The temptations and trials of life: A Lenten journey
A reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C
by Fr. Stan Chu Ilo
The temptations of the Lord in the Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent offer us some important and hopeful points to begin our Lenten journey. The first message
is a truth that all Christians ought to embrace: if the Lord was tempted, then we his followers will also be tempted because
the Christian journey invites us to follow Jesus in his life, trials, suffering, Cross, death, and resurrection. The Lord knows what it means to go through trials, and so he can identify with any of us when we are going through trials.
The second message
from this Gospel is that Jesus overcame his own temptations. We too will overcome the trials of life with God’s grace just as our Lord and Master did. We all must sometimes go through trials and temptations. Life is filled with many ups and downs. This is why I love the expression “going through temptation” because it means that the challenges which I face today are only “a passing phase”: I will go through them with faith, hope, and courage
. Trials are never the end of the road for us as followers of Christ; they will pass
. Like Jesus and trusting in God’s graces and never-failing help, each of us in any moment of trial that we face will come out of the present situation stronger and better equipped to be the person God wants us to be.
This promise of God to walk by our side in our moments of trial to help us through it all is captured so clearly in Moses’ message to the the people in the first reading. Moses reminds the people of the difficult roads that they travelled and how God’s mighty hand helped them through it all in these words: “God saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders; and bringing us into this country.” God sees what you are going through; God sees the pains and wounds of our present times in this pandemic and the groan of the world for peace and security, and will visit us with grace and blessing during this Lenten season.
Third, every temptation, trial, or challenge we face in life brings us to the rough grounds of our humanity; temptations take us down to earth and invite us to return to God. Our earthly pilgrimage is fraught with many uncertainties. But central to our journey of life are the deepest desires of our hearts; our lives are propelled by our desires. As human beings we all desire human fulfillment, joy, peace, love, fun, self-esteem, honour, and recognition. But our Christian faith teaches us that the primary and most authentic human desire is the desire for God. Indeed, all the goods we long for are secondary because they draw from our primary good, which is union with God. Thus, central to our understanding in faith of our human journey is that we come from God and we will return to God. This double movement defines and specifies our desires. Every temptation we face forces us to reflect on our true identity, our mission in life, and our ultimate destiny. This was also true of Jesus. Why was the Son of God tempted?
The temptations of Jesus are the internal conversation of Jesus in the very depths of his soul on how he was going to carry out the mission of saving the world. Jesus chose the humble path of being born like us, of suffering with and for us, and of totally identifying with us in our broken humanity in order to save us. He stepped into the chaos of our lives. He refused to follow the path of cheap grace or cheap popularity, or the path of least resistance. Jesus shows us that the religion and spirituality which he lived and modeled is not a religion that will win the hearts of men and women and capture the cultural imagination of the changing times and seasons through propaganda, star power, political power and influence, or through compromises or short cuts to success. The Lord in overcoming the devil chose the painful but gainful path of the Cross in order to save us. He invites us to embrace the trials of life with courage, endurance, faith, and hope, knowing that these will also pass.
When you are going through any situation, know that it is a time for divine visitation, a time for divine chiseling so that God can refine you, make you better, build you up in spiritual qualities and character, and prepare you for a great leap forward
. So whether you are “going through” something as a result of your own mistakes or choices or because of circumstances beyond your control, remember that “you are going through it”.
That means that it is not the end of the road; it is only a “Passover” from the Red Sea of pain, death, darkness, fear, and uncertainty to the “promised land”. So go through your trials
with hope, faith, and trust that God will bring you victory and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. So true are the assurances of St. Paul in the second reading that “God will not allow you to be put to shame”.
On this First Sunday of Lent, I would like you to remember that there is no trial or temptation that you face which you cannot handle with the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. God also does not tempt us beyond our strength, nor does God ask us to do something which is impossible. Lent offers us then the time to return to God through fasting, abstinence, almsgiving, penance, and prayer, asking the Lord as we prayed in the responsorial psalm: “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.”
The readings for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C, are
Fr. Stan Chu Ilo is a research scholar at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology, DePaul University, Chicago. His latest book published by the Paulist Press is titled
Someone Beautiful to God: Finding the Light of Faith in a Wounded World.