Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Today’s Gospel reminds us of how Jesus was not spared from temptations of all kinds. When we look into our lives, we also acknowledge that we are also daily tempted in one way or another. Such temptations could range from eating too much to giving in to the sin of pride. To be tempted in itself is not sinful. But, to give in to temptations due to our self-centeredness is sinful because self-centeredness is a sin against the love and selflessness that God wants us to share with others.
How then can we overcome whatever “self-centeredness” we may have in our hearts? One way to do this during Lent is to face the reality of our lives; that life on earth, regardless of who we are is never forever. Only our life with God is forever. So, in short, to begin this Lenten season, it may be good for us to reflect on the shortness of life. Such a reality may “shock us back into the reality” that we should live our lives more for God than our self-centered self.
Yes, everything that is of this world is finite and vulnerable. Young or old, rich or poor it is part of our daily life to hear of people dying very suddenly from accidents or from sicknesses like cancer, heart attacks and the like. All these are facts of life.
While you see and hear me preaching to you, you may say to yourself, “He looks young and healthy, so he has many years of life ahead of him.” This is how we generally think about life, but this need not necessarily be true. I may be here today and perhaps dead tomorrow or perhaps next week. Any thing from an accident or illness could take me from this world. My guess is that many of your immediate reactions to what I have said is that, I shouldn’t be saying such things. . . it’s bad luck. In Chinese culture, as far as I know, death is always bad luck and we should never talk about it. Death is taboo and is the worst affliction on one’s life especially on our loved ones. Such gut feelings and reactions often betray our views about life and about death.
If these are our gut feelings, I would be the first to agree that they are very real and have to be dealt with. However, as Christians, we must also remember that death is never an end because with faith, with repentance and belief in the Good News of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, death is only a passage and a privilege to a new life; an eternal life with God. This is precisely what we affirm as a Christian community at every gathering of our Sunday worship. This is what we will affirm in the “I Believe” that we will profess as our Creed together, when we say, “…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
My brothers and sisters, Lent is not a gloomy period of fasting, penance and repentance. The word “lent” means springtime and spring is a time of hope and a time of joyful expectation of new life. Indeed, Lent is a time when the Church reminds us to reaffirm and renew our Baptismal faith in Our Risen Lord once again.
And so, when we are called to do different forms of self-sacrifices like fasting and penance during Lent, the Church is actually urging us to become more open to the Good News of Christ’s salvation. Therefore, the self-sacrifices like fasting and abstinence, that we voluntarily take upon ourselves are meant to be expressions of our faith that we all need to die to ourselves with Christ, so that we can then rise again with Christ in His glory. Do you think we take this central truth of our faith seriously? Obviously, some take this truth and live it out more seriously than others.
My brothers and sisters, I believe, during this season of Lent, some form of self-denial and self-sacrifices will do us a lot of good. If we have not, it is about time we do, even though it is as small as giving up one teaspoonful of sugar in our coffee, or cutting down on our cigarette consumption, or even giving up shopping or giving more alms to the needy for the next forty days.
However, let us remind ourselves that the reason for giving up certain things during Lent is because we want to recommit ourselves to God in a very special way during the season and not for some ulterior or superficial motives. I know of people who gave up sugar and food during Lent, but constantly measure their waistline every two days. Others gave up shopping during Lent, but spend even more during Easter. Of course there are those ideal Christians whose acts of self-denials are done out of their faith in and love for our Risen Lord. If we are able to deny ourselves consciously of something we like, or better still make extra efforts to be good and kind to our family and neighbours, then I am sure we will experience the graces of the Lenten seasons more beautifully.
As so, as I conclude let us note that just as the Spirit and the angels looked after Jesus when He was tempted in the desert, God will also look after us when we are tempted. But, to overcome these temptations of life, we need to open our hearts more fully to God by making more acts of self-denials during this Lent. If we are able to do these daily, then we be sure that this season will be a season of hope and of joy that we have never experienced before in our lives. God wants to give us such joys and hopes in our lives, but “Do we want them?
Philip Heng, S.J.