Formation Around Temptation
Thank God for Clay and Continents
In seminary, “Formation” is a word we use several times a day. We are “in Formation.” We are “being formed.” What we are in is called a “Formation Program.” Occasionally, we even have “formation issues.” Sometimes this formation feels like a slab of marble being chiseled away into a great sculpture, sometimes it feels like God has his hands on the potter’s wheel forming clay, and sometimes it feels like tectonic plates shifting in the ground to form continents. But, at about the halfway mark through my Formation for the priesthood of Jesus Christ, most days, I look at the process favorably and say “Thank God for Formation.” In the Church’s wisdom, Formation helps you to be the kind of person you need to be to serve God and His people.
A Cycle of Formation
The Church does the same for people not on their way to the priesthood through the liturgical calendar. In Lent specifically, we prepare and ready ourselves for the Father’s mercy in our salvation and our Lord’s great redemptive suffering and death in His Passion for our sake. All this, as we look beyond to Easter and the Resurrection. We look to purify our intentions and realign ourselves to our eternal destination and home, with God. We take a hand in this annual cycle of forming ourselves.
Temptations/“Shmations” & Practices
In the first week of Lent, regardless of the year, we hear of the Temptation in the Desert. This year, it was a shorter rendition, but we can hearken to the longer accounts. Lent always begins this way. The Evangelists told us and the Church reminds us how our Lord was tempted in the same ways we are all tempted every day: by our materials wants (bread/hunger), by the desire for physical might (foot/stone/angel), and the desire for influence over others and the aggrandizement of ourselves (kingdoms/world/worship). These aren’t the ways of God’s Kingdom. And so, Jesus counters them all with scripture and obedience to His Father.
Each day we have these temptations, and so every Lent, we’re formed through our Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer to prepare ourselves for the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us:
Jesus in His hunger was tempted by bread, but retorted that man doesn’t live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Our practice of Fasting during Lent (in which we roll up abstinence from meat and other items of our selection – what we “give up”) sharpens our attention and reminds us that we are sustained by more than just what fills our bellies.
The physical power to prevent injury to Himself is that with which the devil tempted Jesus. Jesus retorted that God should not be put to the test. We give alms in Lent to remind ourselves that it isn’t what we can hold over others that lifts us up, as if would even be a goal. Rather, what we give to others of ourselves and of our abundance to the most vulnerable and needy among us is what shows our understanding of the true power that is the love of God.
When Jesus is offered dominion over all the kingdoms of the world for the mere cost of worshiping the devil, Jesus responds with Truth, that it is God alone who should be worshiped and served. When the Church reminds us to pray with fervor during Lent, it isn’t because God needs more praise in February (though it is cold and gray and dreary; they tell us never to make major decisions in February), even though everyone else might. No, it’s because we need to be in better communication with our Father. We need to be more receptive to His tender voice, heard in the whisper of the silence of our hearts. We need the solitude and the simplicity of time with our Light and Life. How can we serve the Lord if we don’t know His voice? How can we worship well if we don’t know the Way. Listen to Him.
And so, the Church forms us all. Whether we are in seminary, discerning whether a vocation to the priesthood for the Diocese of Richmond to serve God’s people is God’s true call for us, or we are trying to first get a grip of our universal call to holiness, we can always look to the rhythm of the Church to see how we can look deeper into our relationship with God, into our relationship with ourselves, and realize that we have the ability to take charge of our Formation.
See Also / Resources:
Am I Called: http://richmondvocations.org/am-i-called/
USCCB Lenten Resources: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/index.cfm
1st Sunday in Lent: