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Into the desert

Filled with the power of the Spirit, he hastens to be alone. There in the deep silence of the wilderness, in prayer and fasting, the storm within him swings itself still; and when temptation comes, it is not repulsed by struggle, but seems to ricochet effortlessly against the invulnerability of freedom sprung from divine necessity. Then Jesus begins his task. \ — Romano Guardini, The Lord

From the Gospel reading on the first Sunday of Lent: following his baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to fast and pray for forty days. Having entered the wilderness to fetch us back from exile, as St. Ambrose writes, the Lord contends with the master of the world. He is tempted three times.

The first and second temptations - squarely aimed at appetite and ego - are both met with responses from Deuteronomy: One does not live by bread alone and You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve. The Law given to the Israelites is repeated by the Word which has fulfilled it.

The final attempt comes with a sense of desperation: a direct challenge, and an appeal to scripture as well:If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this high place, for it is written that the angels will guard you, lest you so much as dash your foot against a rock? Marvel at this: even the Devil can quote scripture when it suits him. “If you are the Son of God,” he says, daring Him to prove it.

Jesus again responds with the words of the Law: you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

First: our senses and ego. Later: self-doubt and second-guessing. Our senses and appetites are not bad, for by these we know the world and desire things that are good. Introspection and self-examination are also good, inasmuch as they provide a means for improvement. Even so, this is where the adversary will meet us. Small shortcuts here and there, complete with rationalization. Or later on, self-doubt which causes us to either shrink from the moment or rush headlong in, driven by vanity. We will be tempted. Many times, we will fail. But sometimes we will not fail. Sometimes we will take a tiny step towards our perfection.

In neither case are we alone in the desert, however empty it may seem.