Overcoming the power of evil
March 9, 2003

Al Cariño
First Sunday of Lent
Reproduced with Permission

The Season of Lent began last Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads with the admonition "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel." Lent is a period of approximately 40 days when we prepare ourselves for the proper observance of the Lord's Paschal Mystery, namely, His Passion, Death and Resurrection. It ends six weeks later -- at the start of the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.

The gospel reading (Mk. 1:12-15) has two parts. The first part describes the 40-days retreat of Jesus in the desert which ended with His temptation by Satan. Mark's version does not have the details of the other evangelists. For a reason. He wants to show that Jesus struggled against the devil throughout His life and not just during His three-fold temptation. The second part talks about the beginning of the public life of Jesus when He announced the coming of the Kingdom with repentance as the prerequisite for acceptance into it: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."

Right at the beginning of His public ministry Jesus has spelled out what we Christians should do. Because we have not always been faithful to our baptismal vows, we should turn our backs from sin and resolve to live the gospel.

Experience tells us that there is moral evil in the world. Newspaper headlines are full of the evil people do. And right inside of us we experience a constant struggle with evil -- our evil thoughts and desires which often lead to evil acts or sins.

Where does evil or sin come from? Not from God because He is all good and He can not go against His nature. Neither does it come from the devil. True, the devil is the Prince of Darkness. But he "merely" tempts us to do evil. He does not do evil for us. We do.

If sin consists in choosing to do evil -- which is often in the guise of something good for us -- then it can be done only by those who know good and evil and have the power to choose freely from either: angels and human beings. As we know, devils were angels who, with full knowledge and freedom, rebelled against God and were thus deprived of union with Him forever. Like them, we, though burdened by inordinate desires of our body, are endowed with the faculty to know both good and evil and to choose freely from either in order to reach our goal: union with God in love. And the only way to achieve this is by accepting and living God's offer of love freely and wholeheartedly.

To exercise the freedom to choose is like being in a road. As we know, every road has two directions: one towards and the other away from our destination. With sin, we deliberately turn away from our ultimate destination -- union with God. But by ourselves, we cannot return to God. Thus we need a Savior, one who can bring us back to God. It was precisely for this reason that God sent us His Son Jesus as our Savior. Nevertheless, we still have to make the decision to accept Jesus as Savior or not. It is when we decide to accept Jesus' call to repentance -- to turn away from our evil ways -- that we accept Him as our Savior.

As the gospel has told us, Jesus Himself was tempted by the devil before He began His ministry. He continued to be tempted up to the end, While hanging on the cross, a bystander taunted Him, "Save yourself if you are God's Son and come down from the cross now and we will believe!" He was tempted because like us, He was also endowed with the faculty to know good and evil and thus the freedom to choose. With Jesus' various temptations, Mark tells us of His struggle against the devil till His victory over him with His resurrection. And this Jesus was able to do because He made the right choice.

Is it any wonder then that when Jesus started His mission, His first act was to call us to return to God: "Repent and believe the good news?"

Though the call to repentance is a daily call, it is more intense during the season of Lent. For Lent is our preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, when Jesus overcame sin and death with His resurrection thus saving us. At Lent we are given the opportunity and grace for a "forty days' retreat" -- just like the 40 days of prayer and fasting of our Lord in the desert -- and come out of it ready to redirect our lives to the commitments we made at our baptism.

Our task during the Season of Lent is clear: to recover with God's grace our baptismal innocence through repentance so that we can come to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery and every day thereafter with purified hearts. Let us then pray for the grace to turn away from sin so that we will live according to the Good News proclaimed by Jesus.