Like Jesus, we are led by the Spirit into the desert during this Lenten season. In the desert we have nothing and thirst. Hopefully the grace of this Lenten season will help us thirst for God all the more. Jesus goes into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. Forty is a recurring number in the Bible because the rains of the great flood lasted 40 days and the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years. Both the Israelites and Jesus are tempted in the desert but their responses are different as Israel succumbed to temptations while Jesus overcame them.
Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of meeting one of the great Biblical scholars of our time, Dr. Scott Hahn. We were able to talk a bit about ministry, about the genius of Pope Benedict XVI, and the future of the Church. I was also able to hear him address about a dozen of our seminarians as we had lunch and he told them to read and re-read the works of Benedict because never has the Church had a Pope that was a master Biblical-theological scholar. Both Pope Benedict and Dr. Hahn urge us through their writings to be lovers of Sacred Scripture and to rediscover the treasure that is the Bible. In doing so, we can go deeper into today’s Gospel to compare the temptations of Jesus to the ones the Israelites encountered as they wandered through the desert. This week, Dr. Hahn wrote:
“[Jesus] faces the temptations put to Israel: Hungry, He’s tempted to grumble against God for food (see Exodus 16:1-13). As Israel quarreled at Massah, He’s tempted to doubt God’s care (see Exodus 17:1-6). When the Devil asks His homage, He’s tempted to do what Israel did in creating the golden calf (see Exodus 32). Jesus fights the Devil with the Word of God…”
Jesus is able to resist temptation because he is armed with the Word of God and has an intimate knowledge of it. As we begin our Lenten journey, which is ultimately a journey of rediscovering God’s unconditional love for us, we must also rediscover God’s love letter to us which is the Bible. Now I say this not to insult you but to state an unequivocal fact: as Catholics, we do not know the Scriptures as well as our Protestant brothers and sisters. They can quote chapter and verse and run circles around us when it comes to Biblical study. Can we defend our faith armed with knowledge of the Word if we had to? Could we point out the scriptural roots of our rich traditions? Now I will acknowledge that as a priest, I have to do a better job of opening for you the beauty of Sacred Scripture as Christ did for the disciples of Emmaus, and as a pastor I have to facilitate for you more opportunities for Bible Study. But as we journey through Lent, we can pick up the Bibles we have at home and possibly read a chapter every night. Pick a page. Any page. God has something to tell you. As you begin to read, you will want to read more. You will want to read what the Fathers of the Church have to say on those passages. If we are to overcome the temptations the world throws at us and spread the Good News of Christ, we must have an intimate knowledge of that Good News. We focus so much on the sacrifices we make during Lent, which are all fine and good, when perhaps reading a chapter from the Bible every day can spiritually nourish us more and make this holy season that much more fruitful.
When one leaves the desert, the first instinct is to look for water, and that is exactly what awaits us at the end of this journey: the waters of Easter. Our catechumens will be sent today to the cathedral for their Rite of Election with the Archbishop as they prepare to receive the waters of baptism. We who are baptized pray for them and prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal promises this coming Easter, but let this year be different. When we renew those promises, after completing our Lenten journey through the desert, let us go forth not only with a deeper knowledge of how much God truly loves us, but let us also go forth into the world armed with a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures so that we may set the world on fire with the Word of God.