Mark 1: 12 – 15
This past Wednesday churches were full of people as we began the Season of Lent by having our foreheads marked with Blessed Ashes. Along with the Ashes was the Gospel in which Jesus instructs us about prayer, fasting and giving alms. What always gets my attention is that Jesus says, “When you pray…” “When you fast…” and “When you give alms…” Jesus speaks of “When” we do these things and he is assuming that we do them. His instruction is on how we do these devotions and acts. They call for personal reflection, reverence and a clear focus of doing them as an offering to God and not to build up our image among others. Thus we began our Lenten journey with the call to grow in holiness with the help of these three basic practices.
This first Sunday of Lent is about temptation, prayer and fasting. While the Gospel of Mark makes no mention of prayer and fasting, they are both part of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark also is different in that he says, “the spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,” while Matthew and Luke say Jesus was “led” to the desert by the Spirit. With Mark it seems that the point is being made that the Spirit who appeared in the form of the dove at Jesus’ baptism now drives him to the desert where he will face temptation. In a way it dramatizes Jesus as one who is driven to confront satan and evil and thus begin his ministry. While being “led by the Spirit” is a nicer and a more common phrase, I think that when it comes to personal conversion more often than not we are “driven” by the Spirit. We might express a desire to grow in holiness and even feel driven to make radical changes in our lives, but there tends to be reluctance to truly embrace the challenges and changes that growing in holiness involves. For us being driven by the Spirit is more about getting pushed beyond our comfort zones, than just beginning something new.
As we begin Lent let us not resist the Spirit as it drives us to deeper lives of holiness. Let us take on prayer, fasting and almsgiving with a renewed vigor. May our Lenten prayer lead us closer in our relationship with the Lord to a deeper realization that, like any good relationship, our relationship with the Lord calls for daily and honest conversation that will lead us to talk to God not only about what we need, but also bring the needs of others to him. May our Lenten fasting lead us to reflect on how much we eat on a normal day. Do we consume more than we really need? May we become more aware of those who don’t have the luxury of food that we most likely have, and act in concrete ways to alieve the hunger that is around us. May our almsgiving be more than just offering the extra to the needy, but will truly be sacrificial in our offering that involves truly doing without something we want.
As we move through Lent we will face temptation similar to Jesus in the desert. Temptations to think that we are already doing enough, or others are not worthy of our help, or it will make little difference. Do not give into these temptations, but rather allow the spirit to drive us through them so as to grow in holiness. May we grow in holiness throughout this Lent and continue to hold on to this gift long after the end of Lent.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.