The second reading today ends with this line: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The question naturally follows, saved from what? Pope Francis gives us an answer in this week’s Spiritual Reflection: saved from the devil, an enemy who is constantly seeking to mislead us to our ruin. We are no match for him, especially with our wills weakened and our intellects darkened due to sin.
If we are honest with ourselves as we read the Pope’s Reflection, it is not hard for us to see that our enemy has in fact had much success in enslaving us and those around us. We recognize in ourselves the desire to find some fulfillment by possessing things. If I can only get a new car, or a bigger house, or nicer clothes, that would really make me happy! We differ in exactly what it is that we want to acquire, but we are all tempted to believe that some things will make us happier if only we had them.
We can also admit that we are tempted by human glory. Some want to be admired by great crowds, while others crave honor and respect by the few people around them, but in any case, we want to be thought well of, to be admired, to be consulted, to be considered important. This is not bad in itself, but it can easily become an idol for us, such that we place the good opinion of others over being faithful to God and seeking our worth in him alone.
Finally, the Pope describes how we tend to turn our relationship with God upside down, such that we want God to serve us. We can use religion to make ourselves look good and holy in the eyes of others. We can use our knowledge of Scripture or of Church teaching to make ourselves feel righteous and to evaluate ourselves as better than others. We can pray in such a way that we seem to be demanding that God do our will, rather than submitting ourselves to his will.
All of us can find these tendencies in ourselves to a greater or lesser degree. As the Pope warns us, they are traps of the enemy which will only lead us to ruin. For this reason the Lord has given us this blessed Season of Lent. He calls us to follow the leading of the Spirit out into the desert with him. There he can and will unmask the lies of the enemy, and free us from bondage to sin and deception.
The first reading reminds us of how God saved his people from slavery in Egypt. They were maltreated and oppressed, and they cried out to the Lord. He heard their cry and brought them out of slavery and into freedom, out of Egypt and into a land where they were free to worship him. Moses gives the Israelites instructions on how they are to return thanks to the Lord for his goodness to them. They are to bring him an offering of their firstfruits and then bow down in his presence. These symbolic actions teach us that the key to remaining free after the Lord has saved us is to acknowledge him as our savior and to worship him as Lord.
The Psalm for today tells us that if we “dwell in the shelter of the Most High, and abide in the shadow of the Almighty,” no evil shall befall us. Later in the Psalm we learn that the one who dwells with the Lord is the one who clings to him. This is a good word for us to ponder today. When someone clings to something, he grasps it tightly and will not let it go under any circumstance. We should cling to the Lord and his word. The Gospel Acclamation repeats what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel, we live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
We see in the Gospel what this looks like. The devil tries repeatedly to tempt Jesus to reject the will of God and follow him instead. Jesus simply clings to the word of God, answering every temptation with a relevant scripture passage. The devil is completely defeated; he has no way to gain any influence over Jesus.
The word of God is not something which is hard for us to find or know. St. Paul reminds us, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” Jesus himself is the Word of God, and he lives within each one of us. He will reveal himself to us if we open our hearts to him in prayer – if we cling to him and beg him to lead us each day to greater freedom in him.
The devil speaks about worldly power and glory, claiming, “it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.” However, he is a liar. The “gifts” of the devil, if they are real at all, are at best temporary, and in the end always lead us to lasting ruin and disaster. God is the true giver of all that is good for us – life and freedom and happiness. The gifts of God are eternal and lead to everlasting joy and true glory. Which gifts are we pursuing? We should take time now, as we begin this Lent, to be clear in our minds about the difference between the two, so that with God’s help we can firmly reject the lies and temptations of the devil and instead cling to the word of truth spoken personally to us by our most gracious and merciful God.
Why do I search for true happiness in earthly possessions? Why do I want to be admired and considered important in the eyes of others? During this Lent, how will my prayer enable me to cling to God and draw closer to him?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.