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. A demon is cast out of a little girl; another demon 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 means to wreak the work of God. There is one thing for sure – Satan is no Gnostic. He knows the worth, the weakness, the shame and the glory of the material world – especially this piece of matter we call our bodies. And he hates flesh.
God loves flesh. God became flesh. The best Satan can do is to steal flesh. I have suggested before that Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Hannibal Lector movies are Satanic in the sense that they portray how he lives, and moves and has his being. The devil hides behind masks of flesh. That’s essentially what he did to Judas – the Bible says, “then Satan entered into Judas.” He took Judas by violence.
He hates flesh. He who led the angels in hymns to God; he who said in his heart that he would rise above his Creator; he who was perfect in beauty, walking upon stones of fire – he is a showman, a movie star, a phony, a fake, a counterfeit. Created as pure thought, “a thinking thought,” he stormed in and possessed Judas. All he could do, all he can ever do, is to mask himself in the human flesh he loathed.
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. He taught us to pray for what God is already sending our way before we pray: God’s rule over the whole Creation, just as He rules over Heaven. One day his Kingdom will come irrevocability, once and for all. 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. No, no, no! Far from that, in the Kingdom of God, you, body and all, as I have often said – will burst into full blossom!
Listen: your body is not your enemy but the body is a poor master of the person because of the wound of concupiscence. What is that? It is “the disordered desire to satisfy our sensual needs.” But what does that have to do with our bodies? Concupiscence is a wound quickly experienced in our flesh. One moment you are not hungry, and then suddenly you feel you are starving to death. You feel it in your body. Same thing with lust. Same thing with a sore throat or the flu. 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, “feed me!”
“And afterward Jesus was hungry…”
How could Jesus be hungry? 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 were not ruling 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 orbited, like planets elegantly balanced around a center of gravity that holds. Do you know what that center is? 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 his Center. 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 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 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 you that you have been baptized and infused with heavenly virtues. You have another chance to own it and to love it and to grow and appropriate those virtues. You may have been baptized as a baby or baptized as an adult. It doesn’t matter – God by that very materialistic action has made you a well-equipped soldier. Jesus’ wilderness defeat of Satan was not effortless; it was not effortless for the Apostles and it will not be effortless for us. But we are an army of well-equipped soldiers of Christ. So here we are at the beginning of another Lent. This is springtime for the Church. You have been baptized! You are God’s offspring.
The Epistle for Quinquagesima says it:
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things…”
Put away childish things. Be an adult. Take responsibility. Husband your own heart. This evening as we approach the throne of grace, as we come to the altar of God to receive the body and blood of Christ our God – pray he will toughen our resolve to fight as Christ’s soldiers.