My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Can you remember the last time you struggled to successfully complete a task at home, at work, or at school? Do you remember the relief that you felt when it was done, particularly to the satisfaction of a spouse, parent, boss, or teacher? The hours of work, perhaps accompanied by an excess of anxiety and stress, yielded a positive outcome. Such a process can energize a person to begin again, renewed, and prepared to take on future challenges. Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book David and Goliath writes about various seeming afflictions that may in fact have significantly contributed to the success of the recipients of those afflictions. In today’s readings we are reminded that perseverance yields fruits and we as Christians are called upon to persevere, not alone, but with God.
Lent invites us to a greater intimacy with God that we might more acutely recognize His presence in our lives as we persevere. Lent is a time that tests us. We are asked to put energy into becoming more faithful to all that Jesus asks of us. We show that energy–to ourselves, not to others–by taking up some small practices that will help us remember that we belong to the Lord and rely on His strength. We do not fast and pray and do penance so that others can admire us. No, we fast and pray and do penance so that we can move from the slavery of sin to the freedom of grace, the freedom of living in the power of Jesus Christ. Fasting and praying require perseverance, as exemplified by the early Hebrews who persevered against great odds, and with and through God they were delivered from their sufferings.
The Book of Deuteronomy prepares us to understand the perseverance required to be free from slavery. American abolitionist Frederick Douglass characterized slavery as much more than the removal of human rights, but the expungement of humanity of itself. The early Hebrews felt the physical distresses of slavery, but for Christians the far baser state is slavery to sin. The Hebrews persevered, and God answered their calls for help.
The Letter to the Romans, gives us the way in which we can persevere from slavery to freedom. The way in which we can resist temptation is clearly revealed: everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. To pray in the name of Jesus is to invoke him as Savior, to welcome him, and carry on a dialogue with him. How much easier it is to persevere through our difficulties with Jesus than without him!
And, Jesus did not persevere alone, either. The temptations of Christ in the desert are those of all human beings: the urge to live by our desires and needs rather than by the Word of God, the presumption that God will save us even if we do nothing and the temptation to want power and dominion over others. The early Christians came to identify seven major sins–that means seven major ways of leaving the path of the Lord: pride, anger, lust, greed, envy, gluttony and spiritual laziness. We are exhorted to overcome these seven major sins and return to the path of the Lord. It will not happen in one day or forty days; it will take a lifetime of perseverance to cling to the path of the Lord. We pray that by His mercy we will experience the ultimate goal of Christian life which is salvation.
Lent is a time of struggle for each of us with whatever pulls us off the path of the Lord. This First Sunday of Lent is a time to reflect on the Lord Jesus and His struggle with the devil and for us to resolve to struggle against the devil and all evil in our own lives. We can bring our struggles to the Lord and set them before Him and bow down in his presence. Through our perseverance and with God, we may one day enjoy His everlasting grace and love.
Peace and Everything Good!
Fr. Valery Burusu,