Practical Application: Small mortifications
For today’s readings click here. (Lectionary: 24)
Central Idea: Christ overcame the temptations of the devil
- The first reading is part of the instruction Moses gave to the Chosen People before they were to enter the Promised Land. It specifies a ceremony of remembrance and gratitude that each household was to perform each year. They were to bring a basket with the first fruits of their garden and offer it at the altar of God through the hands of one of his priests. They were to recall all that God had done for them: God made them a great people, delivered them from oppression, and gave them a very good land to live in. God did a lot for them and they only had to make a small sacrifice in return.
- Lent is a time of penance. We give up something, like the Israelites sacrificed their first fruits. The purpose of our penance is closely connected with Israel’s. It is to help us remember our dependence on God, God’s graciousness to us, and the gratitude we owe him.
Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
- God’s “son,” is just or righteous because he stays close to God.
- This “son” can mean one of God’s appointed prophets, priests, or kings, or the Chosen People as a whole, or the Messiah.
- This “son” may suffer affliction, but God will deliver him and glorify him in the end.
- These words are good for us to recall while we endure the difficulties of Lent.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.
- How do we stay close to the Lord, so as to be kept safe and delivered from all harm?
- St. Paul’s answer is a living faith in Jesus Christ.
- This faith must be in our hearts first, meaning, we adhere to what God proposes to be believed in our mind and will, in the invisible core of our being.
- This faith must also be on our lips, that is, we acknowledge before others our faith in Jesus Christ.
- This faith must also be lived in our actions: we must be like Christ himself who went about doing good.
Gospel Lk 4:1-13
- These forty days of Lent are our easy participation in Christ’s very hard forty days of fasting in the desert. We fast a little from something and pray a little more than usual. Christ fasted from all food and prayed the entire time. But he’s the leader, the pioneer, the icebreaker. We follow more easily in his wake.
- At the end of his time of penance, when he was weakest in body, the devil appeared to him to test him.
- The devil is super intelligent but he cannot read our souls: he cannot “hear” our thoughts or see our interior life. The devil had been watching Christ from his birth. He knew Jesus was an extraordinary man and he had just witnessed his baptism at the Jordan when God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended.
- The devil went on the assumption that Jesus was “a” or “the” son of God, but as we saw above, that designation can mean many things, from faithful follower right up to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
- Two of the three temptations began with, “If you are the son of God.” Did the devil actually care who Jesus was or did he just wish to ruin him? From the human perspective, what could be better than to be a son of God, beloved and protected by him? If Jesus were only a man, however miraculously endowed, maybe the devil could get him to reject God by disobeying God’s will.
- Thus, in the first temptation, the devil invites Christ to use his power to perform a miracle for himself: turn stones into bread to save his physical body.
- The devil also knew by long experience the main things fallen humanity likes: pleasure, wealth, power, and glory. If you have the power, you can get all the wealth and pleasure you want. Glory—to be admired by all—was perhaps more important to men in the past than it is to us today. Bow down before me, the devil claims, and everyone will bow down before you.
- The greatest fear of every human being is suffering and death. If you are so special, the devil says, prove it: Throw yourself down and God will rescue you.
- Even though the devil appeals to the body, to the desire for wealth and power, and to the need for security, pride also underlies everything he says. Prove who you are if you are so great.
- Our Lord withstands each of these temptations, something Adam and Eve did not do, something we do not do every time we sin.
- During Lent we go back to the Garden of Eden, now a desolate wilderness, and take baby steps to try to do things right for once with the help of Christ’s Redeeming grace.
- Justice is paying what we owe. The virtue of religion is justice applied to our relationship with God—ways we give God what we owe him. The four basic acts of religion are thanksgiving or gratitude; reparation, contrition, or penance; adoration or glory; and petition or asking God for the things we need or want.
- Our readings today and this season of Lent make it appropriate to focus on reparation.
- When you have broken something, you try to get it fixed. If you borrow something and damage it, you owe the owner a repair or fair compensation in return. When it comes to our relationship with God, reparation is an act on our part which partly repairs the evil done or slightly compensates God for it.
- Of course we cannot pay back to God the cost of our sins. We don’t save ourselves. God has done this himself for us by become man and then undergoing his Passion and Resurrection to redeem us. But reparation as an act of justice toward God arises out of a need in us, for us to do something about our sins.
- Acts of reparation can be done either for our own sins or anyone else’s. We can do reparation for what other Christians have done wrong because of the solidarity that exists among the members of the Body of Christ. We can do reparation for evils non-Christians have done due to our common membership in the family of mankind.
- Contrition is our turning away from sin. It is a holy impulse based on objective truth: Something we have or somebody else has done is wrong. This impulse or emotion becomes an act of reparation when we make an act of the will to say to God, “I am sorry about that.”
- Contrition or the desire to make reparation can arise seemingly spontaneously at the most unusual times, but Lent is a time when we can consciously cultivate this.
- In addition to prayer, we can also perform bodily acts: small or large mortifications, fasting, almsgiving, anything one does to express inner sorrow.
Practical Application: Small mortifications
- A small mortification is a little act of penance, a sacrifice we voluntarily make and then join to some intention. It is a sacrifice joined to an intention.
- First, there is the sacrifice. Mortifications can be active or passive and mental or bodily.
- If I skip dessert, that is an active bodily sacrifice: I’m doing something that mainly bothers a bodily appetite.
- If I turn away from a memory that makes me angry, that is a passive mental mortification: I’m enduring something I didn’t ask for which is mostly in my mind.
- Mortifications can also be planned or spontaneous.
- If I know I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. and I know that is going to be difficult, I can plan to offer that up for something.
- If I am suddenly stuck in traffic, I now have an opportunity to endure a difficulty I had not foreseen.
- Next is the “offering for something” side. These small acts of penance can be offered for something.
- Our doctrinal focus has been on reparation. Mortifications can certainly be offered as acts of reparation to express sorrow for our sins or the sins of others. We can also offer them in petition for all the needs we see around us.