‘The woman said…that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Gen 3.6)

We are by now beginning to wonder about Lent. If you are like me, then you may be wondering whether all those things were such a good idea and whether it would have been better to have done without something less appetising.  The power of the liking for jam, the reluctance to give time to the office of readings in the rite of Milan, going to Mass more often or whatever begins to hit in. A friend told me about his son, a godson who had cannily decided to give up ‘fussing about sweets’ for Lent and his father wondered how long that would last. Well, how long will it last for me or for you?  

There are those who pour scorn on giving up the little things for Lent or taking up the little things but I wish to suggest that if any of us are to make progress with Christ, towards preparing for Easter and for the Easter Mass, then it is with our little desires, our basic desires that we are best advised to start. It is with chipping away at the small things that we have a chance to chip away at the  big things.  

When we realise that a liking for chocolate actually does figure so highly in our life, when we find it that bit harder to find just a few more minutes for prayer, when we know and feel under our skin, in our lives, then we feel that we lack God under our skin, lack we did not realise was there. The waywardness of our desire, our abiding wandering of desire can but meet us and if it meets us in the way our feet go after Mattins, or the neglect of an Italian invitatory, if it meets us in the brokeness of biscuit, then so much the better.

For it is the direction of desire that is at the root of our sin. Desire is a good thing, a very good thing and our first parent – well, one of them, Adam, was probably dozing – she was alert to that. That tree of life like all the trees in Paradise offered good food -  the  original Gascoyne’s Scarlet apple - and pleased the eyes - Gascoyne’s Scarlet again - but it had som’at else, that it was desired to make one wise, something longed for, seemingly satisfying and life-giving. Desiring is a good but when gone for as one pleases, even for the highest motive, then it will not reach its end. Eve wants, her desire goes ahead of her and she falls for that tempation to be like God. “Well, what is so great about being a god, why cannot I have some of the same?” and desire is on its way. The desire to be divine is not the simple evil some commentators say, rather it is the way that desire is allowed to go and its true end is missed.  

That end, that direction, we see in the story from Matthew of the testing of Jesus by Satan. Jesus - like Eve - desires - none more so - and, to be obedient to the Father, in Whose intimate presence He, nurtured by the second Eve, always lives. Jesus is tested but His temptations are not quite like yours, to go for cosmetics and to pretend to be what you are not - there is nothing in Jesus which gives way to that temptations.

We misunderstand the testing of Jesus if we think He could sin. That would be contrary to faith. There is a story abut the building of the Gauxholme viaduct near Todmorden; when it was completed the engineer packed some trucks with stone and iron and got it on top of the arch. A workman gobsmacked said: ‘so you are trying to see if it will fall?’’ The engineer replied ‘no, I am testing to see that it will not!’. That is the testing of Jesus!  

His temptations are three, for desires to be satisfied in being fed, for them to be amplified in being given so much responsibility, so much to do and for them to be identified in being given whatever answers perfectly to what you want, no matter how. The true satisfaction, the true breadth and the true identity is given in Jesus, being simple obedience. If Jesus were to give up chocolate for Lent, then He would not know, not feel our failure to observe it but He would know what it is to gasp for it, our lack.

Jesus, by being tested, shows us one who can desire truly; His desire is such that it knows it is good to wait, famished if need be, that freedom does not lie in constantly having power and things to do and, least of all, in being the mirror of one’s own desires, the great I Am; though we do not know it, it is often our own selves we give greatest honour to, not God.

Jesus redirects the desire of Eve. His way will do to death the deep envying which sits in the way our desires go false. Jesus' way is one which offers a way of learning to desire better. Not a work of a moment, however. That discomfort we feel during Lent is one we need to feel, not to enjoy but to make us aware of the weakness of our desiring truly, of desiring the God known in such intimacy by Jesus Christ.

Sin comes in through envy, through the envy which is desire gone dangerously off course. It is the sin behind satisfying desires at the cost of destroying the world’s eco-system, the sin which allows the massing of weapons of total destruction. "Through the devil's envy death entered the world and those who belong to his company experience it." [Wis. 2:24] Our way with Christ always need to begin with that penance, learning to redirect our weak and misguided desires.

We cannot do it in our own power and not all will do it. You need to confess your sins. You need to give serious thought to how and when to confess your sins; that comes first; that will include your failures in your Lenten discipline of course. I do not mean the chocolate you ate but rather the excuse you made for wolfing it down and the smile you gave to cover it up. Confess your sins – that is for everyone and without it one will fail to celebrate Easter with hearts renewed and joyful. Unless you know your weakness, your own way with Eve and the serpent, then there is no way back to Christ. None. We need to know our sinfulness.

We also need to know that the victory has begun. When the second Eve, Mary, begins with her Jesus, as personal a savour as there has ever been, God works to undo our false desiring. In her guts, in a woman’s body, the redirecting our desire has begun. It is why Mary is absolutely essential to the Christian way; there is no way of doing without her. God begins that redirecting of desire in the way Mary nurtures and loves the body of her Son, how from her comes that sinless flesh, that body truly desiring, that soul wholly intimate with God.  

So this Lent confess your sins and take strength from the support, the nurture, of the Blessed Mary, His mother and ours.              

Thomas Seville CR