The 1st Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17
Second Reading: Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 5:12-19
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 4:1-11
Over the past several years, my seniors have been asking me a question that never came up in my first three decades of teaching. They sense the answer to this question but want affirmation of their intuition by asking an adult willing to spend class time on the answer. Always happy to go on a small tangent with second-semester seniors, so I entertain their inquiry: “Mr. Healey, are kids these days softer than in the past?”
The answer is an equivocal, “Yes.” Equivocal because it depends upon which kids you are asking about and what you mean by “softer.” I’m assuming that they mean the ‘average’ Ignatius student and are referring to a lack of toughness (mental, emotional, and otherwise), so I’m good with my “Yes.”
But I also want to say that I probably speak for everyone who is honest with her or himself that we are all softer than we used to be. Rory Hennessey ’78, legendary former Dean of Students and present-day history instructor and great American, years ago coined the phrase “access to excess” to describe the pre-condition for the softness that makes us less than who we are called to be.
The difficulty of trying to convince the overindulged that the Gospel of Jesus is relevant to their lives seems to be growing exponentially. Enter Jesus and His temptations in the desert. Enter the Church’s call to live Lent within the context of that time of trial. Exit most of us.
C.S. Lewis noted that the response to Jesus by those who met Him was one of three emotions: hatred, terror or adoration. He then said that no one who met Jesus ever felt “mild approval,” yet isn’t that the modern default response? To hate or to be terrorized by or to adore Jesus seems a bit overboard for us – after all, religion shouldn’t really matter that much, should it? Ironically, given our understanding of the human psyche, the responses of hatred and terror probably have a much greater chance of moving on to adoration than the response of mild approval.
The answers that Jesus gives to Satan reminds us of how we should approach our temptation to offer Him “mild approval.” First, He calls us to live by God’s Word rather than by the pleasures that come from ignoring it. He then calls us to trust God with a pure heart rather than to see Him as a granter of whatever we ask for. And finally, He calls us to have the courage to live a life grounded in true service to and worship of God rather than to have a polite, respectable, bourgeois, lukewarm ‘faith’ that would domesticate Christ and give idolatrous homage to the Zeitgeist.
One thing about young people – despite the excesses of their over-indulgent lifestyle, they are still drawn to authenticity, and that is where the Gospel has a chance. With those of us who are older and have been indulged far longer, the prognosis is probably much less rosy. Yet the antidote is the same for one and all, young and old, and the Divine Physician prescribes for each of us that which will drive away the devil and make us strong again: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.