I suspect that just about everyone thrills to the excitement of every Olympics, whenever they are held. Every athlete wants the prize – “the Medal.” Gold, Silver, or Bronze, it doesn’t really matter, because winning any one of those will put one’s name in the record keeping books forever. We hear stories of months and months of training, indeed years of training, to enable these athletes to reach a high level of performance. Sadly, the record shows that several athletes in the past fell by the wayside, giving in to the temptation to take performance-enhancement drugs. Others had their skill levels affected negatively the next day because they partied too much at night. Still others got wrapped up in “self” and forgot the “team” effort. Only those who adhered to a disciplined schedule were able to overcome all the temptations and distractions around them, and perform at their peak level.
We like to make jokes about temptation; it many never really take it seriously. Some people even plan their New Year’s Resolutions months in advance. What a contradiction: to plan on giving up overindulgence,
Lent is now underway, and we have today’s Gospel example of Jesus to guide us (Mk 1:12-5). “Spiritual training” to overcome temptation must include regular prayer and fasting, otherwise the smallest “distraction” will make us fall by the wayside. Jesus’ first words in public ministry in Mark’s gospel are a call for us to change our ways starting now, because the reign of God is at hand. No “eternal medal” can be won without conversion, prayer and fasting. It is not “our” effort that spells success, but the sacramental grace of God that strengthens us when we act upon our desire for a closer relationship with God. This desire is expressed by our prayer and fasting.
Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church year, reminding us of Jesus’ forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert. The Tempter certainly tried his best to “distract” and tempt Jesus, but was unsuccessful. When Jesus calls us to “repent,” it is a call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving – holy and traditional ways of acting out our conversion, finding spiritual strength and living the Christian life. We must take temptation seriously; our eternal life is at stake!