First Sunday of Lent
The Winter Olympics have ended and the Winter Paralympics have just begun. The young people who compete in these events stand out as examples of dedication. They have put many things in their lives on hold and sacrificed much for the glory of competing in Olympic games. Their focus was not on sacrifice, but on the goal that lay ahead and which they strove to achieve with the utmost dedication. Their unwavering sense of purpose entailed the letting go of anything that would be an obstacle to the dream.
In today’s gospel we meet Jesus following the Spirit’s lead into the desert. This was a time of decision making for Jesus, and decisions involve choosing and rejecting. Satan presented Jesus with some pretty attractive notions. They were appealing to the eye, the ego, and to human comfort. Jesus did not run away. He faced them squarely, and rejected the attractive proposals one by one, because these suggestions would be stumbling blocks to his mission. He knew he was being invited to sell his own soul, his very being, for such fleeting comforts. Jesus did not just reject these proposals in the desert, but as he lived his mission, his daily words and actions rejected them. After forty days in the desert, Jesus had an unwavering sense of mission, bringing about the reign of God. Anything that would be an obstacle to that choice must be rejected. That is why the people recognized that he taught with authority.
Jesus stands in contrast to the people in the story from Genesis. They were faced with a choice around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They judged the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom. It would appear they had no unwavering sense of mission, and so they choose according to their own judgment and limitations.
As we begin our forty-day sojourn in the desert, we are invited to reflect, not on what we might sacrifice, but on what might be our unwavering sense of mission. Sacrifice in itself has no great purpose, except perhaps as a form of disciplinary training. When sacrifice or penance is done for itself, it can become an empty distraction from the real values of life. The prophets warn against such empty sacrifice. “Is not this the fast I want, to share your bread with the hungry and to shelter the homeless poor?” Real sacrifice is the result of making a choice for life. Then it is the daily rejection of that which hinders the choice.
The best Lenten practice is an unwavering commitment to our mission. Any sacrifice inherent in that commitment becomes a fruitful positive in our daily living of the mission. There are numerous people we can name who have exemplified this. Suffice it for us to use our patron and founder, St. Dominic as our example. Dominic was never bowed down by the weight of his sacrifices. On the contrary, he was lifted up in the joy of the mission of God.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP