By Fr John Sullivan, SJ

For most of my life, I understood God’s plan of salvation, especially the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection in a more impersonal way. God did what God had to do in order that humanity might be redeemed and saved. And I could see my place in God’s plan as being a member of the flock or herd. I was just one head among many, utterly indistinguishable from the others. If we understand the will and action of God in this way, it makes it so difficult for our hearts to be touched and moved. Our faith and the practice of our Catholic Christianity can become mechanical, without feeling and superficial. When such a faith confronts the world, the temptations of the world will most likely overwhelm it. Most tragically, we will not receive the “free gift” of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul writes, that the “free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.” Perhaps this Sunday, we can begin to see and receive the free gift of Christ in a more personal way.

Some years ago, when I was on a retreat and was praying the three temptations that Christ faced in the desert, through the Holy Spirit I imagined myself seeing Christ enduring his suffering of the forty days. I saw him feeling great hunger and being tempted to eat. I saw him poor and being tempted to force the Father to send the Angels to serve him. I saw him alone and being tempted to receive the world’s adulation. As he suffered and struggled, I imagined him finding the strength to say “No!” to the Devil’s promptings. When the Devil spoke his lies, I saw the Lord looking at me. In a way, I was the cause of his strength. It is the depth of his love for me and you that that gave him the strength to refuse expose the temptations as mere straw. It is the depth of his love for you that the Lord said to the tempter, “Away with you, Satan!”

During our forty days of Lent, we have this most precious opportunity to receive the “free gift” of Christ more deeply within our hearts. To realize that each one of us is not an indistinguishable member of the herd. Rather, we are the reason for every word Jesus speaks. We are the reason for every action Jesus takes. The depth of his personal love frees us to understand the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection in a new way. A way that is personal; a way that is formed by love; and, a way in which his gift of himself becomes our own. And our penance, prayer and almsgiving are done in response to what he has done – he has loved with a love beyond all telling. As we see him struggle beneath the weight of the Cross, we see a love that we do not fully comprehend but we know he is giving us life. And so, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

God Bless and Take Care - Fr John

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