My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
We have entered into our Lenten journey. In these 40 days of Lent we are remembering the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the desert preparing for his mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
So we are walking with Jesus during this period of penance, prayer and charity as we make our way to Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
But this is also a very special Lent, as we all know. Because during this time we are going to be preparing to receive a new Pope. Because as we all know, Pope Benedict XVI made the decision to resign as the Holy Father by the end of this month of February. So we want to pray and offer our sacrifices for the universal Church at this important time of transition. And we especially pray for Cardinal Mahony and the College of Cardinals as they exercise their sacred duty of the election of our next Pope.
This past Friday, I sent a letter to all the priests of the Archdiocese to ask precisely for prayers for Cardinal Mahoney, as he travels to Rome for the election of the new Pope and for the College of Consultors — I hope that we all, during this same time as the month comes along and the Holy Father finishes his time as Successor of Peter. And then the Cardinals of the College of Electors will elect a new Pope in the month of March probably, and fulfill as I said the sacred duty of electing the new Pope.
I think we also should have especially in our prayers our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. I am sure that for him it is going a time of great emotion, as he is getting ready to step down as Pope. So let us accompany him with our prayers of thanksgiving to God for the witness of his life and his teaching.
So it is, indeed, an interesting Lent. That I hope, as I said at the beginning of Mass, it be a special time of grace for all of us. As we do every year, we begin Lent reflecting on the temptations of Jesus Christ in the desert. It’s always an interesting, interesting mystery for us to reflect on. We always have to ask ourselves — why did the Jesus, the Son of God, allow himself to be tempted by the devil?
Then we have to keep in mind that Jesus went into the desert right after he was baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
As we all know, Jesus was baptized in order to show us that he is our Brother and our Friend and that he shares in our human condition and stands with us in our weakness.
So this scene in the Gospel, of the temptations in the desert that we have just heard, is an a image of our lives.
Just as Jesus was baptized and sent out into the desert, each of us is baptized and sent out into the wilderness of this world to live our Christian life. And in our lives, we face trials and temptations. Just as Jesus did.
The basic temptation that we all face is to forget about God. Or to move God “into the background” of our lives. To think that we can rely on our own strength, on our own abilities. To think that we can try to control things.
My brothers and sisters, we know that we cannot live without God. We cannot live as if we do not need him. The truth is that without God we can do nothing. But with him — with God we can move mountains! With God, we can have the strength to do all things!2 And overcome any temptation and any difficult situation in our own lives.
So this Lenten Season, let’s try to learn again how to live in the presence of God. Let’s try to learn again how to live with Jesus. How to be men and women of faith. How to follow Jesus. How to trust that God is the source of our life.
In our second reading today, St. Paul tells us that if we believe in Jesus with all our hearts — we will be saved.
If we believe in Jesus, he will go with us. Remember, he is our Brother and our Friend. He will strengthen us — by the graces he gives us in the Sacraments. By the teachings and the example that he gives us in the Gospels. He will guard us and protect us from evil.
So if we have faith in Jesus, as we do, he will bring us through the desert of this world.
Because my brothers and sisters, God wants us to have a happy life and to be holy! That’s the whole story of the world. The history of the world is the history of salvation. That’s what we hear in the today’s first reading. God is always entering into the lives of his people. He listens to our prayers, he comes with his strength: to help us, to support us, to be with us. And he stretches out his arm — to lift us up; to deliver his people, as we heard today, from evil and sin.
So, yes, as we start this holy season of Lent, God is still with us in all our struggles against temptation and sin. He wants to live with us and he wants us to be holy people.
So why was he allowed to be tempted? Because he wanted to show us that he is our Brother and our Friend. And that he was able because he’s God, the Son of God, to reject any temptation. He’s telling us that if we walk with him, we trust in him, we are open to his grace and to his strength, we can overcome any temptation. He allows us to be tempted so that he can help us to grow in humility and that we put all our trust in him.
On our part, it makes sense, that sin, that he wants to be with us, to walk with us and that we also make good resolutions during this time. It is a time of prayer, and fasting, and works of charity.
So today, on the First Sunday of Lent, it is a wonderful time to make practical resolutions for this Lenten season. Isn’t that our tradition — that we always give up something for Lent? It’s a beautiful tradition in the life of the church, and our country that, during Lent, we all try to make the effort to go to daily Mass as often as we can. Beautiful resolutions: daily Mass, going to confession, visiting the sick and elderly, teaching the children by our example, praying as a family, it is a holy time. So let’s ask for the grace to make those resolutions: to live this time as a special time in our lives, and in our families, and in our Church.
And let us ask Mary, the Holy Mother of God, to accompany us on this journey of Lent.
And let us keep our Holy Father and our universal Church in prayer these weeks to come.
1. Readings (First Sunday of Lent, Year C): Deut. 26:4-10; Ps. 91:1-2, 10-15; Rom. 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13.
2. Mark 11:23; Phil. 4:13.