1st Sunday in Lent

DAYS OF TRAINING

By:  John Dalla Costa

When studying corporate scandals, my business students tend to look for some villainy as the root cause. There are, inevitably, individuals who operate with purposeful disregard for others, bordering on evil. But usually the failures of integrity are not so much from from bad people having their way as from good people failing to use good judgment when it’s needed most.

Like anything else, the skills and sensibilities for goodness need everyday discipline. None of us are born with integrity fully formed. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to have the moral bandwidth for life’s inescapable crises without the everyday practice of moral courtesy and care, and without the everyday corrections from conscience.

In today’s Gospel we read how Jesus himself underwent such training to be ready for the all-or-nothing temptations that sought to derail his ministry before it even began. Jesus fasted, and was tempted for forty days. On the surface, his daily renunciation and prayer might seem to have rendered him that much more susceptible to devil’s audacious promises. But in spiritual terms, this daily self-denial affected the transformation preparing Jesus to not only deny the devil, but to walk with utter abandonment his long road to Calvary.

The early monks (known as the Desert Fathers for having retreated Jesus-like into the wilderness) call this transforming practice askesis. Regimens of restraint, repentance, and responsibility are always countercultural, but as we witness with Jesus, askesis does not curtail our potential so much as unleash it.

For the Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov, askesis today aims for “liberation from every kind of addiction—speed, noise, alcohol, and all kinds of stimulants.” He advocates withdrawal for “rest” – for “regular periods of calm and silence, when one could regain the ability to stop for prayer and contemplation, even in the heart of all the noise of the world.” Such “fasting, instead of doing violence to the flesh, could be our renunciation of the superfluous, our sharing with the poor, and a joyful balance in all things.”

Today’s Readings:  Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13