I have been a Eucharistic minister for about twenty years. As a Eucharistic minister, every year I have two opportunities to distribute the holy ashes. The first is during the Ash Wednesday liturgy with the school where I teach. The second is at the end of the mass on the first Sunday of Lent at my parish. When I distribute the holy ashes, I may choose to deliver one of the two messages to the recipients. The more traditional message is: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19) The other is: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. (Mark 1:15)
During the homily on Ash Wednesday, the priest reminded all the students at my school to give up some of their favorite things or activities like candies, chocolate bars, and watching television, etc. Giving up these favorite things and activities symbolizes the sharing of Christ’s life of simplicity, and is our way to demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus who sacrificed His life to redeem all of us on the cross.
For my young students, giving up some of their favorite candies, online games, and television programs may not be easy. For other adults, giving up some of their favorite things and activities during Lent is not enough. We should repent and be serious about our spiritual life, the sooner the better. The reason is that death is a reality. There are no exceptions. Death sometimes comes very suddenly and unexpectedly. Just two days after the Catholics worldwide had been reminded ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ on Ash Wednesday, thousands of people in Japan were killed unexpectedly during the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami. Have we learned a good lesson from the tragedy that thousands of Japanese died so suddenly and unexpectedly? Have we learned a valuable lesson that anyone can die any time without any preparation?
Death was not part of God’s original plan. Adam and Eve could have eaten the fruit from the tree of life in the middle of the garden. Unfortunately, they chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. With their disobedience, death entered our world, our history, and our very lives. It is not simply death of the body, but also the death of our immortal soul. It is the loss of a special father-children relationship with God. It is a state of alienation.
Adam’s story is not only one man’s story. It is also our own story. Adam does not mean just an individual but mankind. Adam sinned, and so do we continually. God created man in his image. (Genesis 1:27) Nevertheless, this image of God has been defaced by our sins every day. Why are people not what God intended them to be? The reason is simple. Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and disobeyed the Lord. They succumbed to the temptation caused by the serpent (Satan).
We are more inclined to succumb to temptation when we do not have a strong spiritual life, and when we are physically tired. As Adam and Eve experienced the first temptation, likewise Jesus experienced the temptation in the wilderness. Every one of us experiences temptation as it has become part of our lives and it will continue to stay with us regardless of our age and the circumstances of our lives.
We may be tempted to be lazy. We may be tempted to be impatient. We may be tempted to be dishonest. We may be tempted to gossip. We may be tempted to be unchaste. Bombarded by all kinds of temptations that beset us in our daily life, we need to learn from the example set by Jesus who said, “Not on bread alone is man to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
Paradise Lost is generally considered one of the greatest epic poems in the English Language. It was written by a 17th-century poet John Milton. This poem concerns the Christian story of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the temptation of Adam and Eve caused by the fallen angel Satan and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In this epic poem, since Adam was very upset of his fault, the archangel Michael told him about humankind’s potential redemption from original sin through the Saviour promised by God the Father.
Temptation itself is not a sin. When we say no to the temptations and affirm our fidelity to the Lord, we have been victorious. But is it easy to say no to the temptations around us? It is very difficult if we do not have a strong spiritual life. Giving up candies, chocolate bars, and favorite television programs may help, but only in a limited way. Praying the Rosary, frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, weekly fasting, devotion to our Lady, the frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures, frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are the proven remedies to resist temptation.
With these proven remedies to resist temptation, the Paradise Lost will become Paradise Regained because this Lent in 2011 has given us an excellent opportunity to examine our conscience and remove the obstacles that are holding us back from a more intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then one day when we come to the Lord’s judgment seat after our death, we may hear our guardian angel report positively to the Lord on behalf of us, “This person deserves to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He(She) did not live on bread alone but also on every utterance from your mouth.”