First Sunday of Lent

March 4, 2017


At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

He said in reply, “It is written:
One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus answered him, “Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him. Matthew 4: 1-11

John of the Cross speaks about curtailing our inordinate desires for people, places or things. He calls inordinate desires “appetites.”

“Oh, if spiritual persons knew how much spiritual good and abundance they lose by not attempting to raise their appetites above childish things, and if they knew to what extent, by not desiring the taste of these trifles, they would discover in this simple spiritual food the savor of all things! The Israelites did not perceive the taste of every other food that was contained in the manna, because their appetite was not centered on this manna alone. They were unsuccessful in deriving from the manna all the taste and strength they were looking for, not because the manna didn’t have these but because of their craving for other foods. Similarly, those who love something together with God undoubtedly make little of God, for they weigh in the balance with God an object far distant from God, as we have said.

“It is well known from experience that when the will is attached to an object, it esteems that object higher than any other, even though another, not as pleasing, may deserve higher admiration. And if people desire pleasure from two objects, they are necessarily offensive to the more deserving because through their desire for both they equate the two. Since nothing equals God, those who love and are attached to something along with God offend him exceedingly. If this is true, what would happen if they loved something more than God?” (A 1.5.4–5).

The Season of Lent challenges us to take up prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as part of our following Christ in preparation for Good Friday and Easter. This First Sunday of Lent begins with Jesus fasting in the desert for forty days and nights, after which he was hungry.

For John of the Cross there is a hunger that underlies all hungers that can be satisfied by God alone. However, because God is hidden and cannot be experienced as he is, we direct that hunger to be fulfilled in people, places, or things or food. John of the Cross knows that we have a legitimate need for these but he wishes to lead us away from substituting them for God.

If we were able to have a reasonable desire for people, places, things, or food, we would not be mistaking them for God. As it is, we are corrupted by original sin and so we become unreasonable in our desire for these. What John of the Cross directs us to do, in a sense, is to fast from our realization of these to find our fulfillment in God alone. When we do, we then have a reasonable desire for them and so there is no conflict in the priority we have for God and our receiving what we need from God. This is what Jesus meant when he said: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. John of the Cross, you might say, wants us to direct the mouth of our desires (or appetites) to the Words of God’s love alone so that we may experience what our Lord taught the tempter in the desert.

Lord, God, you have invited us to know you through fasting and prayer in imitation of your Son. Grant, we ask, the grace to overcome our hungers for all that is not you, and by the strength of your Holy Spirit direct them to you alone. We ask this through Christ your Son, Amen.

We invite you to add your reflections and prayers in the comments section below.

Adapted from A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. John of the Cross by Fr. George Mangiaracina O.C.D.

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