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This holy season of Lent reminds us that we live amid a spiritual battle and that we have a responsibility to choose within this conflict. This battle engages us not only in making good, loving choices and avoiding selfish, destructive actions, that is, the battle to overcome vice and to cultivate virtue. The spiritual conflict awakens us to the broader picture—whom do we obey? The experience of temptation, as Jesus was tempted in the desert, does not simply confront one with a choice between options—some good and some harmful. There is a relational dimension to temptation. Temptation involves more than just the object that is attractive in the moment. Just as the Scriptures portray Jesus in the desert standing against the insinuations of the devil, so in the face of temptation do we also stand against an enemy. Like Jesus’ time in the desert, temptation affords us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the Father. In the end, by grace, nothing is lost. It takes wisdom and prayer, though, to distinguish the voice of the Father from the voice of the enemy, so that we are not misled.
In order for Lent to be fruitful, I have to know the one whom I seek. I need a purpose to my Lenten discipline beyond mere self-improvement or self-perfection. Lent facilitates conversion of heart, and conversion draws one into deeper relationship with the Lord. Conversion manifests a determination to live more authentically for and with God and to reject anything that would interfere with that relationship. At the heart of these forty days is the longing for greater communion with God. The sacrifices of Lent do not somehow make us worthy of God’s love, rather they open the interior space, where there may have been an unhealthy attachment, so that we can invite the Lord to claim us entirely for Himself. Lent facilitates a deeper falling in love in the heart of the believer. It is, therefore, important not only to take note of the areas of life in need of repentance and to submit to the healing grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. It is also important to contemplate more intensely the face of the beloved. What is the Lord like? What about Him draws me to be with Him, to trust Him, to sacrifice for Him? Lent is a marvelous time to delve into the gospels to “study” the qualities of Jesus’ heart.
As this Lent unfolds, we can invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to us areas of sin or vice that we may not perceive or have not relinquished. The Holy Spirit gently brings to light the areas of our hearts in need of deeper healing and greater commitment to Christ. Perhaps we have grown comfortable with certain temptations without realizing the corruption of the enemy at work behind them. The Holy Spirit wants to set us free from any way in which we have listened to the tempter. However, we do not want merely to contemplate our own weakness during this season. We also want to know Jesus more. We can also ask the Holy Spirit to increase our love for Jesus Christ. When a person falls in love, the beloved becomes the focus of their thoughts and affections. Other interests simply fall away in comparison to the greater love that has claimed the heart. Jesus could stand against the devil’s temptations in the desert because Jesus had an intense love for the Father. Nothing else could compare. Temptation is not resolved by weighing pros and cons of choosing one thing or another, but by the heartfelt dedication to the beloved.
We pray these days not only for greater self-knowledge—where I stand in greater need for conversion—but we also thirst for greater friendship with Jesus Christ. We want to belong more closely with Him. We can dedicate some time in Lent to look upon Jesus and to choose to be with Him, He who has set out to find us and bring us home.
Meditation written by Fr. James Rafferty