First Sunday in Lent
“Sad, but always rejoicing”
Today’s liturgy presents to us the spiritual combat of which Our Blessed Lord Himself gives us the example in His 40 days in the desert. After his long fast, he was tired and weak, and the devil came at that precise moment, thinking to win an easy victory. The triple temptation Our Lord deigned to undergo summarises the struggle each of us must wage in order to gain the eternal crown. It is the triple concupiscence of which St John speaks in his first epistle: the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life (cf. 1 Jn 2:16).
The devil pushes his boldness so far as to use Holy Scripture to tempt Our Lord, twisting the meaning of the sacred words to suit his own depraved purposes. But the Saviour replies each time with another verse, this time placed in its proper context and leaving no room for dialogue with the enemy. So it is in every age: the enemies of Christ use the inspired word, distorting it to fit their own designs. As St Peter says, “the unlearned and unstable wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction” (2 Pt 3:16). But for the humble of heart, the sense of Holy Scripture is clear: it is that which Holy Mother Church holds and hands on to her children, who receive it as the wholesome milk they need to grow in the Spirit. Holy Scripture is never to be thrown around as weapons of war, but venerated and cherished with the humble devotion which seeks always to understand better God’s words. But this can only be done in the Church, which is the place where the Scriptures were born, where they are kept in all their purity, and where they lead to eternal life. During Lent, above all times of the year, we are invited to meditate with devotion and assiduousness that Divine Word, letting it penetrate our minds and hearts, transforming us into saints.
During this season, the Latin liturgy places particular emphasis on Psalm 90 (91), a psalm dear to monks who recite it every night before taking their repose. It is a psalm which portrays the faithful soul in combat with his deadly enemy symbolised by the asp, the adder, the lion and the dragon. The soul is assailed by open assault, but also insidiously attacked at unsuspecting moments. The onslaught starts in her early years and ceases only when she passes from this life. But in the midst of it all, she is surrounded by the loving protection of her Lord, who overshadows her as a hen would its young chicks. In the Lord we find refuge in the day of battle, shade in the heat, warmth in the deadly cold. In the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, we know that, whatever evil intents our enemies may have over us, we will overcome.
Of this, the most beautiful example is once again given to us by St Paul in the epistle, with another one of those sublime texts that we will do well to contemplate at length, for they contain all the secrets of life in the grace of God (2 Cor 6:1-6).
We may be honoured or dishonoured, people may say good things about us, they may say evil things about us; we may be called deceivers, but we shall remain truthful; people may say that we are nobodies, and yet we know that if we are of God we shall be known far and wide, even though it is not something we seek; our life may be such that we appear dead to the world which abandons us to our lot, but we are truly alive in Christ, alive with the Life that cannot fail; we may be accused, persecuted, imprisoned, slandered, spit in the face, but no, we will not die; people may say “oh, how wretched and sad they are, bowed down to the grown with their downcast eyes,” and yet we rejoice with an ineffable joy the world cannot know; we may appear as beggars, in need of everything, relying on everyone, unable to do anything for ourselves, and yet we bring the true riches of grace to many, many souls; it may be that we really do lose everything the world has to offer, but we are certain that in that very loss we possess everything.
On this first day of the month of St Joseph, I urge you to turn your gaze towards this extraordinary man, whose portrait St Paul was actually painting in the text we have just read. The humble, silent foster-father of Christ was so little esteemed that, when the Jews want to insult Our Lord, they remind everyone that He was only the “son of the carpenter”. And yet, of no man has it been said with more truth: “glory and riches are in his home” (Psalm 111), he who had in his care the incarnate Son of God and His most holy Mother.
May St Joseph be our guide throughout this Lent. May he teach us all the monastic virtues that make no sense to the world, but which we hold as our dearest treasures, our pride and glory: silence, humility, obedience, laboriousness, vigilance, constant prayer. St Teresa of Avila was fond of saying that if we need someone to teach us to pray, we should turn to St Joseph, for he learned prayer at the best of schools, that of Jesus and Mary. Let us also pray to him for Holy Mother Church, whose principal patron he is. May he strengthen the Holy Father, the Bishops, all the priests and faithful, inspiring them with all the virtues needed, in particular the virtue of fortitude in preaching the truth, so that the Church, truly purified of all her failings, may once again bring the Gospel of peace and salvation to a wayward world.