Reflection for Vigil of the First Sunday of Lent 2016

February 13, 2016

Reading: Luke 4:1-13

By Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB

Sister Mary Elizabeth SchweigerOn the North side of the Choir Chapel, the second window from the back, the stained glass has the image of the devil.  It is a little section that has a red background and shows the devil as a skinny black creature with white eyes, white teeth, white tail and pitchfork and big black shoes.   The devil is tempting Benedict in the desert as Benedict prays.   This little part of the window attracts my attention especially in the spring, when the sun shines in such a way that it strikingly calls for attention.  There is a shadow and darkness around the other windows but this little section shines vibrantly.  I have often pointed it out the sister next to me and said, “The devil is very alive and active today.”

This little devil was the first thing that popped into my mind as I reflected upon the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent.  We just heard, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordon, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”  I doubt that the devil that tempted Jesus looked anything like the one in this window. The devils we experience in our lives most likely do not look like that either.  I believe each of us, like Jesus, is regularly confronted with the power of evil in our lives.

Choir Chapel windowSister Mary Irene Nowell, in her book, 101 Questions & Answers on Angels and Devils, indicates that the devil has many names in the Bible:  Satan, Beelzebub, Beliar, tempter, the evil one, demon, to name a few.  The devil also has many disguises: an accuser, an adversary, an angel of light, a roaring lion, and from the Gospel of Mark, and one that speaks to me is, “Satan is the one who steals the word of God out of human hearts.”   

The Devil in the Gospel tried to take advantage of Jesus in his human weakness by offering him things that looked very good:  comfort, prestige and power.   Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, was able to stay strong and overcome these temptations by keeping his heart and mind totally focused on His Father.  The quotes Jesus use from Scripture take the power right out of Satan’s temptations.  Jesus remains faithful and steadfast.

As I reflected on this Gospel, I became aware of the many deserts that we experience and how temptations are part of our everyday life. There is the desert of the monastery, not a dry and barren land, but a community of weak and wounded women who think and act differently from each other.  We encounter the temptations of murmuring, jealousy and judgmentalism at times.  The devil is active and persuasive as we try to live our community life according to the Rule of Benedict.

There is also the desert of our culture and society.  Our world is filled with the evils of war, terrorism, hatred, inequality and the drive for power.  We are tempted to be complacent, critical and overwhelmed.  We fail to see and appreciate the many good things that are happening all around us.   We neglect the positive and give energy to the negative.  

There is also the desert of our universe, the amazing and ever fascinating place we call home.   The temptation here is to take our earth, all of creation for granted, which leads us to believe that we deserve all of this.  

And finally there is the desert of our heart, a broken place that has suffered scars and hurts, and yet the place where Christ dwells and desires to heal and possess us fully.  The temptations in this desert invite us to harbor grudges, withhold from sharing with others, and an unwillingness to change for the common good.

Temptations are all around us for the devil is clever and cunning.  He is a master of making evil look good.  Benedict was tempted in many ways and in his Rule he suggests ways to deal with these temptations.  In Chapter 4 alone, on the “Tools for Good Works”, he suggests over 70 ways to stay the course with the practice of good deeds.  His final one is “…never lose hope in God’s mercy.”  I invite you to spend time with this chapter during this Lent.

Going back to the stained glass windows in the Chapel, almost all the other red color in the panels and in the rose window is not about the devil but about the Holy Spirit. The one little panel with the devil becomes pretty insignificant. With the sun shining at certain seasons, the red is so vibrant and powerful that it wraps us in warmth and love.  All of the red becomes symbolic of how we have been clothed and totally surrounded by the power and love of the Spirit.   We are wrapped in the mantle of God’s love and protection so that with Jesus we can overcome our temptations.