Gospel Reflection for Sunday the 21st of February 2021
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First Sunday of Lent
In this short Gospel, we hear how Jesus goes on a spiritual retreat immediately prior to His active ministry. He retreats to the desert to pray and fast for forty days and makes His preparation for what lies ahead. You may wonder why Jesus needed a spiritual retreat. Why would God need a spiritual retreat?
Yes, Jesus was all-holy and all-powerful and on this basis would not need a spiritual retreat. But, on many occasions He chose to empty Himself of His divine power and to enter into our weak human condition. He does this on the Cross when He is crucified and He does it in the desert at the beginning of His ministry. He empties Himself so as to become like us, to take on our weakness. He takes on the frailty of our humanity and slowly draws it into a share of His divine life, that is, His grace. He descends to our level so that we might rise up to the exalted level that God has prepared for us.
How valuable it is when we go on a spiritual retreat and detach ourselves from the world for a while – from the internet, from phones, from the news, from the cookie jar. When we empty ourselves of these less-important things we may then be filled with spiritual things, even filled with God, the Holy Spirit.
We notice that it is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus into the desert. Is it really the case that the Holy Spirit would lead us deliberately into trials and spiritual battle? According to this Gospel, the answer is yes. At some moments, the Holy Spirit keeps us safe from evil and keeps temptation from our door. At other moments, however, the Holy Spirit does indeed lead us into times of trial, even into situations where we will be tempted and assailed by Satan. In this way, the Holy Spirit strengthens us in the battle: He wants to give us the power to overcome temptation and defeat the enemy. We should not take from this that the Holy Spirit induces us to sin by allowing temptations to be put in front of us. No, the Holy Spirit does not induce us to sin; quite the opposite, the Holy Spirit leads us to do battle with sin – by prayer, fasting and almsgiving (the three Lenten observances) – and so overcome sin.
The words proclaimed by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry are significant and set out the purpose of His mission: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News”. What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Good News? The Kingdom of God is the reign of justice, peace and love that God is bringing about according to His plan. Jesus is the one who ushers in this reign of goodness, through His Incarnation, His death, His Resurrection and by taking His place in heaven at the right hand of the Father, as Christ the Universal King. Where the “head” of the body has already gone, the members of the body – those who remain faithful – will eventually follow. The Church, therefore, is ultimately assured of victory, the victory of Easter, and it is only a matter of time – a short time – before the members of the body (the Church) follow the head.
The Good News is that there is a place in the Kingdom of God for all who want to follow Jesus in all of His joys and sorrows and glories. Repentance of one’s sins is the prerequisite, the condition of salvation. It is a reasonable demand.
The season of Lent is part of the Good News: Lent is the season of repentance, a season of conversion. Each day we must be resolved and say to ourselves: “I must die to my old self, so that I can be reborn in Christ”. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all part of this dying to self, part of our spiritual retreat from the comforts of the world. The Sacrament of Confession too is a mortification, a death to the old person so that the new person may be born.
-Fr Eamon Roche