During the 40 days of Lent, we wield prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in our personal battles against temptation. Thankfully we never fight alone. The Church celebrates Lent as a season each liturgical year when she unites herself with Christ during his own 40 days in the desert. (CCC 540)
We see this reality vividly in the sanctuary, as purple linens provide a backdrop for barren cactus, empty branches, and broken pieces of clay pottery. We hear about Jesus’ desert campaign from the Gospel of St. Luke, where we discover that he overcame three separate temptations presented by Satan.
“One does not live by bread alone.”
The first temptation that Jesus encountered in the desert dealt with hunger. Recognizing that Jesus had fasted for 40 entire days and now hungered physically, Satan challenged Jesus to turn a stone into bread to feed himself. (Lk 4:2-3)
This initial victory won in the desert reminds us to stay focused on ultimate goals. Jesus’ first reply reflected a realistic appreciation of our present demands. We are all hungry, and Jesus didn’t deny that our physical bodies need food to survive. What he challenged us to see is that satisfying our deepest hunger transcends our physical needs. The source of everlasting life offer not just substance but subsistence: the Bread of Life found only in the Eucharist.
“You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”
Satan next tempted Jesus with the prospect of earthly dominion. Jesus, elevated with “all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant” before his eyes, had all its power and glory offered to him if he would worship Satan. (Lk 4:5-7)
Jesus again refused.
Modern man finds the second victory in the desert the easiest to associate with and yet the hardest to live by. With a chance to have the world at his feet, how many men today would decline such an enticing bargain in service to God? What Jesus showed with his second reply is serving others out of love for God provides the sole source of genuine power and glory.
“You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
The last temptation in the desert found Jesus standing high atop a temple in Jerusalem. Satan dared Jesus to jump and, to prove his heavenly sonship, to command angels to save him. (Lk 4:9-11)
Jesus once again refused.
The final reply previews the greatest desert victory of all. Jesus “anticipates the victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father.” (CCC 539) The Crucifixion, the supreme test endured by Jesus on the last Friday of Lent – Good Friday – is defeated with his Resurrection of Easter Sunday.
It is in the desert campaign of Lent, as we contemplate its sights, sounds and lessons, where we can find opportunities to experience Christ concretely in our own lives. This Lenten season, seek the victories that Christ won for you in the desert.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.