Lent: Time to remember our freedom, dignity and destiny
The season of Lent is a six-week preparation to celebrate the Triduum, which commemorates the event of our salvation — the Eucharist, cross and resurrection. The first two Sundays of this holy season introduce us to these themes.
The first Sunday of Lent presents us with one of the three gospel accounts of the Lord’s trial and tribulation in the desert. The Catechism explains that “Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: ‘For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.’ By the solemn 40 days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (#540).
In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the devil tempts Our Lord with three false plans to save mankind without the cross by becoming a bread king, a comfort-providing miracle worker, or a world conqueror of ruthless power and control. Jesus knows that it is only by the obedience, humility, and love of the cross that fallen humanity can be saved and redeemed. And so Jesus defeats the devil’s lies.
These three demonic temptations correspond to three daily idolatry temptations that we face in our earthly journey to heaven. We are constantly tempted to put our material goods and pleasure before our obedience to God (the first temptation). We are also inclined to think that if God loves us, he will strengthen us in the trials of a fallen world, so that we may pick up our cross and follow him (the second temptation). Finally, we are constantly tempted to fight the evils of the world with the tools of the devil himself, namely absolute, ruthless power and control, instead of rendering unto the Lord absolute fidelity to his commandments in a loving, obedient abandonment to the Lord’s Divine Providence (the third temptation).
Lent reminds us of the true nature and dignity of our created freedom. God has made us free not so that we might do whatever we choose to do according to our momentary whims and will, but so that we might give our hearts and souls to the goodness, truth and beauty that is the essence of the Lord’s creation — and to the love that is the essence of the Divine Being, that is the Blessed Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When we pick up our personal crosses and follow the Lord, strengthened by the sacraments and the true bread from Heaven, the Eucharist, we discover our true dignity and destiny.
That glorious dignity is revealed to us in the Transfiguration, the Gospel of the second Sunday of Lent. “Jesus took Peter, James, and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Mt 17:1-6).
We were not called out of nothingness so that we might live a brief life of “three score and 10 years” in this transient world. We have been redeemed by the cross and resurrection for eternal life, light and love, in the totality of our being as body and soul, in the transfigured and transformed new heaven and new earth with the communion of saints in the land of the Trinity.
This glorious dignity and destiny is the gift of God’s grace. To live our lives in obedience to this grace is the challenge that the holy season of Lent calls us to live every day of our lives until the Lord calls us home to the new and eternal Jerusalem.
FATHER DENNIS COONEY is the chaplain of Legatus’ Naples Chapter and pastor of St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres, Fla.