Yesterday evening after first Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent, the community gathered for the Abbess’ Sunday Chapter talk. The practice of Lenten reading in the Rule of St. Benedict continues to be followed in many monasteries today, including here at Glencairn. The distribution of each sister’s chosen book took place after the Abbess’ reflection, a talk which we share here with you for your own Lenten reading and reflection.
On the first Sunday of Lent we always get the Gospel story of the temptations of Jesus in the desert and on the second Sunday we always get the story of the Transfiguration. We begin Lent with these two great realities: the struggle with temptation and the affirmation of God’s hidden closeness; the subtle attraction of doing our own thing and the energizing light that comes from doing the Father’s will; we are tempted to deny that Jesus is Lord of our lives and through prayer we touch and are transformed by the Risen Christ. Conversion is all about learning from these two experiences of Jesus: yielding more often to grace, to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and resisting the subtle pull of selfish gratification; and living in the reality of God’s light, comfort and affirmation.
On this first Sunday of Lent we see this subtle pull on Jesus to be his own god, to act independently of the Father, to misuse power for his own gratification. CCC says: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfils Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this Jesus is the devil’s conqueror and Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father”. (540)
What sustained Jesus to resist temptation may have been simply praying psalm 90: “Those who dwell in the shelter of the most high and abide in the shade of the almighty, say to the Lord: my refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust”
As we begin Lent, this first Sunday invites us to think about temptation in our own life. Jesus was tempted to misuse power, to serve his own needs rather then seek what God wanted of him. He was tempted to be powerful, and beyond weakness; but the Holy Spirit inspired him to find in his hunger and weakness an inner spiritual strength and complete abandonment to the Father’s care. What are our temptations? The real work of Lent is to discover the ways in which we are tempted and learn to consent to grace.
“For Jesus to live consciously as God’s Son here on earth necessarily involves a struggle. …. We know from our own experience that the overt content of temptation is often irrelevant, just as eating the fruit in Eden was a harmless enough activity. The malign meaning of the forbidden act is to be found in its capacity to rupture the relationship of dependence on God. An action becomes a sin when it is a means of claiming an inappropriate autonomy. Jesus’ lifelong temptation was to allow his mission from the Father to become dormant, to do nothing, to spare himself the trouble, to take life easy.
The Fourth Gospel makes it abundantly clear that Jesus’ chosen priority in life was the accomplishment of the Father’s plan of salvation: “My food is that I do the will of the One who sent me and bring his work to completion” (Jn 4:34). But it was not a choice lightly made. “Now my very soul trembles. Should I say, ‘Father, save me from this Hour’? No, it is for this that I have come to this Hour” (Jn 12:27). Let us not water down the heroism of Jesus in pursuing his mission.
… From the outside, Jesus’ life may have appeared to be like a boat tranquilly holding its course in midstream. The inner reality, as suggested by [the temptation] narrative, was more energetic—a constant battle to hold the rudder steady against contrary currents, with much vigilance and heavy toil necessary to avoid coming aground.
(Michael Casey: Fully Human, Fully Divine, pp. 44-46.)
One of the petitions we make in the Lord’s prayer is “lead us not into temptation”. We ask God not to let us yield to temptation, we ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin. Good can come and does come from facing temptations, confronting temptations, naming them, confessing our struggles. We need the Holy Spirit to help us discern between trials which are necessary for our growth and temptation which leads to sin. God tempts no one and he wants us to be free from evil; the subtle temptation of evil is that it looks like light, the right way, so we need to bring it out into the open, avoid secrecy, we can convince ourselves that something is right. We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation.
What can help: Watching our thoughts, confronting fantasies, keeping a finger on our inner lips and outer lips like Our Lady of Silence. There is a real call to our communities to be aware of the quality of our communication, the quality of our silence…are we really able to listen, to the Lord, to each other. We need to practice waiting to let the truth emerge. Practicing good zeal which means outdoing one another in showing honour, and bearing with the greatest patience our own and each other’s infirmities; learning to trust that God is in charge of us and of our environment, learning to turn to Him in prayer when feelings of fear, anger, hurt come up, this can gradually help us overcome our own desire for control. He is Lord of our life. “my refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust”.
In the desert for 40 days, with the whole Church, we pray that the Holy Spirit would make us holy, fill us with wisdom, and that we may not give in to the temptations to run away from the demands of growth in Christ’s love, that we would, each day, discern God’s desires and will and grow in inner freedom and purity of heart during this Lenten season.
– Mother Marie Fahy OCSO, Glencairn