First Sunday of Lent: Contemplative Prayer

February 27, 2021

Every First Sunday of Lent, we hear that Jesus was tempted.  This year, we read the Gospel story in the tradition of St. Mark who does not describe what happened, what the temptations were.

The tradition given to us by Matthew and Luke’s gospel gives a little more.  Did Jesus share these details or did these two evangelists imagine these to be the three great human temptations in life?  To snap our fingers at God to do his magic for us, making possible everything that we think we need to have happen?  To presume that we will receive divine protection, without exercising our accountability?  To milk every last drop of milk out of life led by our own egos, mesmerized by Satan.

What are your or my temptations?  That is where every spirituality begins.  The Scriptures imagine a Satan proposing a temptation, but I think, it is just our selfish interests that rise and ebb.  They are our desire to have more than we need and to control our lives and perhaps the lives of others.  We all have “Satan” – like symptoms.

So, what is the biggest temptation in your life? If you were to write your Gospel story after your own Baptism, what would you notice in yourself?

  • The temptation to leave God out of life completely…
  • To go after everything else in life for you alone…
  • To close my heart to people whom I do not like or appreciate because they are different from me…
  • To live in anger and jealousy…
  • To separate from, to discard people in my life…
  • To lose my sense of humanity and decency, to cease to care?
  • The temptation to be coldhearted, cruel, unconcerned…

One insight into temptations is that they offer a short-sighted and self-interested approach to life and human relationships. Instead of leading us to a place of light and wisdom, clear insight and a real path to life, they take us to life’s foggy bottom.  Listening to the tempting insights of self-reliance, Jesus calls us today to “the time of fulfillment.” He has a Gospel – the word means “good news for us.”  [He says] “The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Let the angels minister to us as they did to Jesus.”

No one escapes temptations.  And if we follow them, and let them take over our lives, we will lose our lives and our souls.

On last Thursday, after we removed the sprinkled ashes from our hair, the Church read the closing words of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:15):

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you, life or death, blessing or curse.  Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of God, obeying his voice, clinging to God, for in this your life consists and on this depends your long stay in the land which God swore to your fathers…”

The good news is that we can choose life, the fullness of life that provides meaning for who we are and all that we can accomplish, the fullness of God’s helping presence to share life and its blessings, an abundance of divine energy for all.

One of the greatest temptations is to appreciate life only for its utilitarian benefits, to use life to benefit myself, which is the origin of lawlessness and crime, abandoning ourselves to drugs and fear and hardness of heart.

The next time you see the Rainbow, remember why God created it, that it would be a sign that all the earth and our lives would never be destroyed again, even if they deserved to be flattened.

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Perhaps everything deserves to be flattened, but God’s enduring presence calls us to life: “Choose Life.”

Another great temptation is self-pity, to be overwhelmed by the feeling of “poor me, poor me.”

We are aware of all the crises converging on our small planet called Earth.  What to do?  Where to go?  How to change it all?

What does it take to repent?  Nothing more than to say: “I need you God.  Help me to find a new way.” “I am tired of following myself and neglecting our relationships.  Begin each day with this mantra : “Help me today.”  Or “I want to love and serve you.”  Another great temptation is to doubt that God will hear me or answer my prayer, but have we ever thought that God would respond more quickly if we were more consistent in our desire to reorient our lives?

Have we not heard the ancient Latin adage that came into the English language in the 1500’s: “Practice makes perfect.”  The greatest temptation of all is to think that I do not need to pray or have the time to do so.

Practice being mindful, practice being still, practice sitting in God’s presence for an hour.  Find a quiet place.  Find your most quiet time — morning, middle of the day, late at night, middle of the night…

Sit quietly: close your eyes, breathe in and out…

Repeat the name of God that Jesus used “Abba” – ten times and be quiet (the number is only an example or suggestion).  Whisper the name of Jesus, ten times, whisper the words, Holy Spirit – be silent, pause, be quiet – feel an inner quiet and peace.  Stay with feeling.  You are with God.

  • Then you can talk about yourself and God (if you like)
  • Then you can put yourselves in his love and hands
  • Then you are in the experience of the Gospel, more than an idea.  Then you are ready to live “The Time of Fulfillment.”

Do this as often as you can.  The more consistent and regular the better.

Before I conclude, I want to share temptation for these COVID times: The temptation to lament, to wring our hands, to mope, to give up as if God is interested in our personal drama.

A suggestion for families and couples: To pray together at the beginning of the day in thanksgiving to God, to talk and share together how we can be good and kind, how we can blow off steam together, how we can find new opportunities in the world of COVID.  Pray for and encourage positive attitude.  Share your thoughts and positive energies.  Ask God to help each one of you to be resilient.  Imagine yourself becoming a better person.

As I conclude, I want to remind you of today’s words from St. Peter: “Christ suffered for our sins once, the righteous one for the unrighteous that He might lead you to God… for a clear conscience” — so that our lives are in sync.  Take this Lent and please do what you have to do to get in sync with God.

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