Jesus and the devil begins, which will end with the Passion and the Cross. Christ’s entire ministry is a struggle against the Evil One in its many manifestations: healing from illnesses, exorcising the possessed, forgiving sins. It is a struggle. After the first phase in which Jesus demonstrates that He speaks and acts with the power of God, it seems that the devil has the upper hand, when the Son of God is rejected, abandoned and finally captured and condemned to death. He has conquered the devil, it seems. It seems that He is the winner. In reality, death was the last “desert” to cross in order to finally defeat Satan and free us all from his power. And in this way Jesus won in the desert of death, so as to win in the Resurrection.
Every year, at the beginning of Lent, this Gospel of the temptations of Jesus in the desert reminds us that the life of the Christian, in the footsteps of the Lord, is a battle against the spirit of evil. It shows us that Jesus willingly faced the Tempter, and defeated him; and at the same time it reminds us that the devil is granted the possibility of acting on us too, with his temptations. We must be aware of the presence of this astute enemy, who seeks our eternal condemnation, our failure, and prepare to defend ourselves against him and to combat him. The grace of God assures us, with faith, prayer and penance, of our victory over the enemy. But I would like to underline one thing: in the temptations, Jesus never enters into dialogue with the devil, never. In his life Jesus never had a dialogue with the devil, never. Either He banishes them from the possessed or He condemns him, or He shows his malice, but never a dialogue. And in the desert it seems that there is a dialogue because the devil makes three proposals and Jesus responds. But Jesus does not respond with his words. He answers with the Word of God, with three passages of Scripture. And this, for all of us. When the seducer approaches, he begins to seduce us: “But think of this, do that…”, the temptation is to dialogue with him, as Eve did. Eve said: “But you can’t, because we…”, and entered into dialogue. And if we enter into dialogue with the devil we will be defeated. Keep this in your head and in your heart: you can never enter into dialogue with the devil, no dialogue is possible. Only the Word of God.
During the Season of Lent, the Holy Spirit drives us too, like Jesus, into the desert. It is not, as we have seen, a physical place, but rather an existential dimension in which we can be silent and listen to the word of God, “so that a true conversion might be effected in us” (Collect, First Sunday of Lent, B, translated from the Italian). Do not be afraid of the desert, seek out moments of more prayer, of silence, to enter into us. Do not be afraid. We are called to walk in God’s footsteps, renewing our Baptismal promises: renouncing Satan, and all his works and all his empty promises. The enemy is crouching there, beware. But never dialogue with him. Let us entrust ourselves to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary.
18 February 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This first Sunday of Lent [YEAR B], the Gospel recalls the themes of temptation, conversion and the Good News. Mark the Evangelist writes: “The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (cf. Mk 1:12-13). Jesus goes into the desert to prepare himself for his mission in the world. He does not need conversion, but as a man, he must go through this trial, both for himself, to obey the Father’s will, and for us, to give us the grace to overcome temptation. This preparation consists in the battle against the evil spirit, that is, against the devil. For us too, Lent is a time of spiritual “contest”, of spiritual struggle: we are called to confront the Evil One through prayer in order to be able, with God’s help, to overcome him in our daily life. We know that evil unfortunately is at work in our existence and around us, where there is violence, rejection of the other, closure, war, injustice. All of these are the work of the Evil One, of evil.
Immediately following the temptations in the desert, Jesus begins to preach the Gospel, that is, the Good News, the second word. The first was “temptation”, the second, “Good News”. And this Good News demands man’s conversion — the third word — and faith. He proclaims: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand”; and then he cautions, “repent, and believe in the gospel” (v. 15), that is, believe in this Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand. In our lives, we always need to convert — every day! —, and the Church invites us to pray for this. In fact, we are never sufficiently orientated towards God and we must continually direct our minds and our hearts towards him. In order to do this, we need to have the courage to reject all that takes us off course, the false values which deceive us, by subtly flattering our ego. Rather, we must entrust ourselves to the Lord, to his goodness and to his project of love for each of us. Lent is a time of repentance, yes, but it is not a time of sorrow! It is a time of penance, but it is not a time of sorrow, of mourning. It is a joyous and serious commitment to strip ourselves of our selfishness, of our “old man”, and to renew ourselves according to the grace of our Baptism.
Only God can give us true happiness: it is useless to waste our time seeking it elsewhere, in wealth, in pleasure, in power, in a career…. The Kingdom of God is the realization of all our aspirations because at the same time, it is the salvation of mankind and the glory of God. On this first Sunday of Lent, we are invited to listen carefully and to hear Jesus’ appeal to convert, and to believe in the Gospel. We are exhorted to begin the journey towards Easter with commitment, to embrace evermore the grace of God who wishes to transform the world into a kingdom of justice, peace and fraternity.
May Mary Most Holy help us to live this Lenten Season with fidelity to the Word of God and with unceasing prayer, as Jesus did in the desert. It is not impossible! It means living each day with the desire to embrace the love that comes from God and which seeks to transform our life and the entire world.
22 February 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Last Wednesday, with the rite of Ashes, Lent began, and today is the First Sunday [YEAR B] of this Liturgical Season which refers to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, after his Baptism in the River Jordan. St Mark writes in today’s Gospel: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him” (1:12-13). With these simple words the Evangelist describes the trials willingly faced by Jesus before he began his messianic mission. It is a trial from which the Lord leaves victorious and which prepares him to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. In these 40 days of solitude, he confronts Satan “body to body”, He unmasks his temptations and conquers him. And through Him, we have all conquered, but we must protect this victory in our daily lives.
The Church reminds us of that mystery at the beginning of Lent, so that it may give us the perspective and the meaning of this Time, which is a time of combat. Lent is a time of combat! A spiritual combat against the spirit of evil (cf. Collect Prayer for Ash Wednesday). And while we cross the Lenten “desert”, we keep our gazed fixed upon Easter, which is the definitive victory of Jesus against the Evil One, against sin and against death. This is the meaning of this First Sunday of Lent: to place ourselves decisively on the path of Jesus, the road that leads to life. To look at Jesus. Look at what Jesus has done and go with Him.
This path of Jesus passes through the desert. The desert is the place where the voice of God and the voice of the tempter can be heard. In the noise, in the confusion, this cannot be done; only superficial voices can be heard. Instead we can go deeper in the desert, where our destiny is truly played out, life or death. And how do we hear the voice of God? We hear it in his Word. For this reason, it is important to know Scripture, because otherwise we do not know how to react to the snares of the Evil One. And here I would like to return to my advice of reading the Gospel every day. Read the Gospel every day! Meditate on it for a little while, for 10 minutes. And also to carry it with you in your pocket or your purse…. But always have the Gospel at hand. The Lenten desert helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to the “idols”, it helps us to make courageous choices in accordance with the Gospel and to strengthen solidarity with the brothers.
Now let us enter into the desert without fear, because we are not alone: we are with Jesus, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. In fact, as it was for Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit who guides us on the Lenten journey; that same Spirit that descended upon Jesus and that has been given to us in Baptism.
Lent, therefore is an appropriate time that should lead us to be ever more aware of how much the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, has worked and can work in us. And at the end of the Lenten itinerary, at the Easter Vigil, we can renew with greater awareness the Baptismal covenant and the commitments that flow from it.
May the Blessed Virgin, model of docility to the Spirit, help us to let ourselves be led by Him, who wishes to make each of us a “new creature”.
To her I entrust, in particular, the week of Spiritual Exercises, that will begin this afternoon, and in which I shall participate with my collaborators of the Roman Curia. I ask that you pray for us, that in this “desert” of the Spiritual Exercises, we may listen to the voice of Jesus, and also correct the many defects that we have. And also to confront the temptations that attack us every day. I ask you therefore to accompany us with your prayers.
Stay updated: subscribe by email for free TO OUR NEW WEBSITE www.catholicsstrivingforholiness.org (PUT YOUR EMAIL IN THE SUBSCRIBE WIDGET).
We are also in www.fb.com/Catholicsstrivingforholiness. Kindly help more people in their Christian life by liking our page and inviting your family, friends and relatives to do so as well. Thanks in advance and God bless you and your loved ones! Fr. Rolly Arjonillo