“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Lent begins with the remembrance of our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness. Every Lent we hear the same old stories that have encouraged Christians since ancient days. An unclean devil is cast out of someone’s daughter; another unclean spirit attacks Jesus with lies about his motives; and soon we shall hear of Christ’s own Passion and how Satan entered into Judas to accomplish his dirty work. Satan delights in undoing the work of God. But there is one thing for sure; Satan is no Gnostic. He knows the value, the weakness, shame and the glory of the material world — especially this piece of matter we call our bodies. And he means to put an end to it! He hates flesh. God loves flesh. The best Satan can do is to steal flesh. The best he can do is to hide behind masks of flesh. That’s is essentially what he did to Judas – the Bible says, “then Satan entered into Judas.” He took Judas by violence and used him as a mask.
Satan hates flesh and he is a liar. He led the Stars of the Morning in Hymns to the Most High God; he would stride over stones bursting into flame; He said in his heart that he would rise above his Creator – if Satan is anything, he is a showman, a superstar, a movie star, rock star. And still the best he could do was to mask himself in the human flesh he loathed. All he could, all he can do is to mask himself, to be the phony, the fake, the counterfeit he is.
But God the Father loves flesh. God the Son became Flesh. Mary assented:
“Let it be!” she declared to another Angel.
Jesus delights in the work of God the Father. He taught us to pray for what God is already sending our way before we pray for it: God’s rule over the whole Creation, just as He rules over Heaven. One day his Kingdom will come with finality. He will wipe every tear away. He will heal every broken heart. We will love one another. The material world, including our own bodies, will not be treated as husk to be shucked off and cast away. Far from that, in the Kingdom of God, you, body and all, as I have often said, will break into blossom!
Listen: your body is not your enemy but the body is a poor master of the person because of the wound of concupiscence, which is “the disordered desire to satisfy our sensual needs.” That has much to do with our bodies because concupiscence is a wound quickly experienced in our flesh. One moment you are not hungry, and then suddenly you feel hunger in your body and what you feel is far from reality. Far from reality because our bodies exaggerate reality in its felt needs. The body is a poor master of the person simply because it functions like a receiver of temptation. It is like a cell phone set on vibrate. You are working away all day long, you forget to eat and then your sugar level drops and before you know it you are vibrating. And then your body begins screaming for food like it’s dying.
“And afterward Jesus was hungry…”
How could Jesus be hungry if he God? You know the answer to that question. Jesus experience true human passions and needs because he was a real man of flesh and he depended upon the material world for his own life. But he is different from us because his body and his perfectly natural, good, blessed, sensual needs do not rule his life. Why not? Because his human faculties: his intelligence, his volitional life, his passions, his appetite – his instinctive human desires, his physical life, all orbit, like planets elegantly balanced around a Center of gravity that holds. That Center, around which all Jesus’ human facilities orbit with such poise, grace, goodness and balance, is his Love for his Father. His perfect love for his Father is like the Sun in our solar system that gracefully orders the planets and provided just enough light and just enough heat to support life on this green earth. Jesus’ love for his Father orders everything in his divine and human life. And this is the end of all spiritual programs, of all spiritual direction, of all the liturgies and all the masses ever offered up and all sermons every preached:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all they soul, and with all they mind.”
The Bible narrates our sorry failures and our splendid efforts to love God. But it is our Lord’s own battle with the Tempter in the wilderness that is ever present in the collective consciousness of the Church. It is there in the wilderness that our Lord, like a Knight defending the honor of his Lord, his Father, recapitulated Adam’s temptation and reversed his dismal and catastrophic failure. The account that will be read from the Gospel this coming Sunday could have come only from lips of Jesus himself. He won the day there in the wilderness and we too may learn to fight our battles, not as all alone, but as brave soldiers in Christ’s Church.
Lent reminds us that we have been baptized and infused with heavenly virtues. We have another chance to own it and to love it and to grow and appropriate those virtues. God, by the very materialistic action of Holy Baptism, has made us his own children. Jesus’ wilderness defeat of Satan was not effortless; it was not effortless for the Apostles and it will not be effortless for us. But through the grace of Baptism we have been made well-equipped soldiers of Christ. And so here we are at the beginning of another Lent. It is springtime for the children of the Christ’s Church!