Gospel Lectio Divina for First Sunday of Lent
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live on bread alone.” Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
Filled with the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is truth and life. Jesus headed into the desert equipped with truth and life. Satan didn’t stand a chance. This was shortly after his baptism in the Jordan, as indicated. Therefore, it’s essential to realize that after my baptism I was also filled with the Holy Spirit. That may be impossible for an infant to comprehend, but something was happening. The Holy Spirit was dwelling inside me, and a seed was planted. I could remember as a child a small voice whispering inside me, “You are a child of God and you were made for great things.” This is true for all of us who are baptized. At the time, I was about six or seven, and I wasn’t sure if everyone else heard the same voice. But now I understand that it’s not a matter of who God speaks to. What matters is who is able to listen closely enough to God to hear it. By no means am I saying I was especially gifted to hear the voice of God as a child. I have spoken about the phenomenal memory of hearing his voice at a young age to other believers, and they’ve confirmed that they heard the same voice. Similarly, we acknowledged that that same voice has grown dim over the years. If only we could learn to listen carefully enough to hear it. To achieve this, I believe we need to shed our worldly concerns–our concerns about money, reputation, etcetera–and focus on our souls. The season of Lent is the perfect chance to reconnect with that quiet voice.
when they were over he was hungry
For some reason I always thought the devil came to Jesus during his forty days in the desert, not “when they were over”. This is an important distinction because it highlights the truth that the devil tempts us when we are weakest. He waited for the temptation to eat something to be unbearable for Jesus, then he asserted the suggestion to turn the stones to bread. How true this is in my life! As much as I would like to say it’s the devil who tempts me when I know I can resist temptation, the truth is I choose to sin within my own will. The devil barely has to do a thing. But when I choose to resist, then I can sense the devil creeping toward me like a vulture. He pries at my weaknesses slowly but surely. He puffs up my pride, like he did with Jesus, reminding him of his miraculous powers. I don’t have miraculous powers, but the devil still finds a way to convince me that I am above God’s law. He even uses God’s mercy as an excuse, saying, ‘No matter what you do, God will forgive you.’ The devil is too cunning for me to resist on my own. Only in prayer have I been able to defeat him; and even then it isn’t me but the power of God.
But going back to the way the devil waits, it’s as if he is the last line of defense for the forces of evil. It truly is the world, the flesh, and the devil that tempt us–and in that order. First the world tells us to give in, making its suggestions with its tempting commercials and billboards (for example). Then, if their suggestions fail, the flesh starts to pine for food with a grumbling belly and a mouth that waters at the mere thought of eating. Then, if the world and the flesh fail, the devil arrives–and he goes much deeper, like he did with Jesus. He gets personal, impresses me with cunning arguments, entices me with my deepest desires. When the devil passes though, then we have peace and victory. Then we can advance and proclaim the kingdom of God to the very world that once tempted us.
“One does not live on bread alone”
These words have been a guiding light in my life. I remember once I was trying to convince my father that our society was focusing too much on the material needs of people, and ignoring their spiritual needs. “Man does not live on bread alone,” I told him, implying that there is a spiritual dimension to our being that sustains us, and it is being neglected. He reminded me that this is true, but we are still flesh and blood, and we need the material world to connect us to the spiritual world. Once we provide people with material necessities, then they are free to think about spiritual matters. Once we fulfill the corporal works of mercy, then we can begin talking about the spiritual works of mercy. People are not free to give up something unless they have it in the first place.
This is what Lent is all about. In Jesus’ desert wanderings, he could have turned stone into bread. In a similar way, we could open that pantry and have that snack we gave up for Lent. But Lent is a time to remind ourselves that, despite how pressing our physical needs may be, we are in need of spiritual nourishment as well. And sometimes we tend to our physical needs to the detriment of our spiritual needs. Unfortunately, that’s just the way our fallen human nature works. Focusing my attention on one thing leads to the neglect of another thing. Focusing too much on work often leads to the neglect of my family. Focusing too much on the news often leads to neglecting what’s happening in my own life. Even studying too much could result in neglecting the needs of my body like sleep and exercise. The central message of Lent is the virtue of temperance. Our souls can easily be forgotten as we sojourn in this valley of death. The Church, in her wisdom, knows this and therefore sets aside a season to focus on spiritual matters; because we are so much more than mere matter, and what matters most isn’t matter at all.
When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.
In times of temptation, resist and call upon the Lord and the devil will depart. He will come back, but victory comes one battle at a time. In John Milton’s Paradise Regained, the English poet doesn’t tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s strange because that’s the event in which a reader may think paradise was regained. Nonetheless, John Milton tells this story: the story of when Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil in the desert. Upon further reflection, this makes sense because paradise was lost when Adam and Eve did not resist the devil. Before Jesus could save us, he had to prove to be worthy of the task. He could have given into the devil during any of these three temptations. The mystery of the Incarnation is that Jesus was fully divine, but also fully human. He had to resist the devil before he could invite us into the kingdom of God, because he would not have been the Way to the kingdom if he had not resisted the devil. He could show us the way because he had just gone through it himself. We have to refuse what the devil has to offer in order to inherit what God is offering us. Lent helps us do just that.
You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thank you for leading us. Forgive me for the times I did not resist the devil and forfeited my inheritance. Only with your forgiveness and redemption can I be restored into your Father’s graces. Please, let this season of Lent enrich my soul like water and sun enriches soil. You are my life and my sustenance. Never leave me, dear Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The season of penance has begun. Let’s take advantage by looking at it as a time of prayer first, then fasting and almsgiving. From the overflow of the heart we speak and act. Let our words and actions be responses to what we hear God saying to our hearts in prayer.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.