First Sunday of Lent



Gn 3,1-7:                           

Rm 5,17-19:                 

Mt 4,1-11:                   


Lent leads us along a deeply baptismal journey. It is the period in which catechumens are prepared for the reception of the sacrament, intensifying their penance, prayer and works of charity so as to take part sacramentally in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ through baptism at the Easter Vigil.

The Church prepares her children by this journey towards the light of Easter through the liturgy and in this way introduces them by degrees to the mystery of Christ. Even those who have already received baptism “can await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure, so that, more eagerly intent on prayer and on the works of charity, and participating in the mysteries
by which they have been reborn, they may be led to the fullness of grace” that the Lord bestows on his sons and daughters reborn in baptism (cf. Preface I of Lent).

The readings set out in Year A (which can be used every year at one’s discretion) give a clear image of this itinerary. This cycle of readings provides five mystagogical catecheses for the five Sundays of Lent. Christ, at the heart of all preaching, is contemplated as victor of temptation, to which the catechumen will also inevitably be exposed (Sunday I). The definitive aim of all Lenten preparation and of all Christian life is the resurrection, and of this we are given a foretaste in the mystery of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (Sunday II). Baptism, which transforms the life of the believer, is received by means of water (Sunday III), and it brings about the interior enlightenment of every person (Sunday IV). It allows us to receive the life that is true and definitive (Sunday V).  All of these symbols – water, light, life – are images of Christ himself and of his sacramental presence in the one who is baptised.

This first Sunday of Lent suggests a catechesis on temptation, which spares neither the catechumen (who is preparing for baptism) nor the neophyte in his ordinary Christian life. But the Christian outlook is in no way pessimistic. Temptation is not the victory of the enemy but rather an occasion for Christ to be the victor over darkness. Temptation, which the first Adam was unable to resist (I Reading), is part and parcel of the human condition. But we must know that, “after one single fall came judgement with a verdict of condemnation, now after many falls comes grace with its verdict of acquittal” (II Reading). He who is baptised in Christ can overcome temptation because Christ has gained the victory and every Christian – incorporated into Christ by baptism – participates in his victory in such a way that “Jesus Christ will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous” (II Readings).

All temptation – represented today by the temptation to possess, to dominate and to goad -  can be won by the Christian if he remains faithful to meditating upon the Word of God, obedience to his commands and adoration of the one God, living and true. Basically, we need to remove ourselves from all sorts of idolatry, from wanting to be like God, that temptation which our first parents gave in to.

Jesus is the model who teaches us to overcome every temptation and who transforms every temptation into an occasion to seek out the love of God, to progress along this journey towards Easter and generally to make progress along the path of personal holiness. “Hearken to my supplication, O God; give ear to my prayer. Who is speaking? It seems to refer to a single person, but look closely and see whether it is truly but an individual. It says: From the ends of the earth I have called to you in the anguish of my heart. It is not just one person, therefore, who speaks (even if we are all one in Christ, whose members we are)…Our life cannot be without trial in this our exile, and our progress comes about through temptation. No one can really know himself until he is tempted; in the same way as no one can be crowned without first winning victory, a victory that would never have been had there not been a battle with the enemy and temptations. Man, who calls out from the ends of the earth, is anguished; he is suffering but he is not abandoned. For the Lord wanted to give us a foretaste of the rewards that await his [mystical] body, which we are, already in the vicissitudes of this his body in which he suffered death, rose and ascended into heaven,  in such a way that that the members can experience the hope of reaching that place that the head has gone before. He has taught us to recognise ourselves in him when he deigned to be tempted by Satan. We have just read in the Gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil in the desert. Christ was verily tempted by the devil, but in Christ you too were tempted. Yours, in fact, was the flesh that Christ assumed so that you might have salvation from him. He took death upon himself, although it belonged to you, so as to give you life; from you he took humiliation so that you might have glory. Thus, he took temptation from you and made it his own so that you could gain victory by his gift. If in him we have been tempted, in him we also defeat the devil. You are disturbed because Christ was tempted, but you do not consider that he gained the victory. Recognise that if you were to be tempted in him, you would gain the victory in him! He could have kept the devil far away from you; but if you were not to let yourself be tempted, you would not learn how to be victorious when tempted” (St. Augustine, Exposition on the Psalms, 60, nn. 2-3).

Using the words of today’s Mass, may the Lord grant, that by living this lent intensely, “we your faithful may grow in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ and bear witness to it by a worthy manner of life”.