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And the angels ministered to Him

By 15 February, 2018January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 18-02-18 First Sunday of Lent (Book of Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Saint Mark 1:12-15).

  1. Jesus was directed by the Holy Spirit to the desert. Do we forget that the Holy Spirit had a reason for doing what He was doing? This was not merely an obstacle on the road The devil had no chance to win and Jesus had not need to know Himself better or to test His strength and faithfulness. But He had to teach us two important things:

1) Who we are. Jesus is true man and then, necessarily He had to be tempted, in the same way as He had to cry, to smile, to work and to rest. This has been masterfully taught by Saint Augustine: The devil is only permitted to tempt you as much as it is profitable for your exercise and trial, and in order that you, who did not know yourself, may find out what you are. The gospel of Saint Mark does not give a very detailed of the temptations, but it enough for us to understand that these situations, these temptations, really happen. The conclusion is simple: Jesus resisted, so can I. God is telling us to examine the particular temptations we are dealing with in our own lives. And we have a very positive experience of this in our Didactic Lesson, where we learn about the power of prayer over temptation, the fruit of which can be summarized in one word: freedom.

2) We are not alone. In a materialistic and secularized culture, it is difficult to speak of the existence of angels. This might sound superstitious. We tend to minimize the importance and the role of angels, implicitly thinking that their role was relevant in some moments of God’s salvation plan: we all remember Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, or the examples given by Saint John Paul II (Aug. 6, 1986): Thus the angel of God liberates the Apostles from) the prison (cf Acts 5:18-20 and first of all Peter, when he was threatened with death at the hands of Herod (cf. Acts 12:5-10). Or he guides the activity of Peter with regard to the centurion Cornelius, the first pagan to be converted (Acts 10:3-8, 11:1-12), and analogously the activity of the deacon Philip along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26-29). Let us compare two aspects of the Catholic Dogma: Are we willing to believe in the existence of the devil, the dramatic importance of his traps and temptations and at the same time neglect, or just believe in the angels because it is obligatory? It would not be neither logic nor of much profit in our spiritual life… Therefore, allow me now to ask a delicate question: Do we (you and I) have personal experience of angels? Of course, nothing like apparitions or near-death experiences. Perhaps you think that some experiences in your spiritual life could be explained in a different and alternative way, e.g. psychologically, or by some coincidental circumstances (chance). It would not make sense to think that the devil is stalking day and night…and the angels only work occasionally. The truth is that the angels have a definite personality which is manifested in their actions as messengers and protectors. They carry these two missions on God’s behalf and their character becomes apparent in their intention: their messages and their protection are oriented to guide us towards God. They participate in the work of the Holy Spirit in attracting our attention and our will. Angels are constantly drawing our attention towards certain signs, which serve to push us in the right direction. Their guidance is subtle because they know us well and they interact accordingly. In the expressive words of Pope Francis: Our guardian angel is a friend we do not see but we hear…. Perhaps we could talk of angelical signs, continuously touching the chords of our deepest sensibility in its emotional, aesthetic, rational dimensions, thus contributing to the Recollection and Quietude granted by the Holy Spirit. Of course, there are cases where angels play with chance and probability, but remember this is NOT the rule. This is a well-known story told by Fr. Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household: A person gave witness in a television program. He was an alcoholic in the final stage; he could not go for more than two hours without a drink; his family was on the brink of desperation. They invited him with his wife to a meeting on the word of God. There someone read a passage of Scripture. A verse went through him like a burning flame and he felt healed. After that, every time he felt tempted to drink he went to the Bible and opened it to that verse to reread it and he felt the strength return to him until he was completely healed. When he wanted to say what the verse was his voice broke with emotion. It was the word of the Song of Songs: Your love is more delightful than wine. These simple words, apparently unrelated to his life, accomplished the miracle.

  1. What do we mean by repentance? Lenten is the season of repentance and renewal. This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. Are we going to carry out now an exegesis or etymology of the word? Probably it is much better to be faithful to the form how Christ himself and the saints consistently understand it.

* Firstly, according to the words of Saint Peter, repentance means an appeal to God for a clear conscience. Christian repentance is not so much to turn away from what we are doing but to turn into ourselves so that we might be faithful to who we are. Moreover, it is not only an effort and a resolve to change, and not only a regret, though these elements are always present, but our experience shows that regret and resolve are not long-lasting. If this component, if this petition is lacking one single day, sooner rather than later, our sinful nature will prevail. Self-deceit, in thousands of ways, will try to cloud our conscience.

* Secondly, Jesus, as a true man, is telling us with his example that we have to do an effort to repent, represented by not activating neither our passions, nor our talents, whether with good or bad intentions, but to explicitly obey the will of God. This was Jesus’ stern response to the devil. This is true fasting. We have to do our part: God has promised pardon to him that repents but he has not promised repentance to him that sins (Saint Anselm). Baldwin of Canterbury rightly synthetized the two remarks above: No one can test the spirits to see if they are from God unless God has given him discernment of spirits to enable him to investigate spiritual thoughts, inclinations and intentions with honest and true judgment. Discernment is the mother of all virtues; everyone needs it either to guide the lives of others or to direct and reform his own life. This then is true discernment, a combination of right thinking and good intention.

* Thirdly, repentance is not abstract. What are the behaviors or attitudes I know I need to avoid, or cultivate? A condition for repentance is being convicted that something is wrong in our heart, to precisely identify and pinpoint that which needs repentance. Particularly, I have to turn away from those circumstances, often called occasions of sin, which I know well from experience. A typical example in religious or family life: It is not enough to say: I am individualistic. Rather, next time you are leaving home, say “Goodbye” to your brothers.

* Fourthly, if I just admit the possibility of a delay in changing my behavior, this represents a sure path to failure. A man went to the home of a friend and said to him: Do you recognize that old watch? Yes, answered his friend. Those are my initials; that is my watch. I lost it eight years ago. How did you get it, and how long have you had it? I stole it, was the reply. What made you bring it back now? I was converted last night, was the answer, and I have brought it back first thing this morning. If you had been up, I would have brought it last night. Repentance causes immediate changes in one’s life. When possible, repentance results in restitution. In making amends. In repairing damages. This was the spirit Zacchaeus, the tax collector, had when he told Jesus: If I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold (Lk. 19:8). Let me close with some wise remarks delivered by Blessed Pope Paul VI on November 15, 1972, to help us to remember that Evil is not an abstract idea either: We come face to face with sin which is a perversion of human freedom and the profound cause of death because it involves detachment from God, the source of life. And then sin in its turn becomes the occasion and the effect of interference in us and our work by a dark, hostile agent, the Devil. Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening.