Kempis gives a sterling example of how the holy men of old “hated their lives in this world” by pointing to the so-called “desert fathers” (learn more about these radical early Christians here) (1,18). Taking their cue from Jesus, they embraced mortification and fought the devil and temptation through prayer and fasting.
In today’s Gospel (Mt 4:1-11), Jesus, in order to prepare well for what He knew would be a challenging public ministry, is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. There He devotes His time to speaking with His Father and disciplining His body through taking in very little sustenance. Satan, believing he has an opportunity to derail Jesus’ mission, tempts Him regarding the flesh (to break His fast), an appeal to vanity (to “show off”), and a desire for power (with a worldly throne). Jesus would have none of it, overcoming the temptations and seeing through the devil’s machinations. (It is interesting to contrast this with the first reading in which Adam and Eve give in readily to the devil’s wiles; thus we have Jesus as the New Adam [and His mother, as we see early in Luke, the New Eve (see 1:38)] whose humility reversed the sin, stemming from pride, of our first parents.)
In a special way, the Lenten season gives us a reminder — and an opportunity — to imitate Jesus and the desert fathers: a forty day period in which we are invited to increase and intensify prayer while working on disciplining our worldly and fleshly desire here and now for the eternal benefits that come with the transformation that occurs within us when we seriously consider our ultimate destiny.
Christ and Saint Mina. 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, now in the Louvre