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Prayer and Temptation - Reflection for Lent 2013
The Gospel which the Church presents to us for our prayerful reflection this second Sunday of Lent recounts Jesus Christ being led by the Spirit into the desert . . . to be tempted??? To a person who is unfamiliar with the Gospel, or who is un-schooled in who Jesus IS, this Gospel might appear to make a case against Jesus Christ and the Gospel. “I thought Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit were on the same team! Why would the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted?” Cynically, such a person might note that this Gospel shows the Holy Spirit actually “working against” Jesus. There are at least two outcomes to this train of thought:
- The person might simply decide to abandon the faith on account of what appears to be its fundamental incoherence.
- Perhaps worse, the person might embrace the faith. Unable, however, to face or tackle what seems to be a fundamental incoherence, the faith is emptied of its inherent appeal to reason. Believing in Christ is reduced to belief in . . . Santa Claus.
Because this is meant to be an informal reflection, let us leave aside observing the grammatical nuances helping us to conclude that the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert in order to pray, and that while he was praying he was tempted by the devil.
Perhaps Christians have become unaccustomed to associating prayer and temptation. Our rich mystical tradition, however, has never lost sight of the fact that prayer and temptation exist together in our lives for a number of reasons. First, prayer is the way in which we (each of the Baptized) most directly express our desire to be “connected to” or “united with” God, and the devil exists to obliterate our desire for that connection. Second, when the Holy Spirit is truly at work in our lives, driving us to deeper union with God, our time at prayer will be a time in which we see more and more clearly those aspects of our lives that work against union with God. We are, then, tempted to maintain the status quo, refuse to grow, and settle for a superficial relationship with God . . . which, in the end, risks being no relationship at all.
There are three penitential practices that characterize Lent: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer is certainly foundational to the other two. In addition, authentic Christian prayer cannot happen except in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, this Lent, we can ask the kinds of questions about the Holy Spirit that will lead us to discover the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and, more importantly, to invest in that presence. Let us close this reflection with words of St. Francis as given to us in the Third Order Regular Rule of St. Francis: Let the sisters and brothers always be mindful that they should desire one thing alone, namely, the Spirit of God at work within them. Always obedient to the Church and firmly established in the Catholic faith, let them live according to the poverty, the humility and the holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ which they have solemnly promised to observe.