March 5, 2017: 1st Sunday of Lent A
Let me ask you a personal question. Do you struggle to pray? I certainly do. It’s difficult for me to quiet myself when my propensity is to reach out for my phone or tablet, getting on Amazon for latest deals, looking up things on Google, or checking to see if there is a new email or text. Our typical day is filled with checking texts, Snapchats or Facebook, watching TV or videos on our phone or tablet, and listening to talk radio or music. I don’t think the problem is that we lack time to pray. Someone said, “I want to pray, but I don’t want to miss out on anything that’s going on around me.” Our problem is that whenever there is an opportunity for silence and prayer, our mind races with a nagging worry or craves for something fun; both distractions pull us away from entering into prayer.
Lent provides us an image of a desert to describe our prayer life. When we think of a desert, emotive words like dryness, thirst, hunger, loneliness, and fear come to mind. Often times when we attempt to pray, our spirit resists because we fear that we will be deprived of sensory stimulation. If we shut ourselves away from all the noise and distractions, we fear we may encounter the chaos of our anxieties, inadequacies, lusts, and guilt, all of which are temptations to prayer.
Jesus enters into the desert for us 40 days and 40 nights in fasting and prayer. There he does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, that is to battle and conquer for us the three main temptations that have persistently obstructed our relationship with God since the days of Adam and Eve. In our First Reading today, we read about the temptations that Adam and Eve faced. The temptations they faced are the same temptations we face every day. As written in Genesis, “[Eve] saw that the tree [of knowledge of good and evil] was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” (Gen 3:6) The three temptations or three disordered desires are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
The lust of the flesh is the disordered desire for pleasure. Eve desired to eat the forbidden fruit because she thought it was good for food. The lust of the eyes is a disordered desire to possess things that don’t belong to us. Eve saw the fruit and wanted it for herself because it was beautiful. The pride of life is a disordered desire for self-love or vanity, making oneself an idol. Adam and Eve desired to become like God on their own power, apart from God. When we enter into silent prayer, we become aware of these disordered desires which wreak havoc in our lives. Who in this church have not been overcome by gluttony for food, sexual thoughts, or grandiose thoughts of ourselves? The lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride are like three big bullies that push us around, and we feel powerless before them.
Jesus overcame these three disordered desires by humility. In the desert, Satan posed three temptations with this questioning doubt, “If you are the son of God....” Satan’s temptations strike at the heart of Jesus’ relationship with His Father. In response to Satan’s challenge, Jesus rests in his trust and assurance of His Father. Satan tempted Jesus to turn a stone into a bread, tempted Jesus to worship Satan in exchange for possessing the entire earthly kingdom, and tempted Jesus to prove publicly to people that he is the Son of God by performing a miracle of levitation by throwing himself off a pinnacle of the Temple. The three disordered desires--flesh, possession, pride--were conquered by Jesus who humbly trusted in the Heavenly Father to provide for everything he needs rather than to give in to the temptations.
When we enter into prayer, undoubtedly Satan will confront and frustrate our prayer time with thoughts of our past failures, worries about the future, lustful desires for flesh, or our desire to be praised or respected. Remember that we do not enter into prayer alone. We are praying to the Heavenly Father, praying with Jesus, and praying in the Holy Spirit with the myriad of angels and saints ministering to us. We too are called to trust and rest in the assurances of the Father who provides what we need. The challenge for us is to make prayer a part of our daily necessity just as we do not miss mealtimes. To this end, we need a concrete plan.
Is there a set aside time for prayer just as you schedule a workout time, mealtime, and TV time? If there is no plan yet, I recommend that you put on your calendar a 15-minute prayer time in the morning and evening. If we schedule our prayer, then more than likely we will adhere to our schedule and pray. In addition, I recommend that you make the effort to attend at least one weekday mass in addition to a Sunday mass. We should be aware that Satan does not want us to pray; he does not want us to have that one-on-one meeting with God because that is when we receive the grace necessary for us to overcome temptations and follow the path that God laid out for us. I challenge all of us to enter into this Lent with an intentional plan for prayer.