The first and only time I preached in seminary I preached about fasting and the importance of it during Lent. What I remember the most about the homily is not so much about what I preached but what Archbishop Hughes said to me after. It was hamburger and ice-cream day at the seminary, so I decided not to fast, right after preaching on fasting. So as I brought over this BIG hamburger, the Archbishop called me out on it. In a joking manner but it was a soft voice and serious voice as he always speaks in. He basically said, “it looks like you aren’t practicing what you are preaching.”
Our Lord faced similar temptation as he went into the desert for 40 days. I usually have some days during lent where I eat limited food, and it is difficult, Jesus though goes much further by fasting 40 days in the desert. Just imagine how hungry he was when Satan tempted him. It wouldn’t be difficult for Jesus to change stones into bread and fulfill his hunger. However, he would go against his promise to fast for forty days, so he says “one does not live by bread alone. but on every word that comes from the mouth of God!”
During Lent, we will likely feel some hunger, maybe not as extreme as Jesus did in the desert, but we will desire simple pleasures that we decided to give up during this season of Lent. When we feel hungry, our challenge should be to turn to God and consume his word. It won’t fulfill our physical hunger, but it will fulfill a deeper hunger than what food can fill. During Lent, our challenge is not only to give up things that we find pleasure in but too replace what we gave up with things that are more healthy, more fulfilling and from God himself. For me, I’m giving up Netflix and trying to replace it with more exercise, healthy cooking, and most importantly scripture reading. By giving up pleasures, we force ourselves to find our true pleasure in God alone.
Lent, however, can be more than just the pleasurable things we give up during this time, it too can be about a deeper conversion, and we see that in the other two temptations Satan brought against our Lord. First Satan tempted Jesus by saying, “I shall give you all this power and glory; all this will be yours if you worship me.” We may think of course Jesus wouldn’t give into that, but Satan was giving him a quick way out. Jesus is King of the World, and he took from Satan his power over the earth. However, he did that on the cross by his death and resurrection. Satan said I’ll give you everything without the cross as long as you worship me. It was a temptation for Jesus to fall into pride; the cross is the ultimate sign of humility while what Satan would give him is the ultimate sign of pride and power.
Satan’s final temptation also relates to Pride, he takes him to the top of the temple or the parapet saying throw yourself down, and the angels will guard you. We may say, why would Jesus throw himself to his death off the temple. However, the angels would save him from death if he jumped. Everyone would see it, and word would spread this is the Messiah. Instead, Jesus says “you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Jesus again knew the cross was his ultimate destiny and it would be through this that he would be shown to be the Son of God.
Satan’s temptations of Jesus can be similar to what we may be tempted with, and the penance we do during Lent is the perfect prescription for fighting against this temptation. We are tempted with pleasurable things, and by what we fast from during lent helps us overcome these temptations. We too are tempted by wanting to have more and more possessions, just as Jesus was by being given the kingdoms of the world. When we give alms when we willingly give up our possessions, our time, and our money to those who have little to nothing we fight against the temptation to gain more. Finally, we are tempted with Pride, to be recognized by the world, to be successful, wealthy, someone who will be remembered. Prayer helps us to grow in humility which counteracts pride. Think of it like John the Baptist says, “I must decrease, he must increase.” Humility allows God to increase in us and our pride and ego decrease.
There are a lot of good things, and too bad things, we can fill ourselves with, and this is what Satan will tempt us with especially during this season of Lent. Our challenge, however, is to put our full trust in God. We won’t have to fast as our Lord did, but we can follow his example of how he responded to Satan and by doing penance, especially fasting, prayer and alms-giving.