You know, it’s kind of interesting that, over the last few years, there has been a whole industry formed based on various cleanses – whether it be colon cleansing, total body cleansing or whatever, it has now become a multi-million industry.
Yet, the idea of cleansing goes far back in history. But it often refers to a spiritual cleansing rather than parts of our anatomy. And when you think about it, this whole journey of Lent is really just that. It is a period when we are sensitized to the fact that we must deepen our relationship with God, cleanse our spirit and ask where God is in our daily living.
Now, I do not debunk – rather I encourage the examples of “giving things up” for Lent. It is good to give ourselves a bit of annoyance or abstinence. But I think Lent is also about a total spiritual cleansing. A time when we stop and say to ourselves: “ Let’s get real here. How much of my daily life is in fact centered AND focused on God?”
Now since, in today’s world, we all have to have a device, or an aid, or a prescription to conduct a cleansing, I won’t disappoint you. Because today I am selling The Ultimate Cleanse. It is a prescription that you take each day. It is a process that you follow each day. And I promise you that, if you take this to heart, and follow it, you will be cleansed and your spirituality will be heightened. And, guess what? It is free! No trial subscriptions, no opt outs, no coupons to collect, and sadly, it has no Puntos from Romero’s to accumulate.
Where do you buy it? Where do you find it? Right here. In today’s Gospel. I submit to you that the three major temptations that are laid before Jesus are the same temptations that we face in our life. They are the same ones that pull us away from a deeper relationship with God. The key is whether we choose to follow the example of Christ or to give in and, without realization, follow Satan.
Let me begin with the first temptation. The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. Satan knew how hungry Jesus was. He knew that the Son of God could derive the nourishment he needed for his journey ahead. But Jesus refuses that. He responds that a person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. What about us? How often do we spend more time worrying about what we have or what we need or what else can we accumulate. How much more time is spent on that rather than turning to scripture, or prayer, or any of the sacramentals that the Church offers us to help strengthen our faith? Why do some of us believe that an hour once a week suffices? Knowing that our time here on earth is a lot shorter than our time in eternity, why do we spend so much time focusing on earthly things rather than preparing ourselves spiritually? Why can’t we use the things of this earth to help and assist others thereby acting in a Christ-like manner? Why?
If the first test was in the realm of the physical, the second is a test of a spiritual nature. Satan wants Jesus to do something spectacular to demonstrate that He is spiritually perfect. His sudden appearance in a public place from nowhere will give evidence of being the messiah and his mission is complete. But Jesus responds to Satan saying, he will not test God’s word by doing something foolish or unnecessary. In our life, how often do we test God? How often do we perform the sly wink? You know, when we think that maybe we got away with something? We are tempted to force God into action instead of simply trusting in Him to care for us. We may not be standing on the edge of a building deciding that God must save us if we jump, but we may be toying with that which can destroy us, alcohol, sex, drugs, lies, self-delusions of how important or how pious we are etc, and we think, erroneously, that if we fall, God will catch us. After all, isn’t our God a forgiving God? Well. Let me set that straight. It is a presumption to think that God will take care of us if we live on the edge. God is All-Merciful, but He is also All Just. We trust in God, but, as Jesus told the devil, we don’t put God to a test. We have to resist the temptation to live life on the edge of eternal damnation.
Let’s face it, aren’t there times in our life when we engage in a bit of self- deceit? Aren’t there times in our life when we do something that we know is against the will of God but somehow we think we can get away with it. Or we sound good in the things that we say but our actions or words are to the contrary. What about the times that we use our outward acts of piety to look “religious” while our words and actions belie that? Isn’t that putting God to the test? Aren’t we really putting ourselves in a position where we think we can put one over on God? Folks, this is not about getting away with anything. Because we can’t get away with anything with God. Yes, it is true that we might not feel, at that moment, the displeasure of God. But the scorecard of our life is what matters at the end of our physical journey. It really is a question of how often the Word of God rules our actions rather than the word of man. Why? Why do we do that?
Now the final temptation. Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed Him all the Kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Now this temptation is amazing in its boldness. This temptation had to do with fulfilling the plan of God with a shortcut, not following God’s ways. Luke adds that Satan claimed he had been given these kingdoms and it was his right to give them to whomever he wished. Satan was saying to Jesus, “Look, you came as the king to inherit the nations. Here they are. Why go through the trouble of being the suffering servant to get to the crown. Give me one moment’s homage and I will abdicate and all is yours.” What the tempter offers is the human craving for power, fame and wealth. The mission of Jesus was to fulfill the call of the Kingdom and Satan shows him the easy way. Jesus absolutely rejects the offer and tells Satan to go away from him.
And like Jesus, we can fight the temptation to be bought by the world. There are many people who have sold their souls for wealth and power. The devil tempts us to join those who do evil, tune down or turn off our consciences, and reap wealth beyond our imaginations. There is a lot of money to be made selling junk bonds, a lot of money to be made working in the low industries of our society, a lot of money to be made cheating our way to the top of the business world, but most of us refuse to sell our souls to the devil. We live for One and One only. We live for our Heavenly Father, not for ourselves. The goal of our lives is not to amass a fortune. The goal of our lives is to live for God. We have bought into the Kingdom, not sold our souls to the devil.
All the “doing” of Lent is expressing what is meant to be happening inside each of us during Lent –dying to our old sinful way of life and rising to new life with Jesus. The focus of Lent is on renewing our lives in service of the Lord, becoming more like Jesus. Jesus in the desert is our model during Lent, inspiring us to die to ourselves so that the Father’s plan can be accomplished.
The holiest people in our tradition are those who are most aware of their sinfulness. Whether it be St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila or Mother Theresa, the saints are those who are convinced of their inadequacy. G.K. Chesterton once said: “ A saint is someone who knows he is a sinner.”
May this Lent be a time of special grace for each of us. The high point of our Christian year is our celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week. During the next six weeks we should be preparing for that celebration by acknowledging AND dying to our sinful ways and rising to a new and better life with Jesus. That, my friends can be the result of the spiritual cleanse that we perform over the next 40 days.