Every year on this first Sunday of Lent,
the Gospel reading tells the same story,
of our Lord Jesus being in the desert,
facing temptation from the devil.
The accounts from Matthew and Luke give a lot more detail,
but in this account from Mark, it’s very sparse:
he was “in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan.”
When you hear the desert and the number 40,
you might think of God’s People in the wilderness,
wandering before they enter the Promised Land.
Or you might think of our 40 days of Lent. Both good connections.
But there’s something else this harks back to,
something much, much more ancient.
Adam in the garden – being tempted by the devil.
Jesus is the new Adam. He takes the path the first Adam did not.
When Adam was confronted by evil, he remained passive,
leaving Eve to face it alone.
Jesus, the second Adam, wades into battle with Satan.
This is why he came.
Our spiritual battle during Lent
is not mainly about battling hunger or missing things we gave up.
That’s only the threshold issue.
We start there; just as our Lent has only started.
When the Lord was in the desert, he went without food 40 days.
Then he faced the devil.
Doesn’t that tell us that the spiritual battle
we are engaged in is a big deal?
It’s not small potatoes. The stakes are huge!
So let me offer this suggestion: Lent is serious business.
This is about the salvation of our own souls;
and it is also about the salvation of the world.
Yes, the salvation of the world.
I know what you may be thinking:
it is Jesus Christ who saves the world, not us.
And that’s true—to a point.
It’s absolutely true that Jesus Christ does not need us, or our help,
in the task of saving the world. He does not need our help.
So let’s ask the question then:
why does Jesus command us to pray for other people?
Why does he tell us to help other people?
Why – if our role is irrelevant –
does he command us to tell other people about him?
The answer is this: while Jesus doesn’t need our help –
that is to say, he could do it entirely without us—he chooses,
for reasons that pass understanding, to include our help in his plan.
It really does seem that the role he assigns to us, matters.
Where you see this most clearly is in the Holy Mass.
As we know, the Mass makes present for us
the dying and rising of Jesus.
When we are at Mass, we are really present at Calvary,
where Jesus died; and we are truly present
as he offers himself to the Father;
and we really are present at the tomb,
when his body comes back to life.
So when the priest stands at the altar;
when I say the words of Jesus
and the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ Body and Blood;
and when I lift up the Body and Blood of the Lord…
What we’re witnessing is Jesus on the Cross;
Jesus dying; Jesus offering himself to the Father.
Jesus coming back from the dead.
It’s all here in this moment.
This altar, and all of us with it,
become a cosmic “ground zero” where heaven and earth,
all time, all space, all eternity, are drawn to behold this wonder:
God acting to redeem his ruined creation.
Why does this happen?
While it’s true this serves to strengthen us,
the Mass is about a lot more than us.
It’s about the world.
When the Son offers himself to the Father, for whom does he plead? He pleads for us all.
You are never a spectator.
If you are a baptized Christian, you cannot just “watch.”
You participate. This is the true “participation” in Mass:
to join your prayers to the all-powerful prayer of Jesus Christ!
As a priest, I am truly unworthy of this.
I tremble for my soul when I consider just how unworthy I am.
Many people admit they “zone out” at Mass. It’s understandable.
A lot of the time, it’s because we don’t know enough about the Mass.
That’s why I’m explaining this.
But we must admit it’s also human weakness.
When people say, “I’m bored,” what they’re really saying
is that it’s just too hard to be attentive;
it’s too much trouble to bring to Mass,
to the altar, the cares and needs of other people.
Imagine, instead of coming to Mass,
you were invited to the first Good Friday.
You were invited to be there.
And Jesus told you, bring anyone you want,
and place them at the foot of the cross.
Put them there, so that they will be covered by my mercy.
Wouldn’t we be embarrassed to tell the Lord – on the Cross –
“I’m sorry, Lord, I couldn’t think of anyone to bring”? Or, “I forgot?”
That in fact is what we are invited to do.
To bring everyone who needs God’s mercy right here at the altar.
In the old form of the Mass –
which we have every Wednesday morning,
and on First Friday evenings –
the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer in silence.
While it’s great that, in the new Mass,
we can hear the words of the prayer,
one advantage of that silence
was that the faithful had the opportunity to focus on all those people,
and problems and needs, that they wanted to bring to Jesus at Mass.
People will criticize the older form of Mass, and say,
oh, there were so many people who didn’t pay attention.
Well, that’s still true, isn’t it?
The problem isn’t whether the prayers of Mass are out loud or silent;
the problem is whether we take our role seriously or not.
So back to my main theme: you and I are engaged in spiritual combat.
The problems of our time?
They only make sense when understood as spiritual combat.
Who is it that wants abortion on demand?
Who wants to mangle the reality of marriage?
Who is eager to destroy the family?
Who is determined to see the Catholic Church knocked down?
Who rejoices to have pornography in every home?
To have films like “50 Shades” depict degradation as love?
Who delights to see the Islamic State on the march?
There is great good in the world; but there is evil, too;
and a great battle is underway.
No, Jesus can win without us – except that he has chosen to involve us.
He has – amazing to say! – chosen to rely on us.
The battle is raging. The alarms are sounding.
You’ve been summoned. Souls are at stake. Are you ready?
Lent is serious business.