“O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” are two lines from the Exultet which is proclaimed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The hymn calls the Church to rejoicing as it proclaims the triumph of Christ over sin and death which brings healing, restoration, redemption, and salvation to mankind.
Christ is the focus, the poetic image here emphasizes the great gift Christ is to mankind. The Father’s gift of the Son, the Son’s gift of Himself, are freely given in love. The great damage to mankind brought on by sin is taken up by Jesus and through His death is healed.
That “happy fault” looms great in today’s celebration of the First Sunday of Lent.
Here we are in the beginning of our journey. Lent is a penitential season. It is a time where the communion of the Church, that is all of us, makes a concerted effort to repent of sin. Most of us heard the words “Repent and believe in the Gospel” on Wednesday when we received ashes. We embrace the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a way of expressing contrition for our sins and gratitude for He who delivers us from sin. The penitential season also helps us to be strengthened for the good, to help us to choose good and avoid evil, to be aware of temptation, and to be given the means to resist. Jesus shows us the way.
The “Forty Days” of Lent recall the period of time when Jesus was in the desert. During that time, He fasted and at the end of which He was tempted. Saint Matthew points out that at the end of this period, “He was hungry.” It is now that Satan enters the scene and tempts Jesus three times. Even though he is physically weakened by the fasting and time in the desert, He is spiritually strong. The cunning of the devil should not be underestimated. He is clever and is trying to trick or trap Jesus in his temptations. Jesus resists. He sees the temptations for what they are and where they would lead him (away from God the Father). He says “no.” He makes the choice to remain faithful to the Father and dismisses Satan.
Jesus’ rejection of the Tempter is contrasted with the fall of Adam and Eve recounted in the first reading for today’s liturgy. Adam and Eve are in the garden. God gave them life. He created them in love. He gave them the world and all that is in it. He gave them each other. Everything they need, they have. Satan temps them to think that there is something more that they don’t have; something God is keeping to Himself. As in Jesus’ temptation, the devil is clever and “cunning.” In this case, he tempts them with divine aspirations, becoming gods or like gods. They give in and sin; and as a consequence become less like the God they sought to be.
Satan tempted our first parents to shift their focus from God to themselves (and in doing this their focus also went to him who tempts). They turn away from God. This is the essence of sin. Choosing to look elsewhere has consequences. We see this in the story when Adam and Eve become embarrassed at their nakedness. The shame they now experience points to an inner peace and integrity that has now been seriously damaged.
As the Genesis account continues, we see their relationship with God, with each other, and with all creation are damaged. Another consequence of this fundamental sin, or original sin, is that sin increases which likewise is recalled in as the Genesis account continues.
Satan comes to Jesus and tempts Him as he did Adam and Eve. Jesus, however, resists the temptations and remains focused on God. Notice that in the three temptations, Satan is trying to get Jesus to take his reliance off God. First, by providing for his needs by Himself; second, by forcing the hand of God, or in other words, making God do what He [Jesus] wants him to do; and third, by taking power that properly belongs to the Father. None of these are successful. Jesus remains faithful to the Father. He makes the choice for the Father, he makes the choice for the Good.
Saint Paul, in the passage from the Letter to the Romans, summarizes the contrast between the Adam (and Eve) and Jesus. Through Adam sin comes into the world; righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.
He writes: “In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so, through one righteous act, acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”
That “happy fault” of Adam has led to the gift of life in Christ Jesus, the gift of Jesus Himself.
Today He invites us to “go to the desert” with Him through the penitential acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that we can continue our journey through life focused on His Gift, faithful to His Word and grateful for His life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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