We begin our Sunday observance of Lent meditating and contemplating the image of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Mark’s Gospel, from which we read, wastes no time setting the scene: there is no sweet and gentle nativity story here but 12 verses into the Gospel, Jesus enters the war he came to win. Humanity is at war, not with each other, not with believers and unbelievers but with Satan and sin. Thanks be to God, who sent us Jesus Christ to win the victory on Easter Sunday, not for himself alone but for all who live after him.
A few nights ago on Ash Wednesday the collect, the opening prayer called Lent a “campaign of Christian service” in which we “take up battle against spiritual evil.” We take up battle because we are being attacked, so, we must know our enemy. There are seven capital sins: pride, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth and covetousness. These sins are called “capital” for they are the head of all other sins. They are also called “deadly,” for they kill divine life in our souls.
The chief and root capital sin is pride. Pride attempts to set us up as something apart from God. Pride is a denial of reality, without God we can do nothing, yet in pride we believe we can do everything on our own. That is pride at its extreme, how it is found in Satan, who rebels against God’s reign. We find sin in smaller ways in our own life that are no less deadly when not rooted out. We might think of sins of pride like the weed, creeping jenny, which is small and thin, but winds its way around branch, leave, and fruit. It is almost impossible to remove. Almost.
Some types of pride we might experience: atheism, intellectual vanity, superficiality, snobbery, vain-glory, presumptuousness, and exaggerated sensitivity. Of special mention during Lent, exaggerated sensitivity is where we resist correction because we are unwilling to hear our own faults. “You couldn’t stand find out you are wrong,” we might say. Intellectual vanity is especially difficult today with so much information at our finger-tips. We need to see it ourselves, verify it, or even search for the rebuttal. I find this posture common amongst the young, myself included. It is hard to correct the self-wise man.
Jesus Christ is the answer to sin, in fact our collect, the opening prayer for today speaks of the “riches hidden in Christ.” These riches are the virtues, those substantial and real habits of our soul that, by God’s grace and good design, make our life happy and holy. The flower and crown of all virtues is love. Not just any love but caritas, self-denying love. The Catechism says of love “We love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God.” Loving God is then the standard and measure of a true lover—do my actions glorify God?
This sort of self-less or self-denying love is difficult for us to do once and a while, impossible for us to do all the time except by the grace and assistance of God. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” So if we are to defeat sin and especially pride, then we must learn what it means to receive God’s love. The cross of Jesus Christ is that surprising answer of love. We offend God; God forgives by dying. What a surprising solution?
On the cross we see the perfection of love when Jesus Christ cries out: “My God, my God, why have thou forsaken me?” Jesus is quoting the prayer of the 22nd Psalm. Jesus is also praying for and with those atheists, those who pridefully deny that God exists. Jesus enters into their own pain out of love.
Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center.