GENESIS 9:8-15; 1 PETER 3:18-22; MARK 1:12-15

THE SPIRIT DROVE JESUS OUT INTO THE DESERT.   The forty-day fast in the desert, Mark informs us, followed immediately upon the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan.   This period of solitude, fasting, and temptation took place under the divine impulse of the Holy Spirit.   The whole season of Lent takes its inspiration from our Lord's prolonged period of prayerful, rigorous solitude, and will prove fruitful for each of us in the measure that we activate our faith and come under the influence of the same Holy Spirit who accompanied Jesus in the desert fast.

Matthew's account of this event provides greater details and is more engaging.   He tells of three temptations that tested Jesus only at the end of the forty days of his strenuous fasting.   This version by Mark presents the whole forty days as a time of temptation by the demon, leaving the content to our imagination.   Obviously the two versions are complementary; staying alone in solitary nature without eating left our Lord weak and physically vulnerable, consequently, he was more susceptible to the kinds of allurements the demon offered him.

As we enter upon this first full week of Lent today the Liturgy encourages us to undertake a more rigorous way of life, not with explicit language, rather, by the more subtle process of presenting the experience of Jesus himself.   His example is not only a commemoration of a past event of his earthly life.   We are invited to follow him, learning from his actions the path that leads to the Father's house.   The Gospel is an implicit invitation to undertake a more earnest way of life.   As we attend to our Lord's heightened dedication to seeking the Father's plan for him as he prepares for his active ministry of preaching and challenging the authorities.   Surely he realized that his mission would involve him in conflict and danger.   It would not be long before John, who had just baptized Jesus in the Jordan was put to death in fidelity to his prophetic witness.

Just this past week the whole Christian world was given a sharp reminder that to follow Christ is to enter upon the way of self-denial and sacrifice.   The martyrdom of twenty-one Coptic Christians in Lybia by Muslim terrorists is a stark reminder that fidelity to God requires a willingness to surrender to him our all.   For most of us this surrender in the face of death comes less violently, but often no less painfully when from sickness or accident.   That our time on earth is a warfare was stressed already hundreds of years before Christ's struggle with the powers of darkness in the book of Job.   The repeated acts of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish violence in our current society reflect the similar situation that Our Lord and the early Church experienced.   All indications are that this climate of violence will continue and even worsen for the foreseeable future.

As we enter upon this season of Lent may our dedication to the Lord Jesus and his teachings take on fresh life as we renew our witness to Him in a world that is hostile to all he teaches and represents in his divine and holy person.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger