First Sunday in Lent at Mississippi Abbey

One day Charlie Brown went to Lucy’s booth for Psychiatric Help. For five cents he asked if adversity has any purpose in life. Wisely, Lucy replies, “Adversity builds character. Without adversity a person will never mature and face up to things.” Charlie says, “What things?”  Lucy replies, “More adversity!”

Jesus begins his mission by facing adversity in the desert. Or, more precisely, by facing the Adversary, Satan himself. The ancient conflict that began in the Garden of Eden continues in the desert where Satan dwells, a wasteland that reflects the devil’s own interior landscape, a dark and cold heart utterly bereft of any goodness.  

Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus was not deceived and did not yield. It is said, “Keep giving the devil an inch and he will become a Ruler.”  Satan tempted Jesus, but it was really Satan who was being tempted in this ancient struggle. Satan was tempted by his own desire to be worshiped, and by Jesus tempting him to be good, for God loves everything he has made.

In the Book of Wisdom Solomon writes about God: “You love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made” (Wisdom 11:24). Satan tempts Jesus to fall down and worship him. But Jesus, while hating the sin, loves the sinner. Returning good for evil, Jesus offers love, a temptation to goodness that Satan resists by giving in to his own temptations to do evil.

Can a fallen angel repent? Could Satan have renounced the sin of pride he committed and fell from heaven, a sin that he repeats again in this Judean wasteland by wanting Jesus to worship him? Could Satan repent by embracing the forgiveness and love of Jesus? Can Satan give in to a temptation to be good? In the Russian Orthodox tradition there’s a story1 about Satan sobbing bitterly as he appears to St. Anthony the hermit. The Adversary says, “Ask God if He will admit me to repentance.” An angel tells St. Anthony that God will never turn away anyone who sincerely desires His grace, even if it is Satan himself. So, Anthony tells the devil to offer this prayer: “Lord have mercy on me, the ancient evil one, and save me.” But Satan replies: “Never! Everyone listens to me. They are afraid and tremble before me. I am covered with glory, lording over sinners. I will not be humiliated.”

And that is the horror of the burning wasteland of hell, a place where every temptation to do good is resisted. In hell no one loves, no one has a good word for anyone else, no one—human or angelic—shows compassion or kindness. It is a place of eternal misery, of desolation so total that nothing good ever happens in hell. There is no love, only hatred. There is no pleasure, only pain.  Satan’s hardness of heart rejects all temptations to do good. Sins of commission cannot endure without the greatest sin of omission, refusing the grace of repentance, a sin against the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus offered love, but Satan wants worship. So, when Satan refused temptations to be good, to repent, Jesus left the wilderness after forty days and nights and went into the flowering grasslands and crystal-clear rivers of Galilee where he proclaims to a people enslaved by sin, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

We all face many adversities and temptations in life. St. Bernard teaches that the Seducer tempts the lukewarm to laziness, and the fervent to pride.2 But for all the temptations we have to do evil, we have more temptations to do good.3 Just as angels ministered to Jesus in the desert, we have more good angels encouraging us to holiness than we have devils urging us to sin. Among these temptations to goodness are the voice of conscience, the good example of our brothers and sisters, the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, the words of Sacred Scripture, the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the lives of the saints, the exhortations of our superiors, and the prayers of our friends. Best of all, we have Jesus offering us his Spirit of love and forgiveness in the Eucharist.  


  1. Voskresnoe Kschenie, Holy Tradition, 1852, p. 117. Translation by Fr. Michael Buben, St. Michael’s Church, Geneva, NY, webpage.
  2. St. Bernard, Sermons for the Seasons and Principal Festivals of the Year, Vol. 3, “On the Sweetness Hidden in the Words and Yoke of Christ,” Carroll Press, Maryland, 1950, p. 544.
  3. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Footprints in a Darkened Forest, Meredith Press, NY, 1967, “A New Look at Temptation,” p. 38.