Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
First Sunday of Lent: Forty Days of Victory
Forty. Lent is, as you know, forty days. Jesus fasted for forty days. Noah was on the ark while it rained, for forty days. Elijah walked in the desert for forty days. Moses spend forty days on Mt Sinai. The Hebrews who had been delivered by God from Egypt roamed in the desert for forty years. This happened when they refused to trust in God to give them the Promised Land after scouts returned from reconnoitering the land, for forty days.
So what’s so special about forty? Forty is a biblical length of time that represents the period of purification before a momentous change. After the forty days of flood, mankind was purified, ready to start anew. Noah looked up into the sky and there was a rainbow, a sign from God that he would never destroy His people again with a flood. After forty days on Mt. Sinai, Moses was purified, ready to receive the holiness code. He descended the mountain with the tablets of the ten commandments and a sure way for the Hebrews to live as God’s people. Forty years later, their children and grandchildren would enter the Promised Land as people who had faith in God, not like their parents and grandparents whose faith wavered. After forty days in the desert, Elijah was empowered to renew God’s people. After forty days in the desert, Jesus was strengthened to do battle with the Tempter. After forty days of Lent, we are empowered to join the Lord in fighting off evil in our world. And so we begin the forty days of Lent, looking forward to waging war for the Lord.
We do not have to be victims in the battle against evil. We can be victors. We can join Jesus in fighting off the devil. Too many people in the world are convinced that they are victims of immorality. “The devil lives here,” they cry from the gutters of our society. They claim that they are powerless. They say that they cannot fight off evil. They are wrong. It is the same for us. Too many times we convince ourselves that we are victims of immorality. We are tempted and we give in; then we say “the devil made me do it.” This is not true. None of us have lost our free will. None of us have lost our humanity. Yes, we are often tempted. Those temptations promise us a great deal of pleasure. But we are not too weak. We can conquer the temptations. We can conquer temptations because we fight evil with Christ.
“But this is the way I am,” the weak of the world, the weak among us and the weakness within us claims. One person says, “I have a fiery temper. When people push my buttons, they get the full experience. I can’t help myself.” Yes he can. We can all be the best version of ourselves. Another person claims, “I work hard and need my break. I get rid of stress in ways the Church says are immoral,” as though the Church created the natural law. That person claims there is nothing he or she can do about that. Yes there is. We can all find healthy ways of relieving stress, ways that don’t involve misusing alcohol, drugs or, far worse, other people.
This is not easy. Of course it is not easy. We are engaged in a war against evil, not a minor skirmish. We have to have courage. We have to fight. And if we are knocked down, we have to get up and fight again.
What happened during those forty days that Jesus was in the desert? Through prayer and fasting, Jesus was fortified to do the will of the Father. He was strengthened to wage war against evil. The goals of His forty days were first to obey the Father and do all that was true and good and beautiful and second to bring His People out of darkness into the light. After those forty days in the desert, after defeating the Tempter, Jesus began His public ministry, His public life.
What happens to the determined Christian, to us, during the forty days of Lent? We are fortified to obey God. We are strengthened to join the war against evil. Like Jesus, our goals are first to do the will of God, what is true, and good and beautiful, and second, to bring the world out of darkness in the Light of Christ. You see, Lent is not about us as individuals. Lent is not about the individuals practices we perform. It is not about what we give up or what we do. Lent is about God, loving Him and obeying Him. Lent is about others, the millions of others who are suffering in the darkness, the millions of others on the verge of despair who need us to fan the flicker of hope they cling to into a flame, the millions who need us to bring them, as Pope Francis so eloquently and succinctly stated, the others who need us to bring them the joy of the gospel.
Forty days. Forty days to prepare for the battle of our lives. Forty days to come closer to God. Forty day to be attuned to His guidance. Forty days to grow stronger in our faith. Forty days to get a better control of ourselves. Forty days to join the Lord in the victory of life over death. Forty days to help others realize that they are not victims. Forty days to help others join Jesus as victors. Forty days to prepare to bring the joy of the Gospel to the world.
May we be blessed during these forty days.