The secular world has given Lent a bad name by making it look like a season of deprivation. It has artfully concealed the fact that deprivation is a thing of its own making, the outcome of a sinful existence. Isn’t sin rampant and yet seemingly non-existent? In the modern world shattered by sin, alas, the absence of God’s grace is its greatest deprivation.

Against that sordid background, how soothing a balm is the liturgical season of Lent! We are invited to return to God, to walk in His path, and to savour His mercy and love. We ought to seize these forty days and renew our faith in the God who saves. We can never forget that the Father sent his Son to restore His covenant with the world; and that relationship is still alive. Lent is therefore a time of great hope, joy and thanksgiving.

The first reading on this first Sunday of Lent (Year C) is taken from Deuteronomy (26: 4-10), the fifth book of the Old Testament. The book comprises Moses’ sermons to the Chosen People as they stood on the threshold of the Promised Land, after a long exile in Egypt. These addresses recall Israel’s past and assert the identity of the Israelites; they also recap the laws that Moses had conveyed at Mount Sinai, stressing that their observance was essential to the people’s wellbeing.

In today’s excerpt we see that Moses calls the Israelites to offer their first produce to the Lord of Heaven and Earth to whom everything belongs. How deeply pertinent to our day and age! We too ought to offer the best of ourselves to God. Such acts of praise and thanksgiving would be perfect antidotes to modern man’s tendency to pose as all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s time we reset our priorities and put God first in our lives.

In the second reading, St Paul (Rom 10: 8-13) echoes those thoughts. The Son of God is the Saviour of the World. And, clearly, ‘if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’ Thus, Christian faith is about trusting in God’s omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence; it is about adhering to the Risen Christ. He invites everyone; ‘the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon Him.’ So, let every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

The Gospel (Lk 4: 1-13) shows how the evil one deplored the truth that Jesus is Lord. He thought it fit to test Him in the wilderness after Jesus had suffered deprivation of food, water, sleep, and human company. He was disappointed on seeing that the Son of Man had ample provision of the Spirit of God. But then, why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted at all! He did so that His victory might be even the greater. And behold His rejoinders: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’

Here in India, we would call that a ‘tight slap’. Yet, the temptation in the desert was not an isolated incident; it was very much the beginning of Jesus’ struggle with the prince of darkness, and it only ended on Calvary!… And be sure that the evil one is still around, testing you and me in the tangle of our lives. He tempts us with money and comforts, power and influence; it is almost as if the world is in his clutches. He brazens it out in ways unknown to us naïve children of the light! Not even our baptism in Christ protects us from his icy fingers; the first sacrament is rather the start of a hard journey that tests our faithfulness. But why worry when He is there, ‘My refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust’! (Ps 90: 1-2)

This Sunday of Lent let us acknowledge that the battle with forces of evil is an undeniable reality. (Our hearts go out to the people of Ukraine who have been countering the enemy with fortitude – Amen!) We must diligently put on the armour of God, be filled with the Holy Spirit and stand against the wiles of the devil. We have the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, which will empower us. For our part, we must renounce evil, sin and Satan – and embrace good, grace and God. Let’s go get it this Lent!