Monday, February 26, 2007

The First Monday in Lent

Which has me thinking about the first Sunday in Lent. Yesterday's Gospel:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, to be tempted by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over He was hungry.

The Devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, command that this stone become bread." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

He also took Him up into a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil said to Him, "I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if you will worship me, all shall be yours." Jesus answered and said to him, "Away with you, Satan, for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.'"

He also brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on a pinnacle of the Temple, and said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He shall give His angels a command about you, to guard you,' and, ‘They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’"

Jesus said to him in reply, "It also says, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

When the Devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him -- for a while.

Luke 4:1-13

A number of years ago -- it must have been nine years, because Anne was about four years old, and Betsy about 18 months -- I had my first inkling of real Lenten temptation. Oh, yes, in the past, I'd been through the temptation to eat chocolate, or to have a fat, juicy burger on a Friday, but all that seemed quite benign in comparison to a moment at Mass, the first weekend of Lent nine years ago.

I was still a relatively new Catholic, having been received into the Church just three years before. I was certain this would be the year that I'd be a shining, stellar example for Atticus of patience, faith and God's love. I would let Christ shine through me so clearly, so incredibly, that my husband could not help but be touched, and could not help but run to the nearest priest and beg to be brought into the Church.

I breezed through Ash Wednesday, not even missing the things I'd given up. I was too focused on being so good, for Atticus's benefit.

On the first weekend of Lent, we went to Mass on Saturday evening. Atticus was with me, because he had made a Lenten promise of his own: although he wasn't considering becoming a Catholic, he offered to go with me to Mass every Sunday in Lent.

Normally, he didn't attend Mass with me. And, since he stayed home, he often offered to keep our very little girls with him, and I zipped off to Mass alone. Though I longed for us to be "one of those families -- the ones who are together at Mass" I had to admit that I also enjoyed the experience of entering fully, quietly into the Mass, without distractions.

So, there we were, on the first weekend of Lent, all of us. "Together at Mass."

And, I felt impatient.

And uncomfortable.

And angry.

I'd had my daughters with me plenty of times at Mass, but this weekend it suddenly seemed different. They were acting like ... well, like little girls. Energetic little girls. They were squirmy, and loud and fussy (I learned, over the years, that 5:30 Saturday Mass is a tough one for little people.)

Atticus seemed oblivious to everything they were doing. It was impossible for me to be oblivious. I was frustrated with all three of them.

The church was crowded, warm and stuffy. I could barely hear the readings.

But, then, I heard this: "... led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, to be tempted by the Devil."

And I was struck, perhaps for the first time, by two realities:

1. We are not alone in the desert.

2. We are being actively tempted.

We are not alone.

We, too, are led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Lent, but, we are not abandoned. And, we are not expected to do this of our own strength.

To be tempted by the devil.

Yes, certainly, I had, in the past, thought of Lent as a time of temptation, but I thought of it as "me against myself." I thought that if I had enough resolve, if I were good enough, it would be easy.

But, suddenly, in that stuffy church, surrounded by fussy children and a husband who didn't particularly want to be there, I realized that I had been tempted to impatience with the very thing I longed for with my whole being. My husband's conversion, which would translate into family togetherness at Mass, would mean this?, I'd been thinking. It would mean unpleasantness, distraction, impatience, anger? The desire to be here alone?

I was being tempted away from the good, away even from the desire to be the clear window through which Atticus could see Christ.

Only by God's grace, was I able to see the moment for what it was.

Temptation in the desert.

But, I was not alone.

The moment was redeemed by that realization. I reclaimed my longing for my husband's conversion. I knew that it would mean giving up "entering fully into the Mass" alone, but it would also mean gaining a new way of entering fully into the Mass: as a family. A loud, messy, imperfect, distracted, and sometimes-frustrated family.

I knew then that there would be many more temptations to come on this rocky road of my continuing conversion. I knew that there were forces at work trying actively to discourage me from praying for my husband's reception into the Church (which did not come until two years later.) I knew that these things would be, and would feel, stronger during times of fasting, when I was hungry -- both literally and spiritually -- and vulnerable.

First Sundays in Lent are still hard for me.

But, I know I'm not alone.

And that has made all the difference.

I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God -- in Him will I trust."

~~ Psalm 91:2


Amy said...

Beautiful! What a blessing to get that insight into what was REALLY going on.

Suzanne Temple said...

This is so beautiful, Karen!

Rachel Swenson Balducci said...

What a wonderful way to put things in perspective -- and also remember the importance of being aware of temptation. Thank you!

Kristen Laurence said...

Karen, this is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing this, and for reminding us that we are not alone in the midst of temptation.

ascozyasspring said...

Great reminder. Why is it so easy to forget that we are not expected to do this alone?

Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

I really liked this post, Karen!

Thank you so much!

nutmeg said...

"We are not alone"

I love this... sometimes we want to be alone, don't we? But it is good that we are not.

Thank you.

Karen E. said...

Thank you ... all of you.