Each year, the First Sunday of Lent gives us the account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. This year, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus, “filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from [his baptism in] the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.”
The wilderness (also referred to as “the desert’) was the place where the people of Israel came to understand how powerfully God could act on their behalf. In the face of danger and temptations, hunger and thirst, complaining and unfaithfulness, Israel came to know the faithfulness of God who kept his promise to bring them to the promised land – “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the wilderness, the people of Israel learned to rely on God and came to terms with their true identity as the people of God.
The wilderness was not only a place of danger and temptation but also a place of holiness and the presence of God. Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit, remained faithful to who he was as the Son of God (note the first and third temptations, “If you are the Son of God…”). He leads the way for all of us; he has experienced temptation, just as we do; and he teaches us that, if temptation is strong, the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit is stronger.
While Lent is a time for us to acknowledge the presence and power of temptation in our lives, it is also (or more so) a time to give thanks for the ways the Holy Spirit guides us and prompts to focus on our Lord who has gone through the wilderness and shown us that temptation can be faced and overcome. Lent is a time to trust that the Lord continues to accompany us in the wildernesses of our lives, as the responsorial psalm today notes, “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.”
Today, we pray that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will take advantage of this Lent as a time for prayer, fasting, and works of charity. May God so bless us that we will remain hopeful in tribulation, grow stronger in virtue when tempted, and prepare well to celebrate the paschal feasts of Easter.