Our tastes change. As children, we wanted desert before dinner. Some dinners we would forego altogether. But as we developed, so did our palate.
We came to appreciate a perfectly cooked steak, pasta al dente, and, for sweets, chocolate replaced gummy worms. Some people cultivate their tastes. They train their tongues to appreciate fine wines and even high-end coffee. They can tell you that a merlot goes well with cheddar, and that a light-roast brings out the tang of a lemon coffee cake.
It may seem strange, but Lent is a time to cultivate our tastes, not for fine wines and rich foods, of course, but for God. This takes a bit of adjustment. Many of our tastes overpower the finer delights of heaven. We have a taste for wealth. We have a taste for praise. We have tastes for comfort, entertainment and ease. Yet, like children who spoil their supper with cookies, so too worldly indulgence spoils our appetite for God. Lent, then, is a time to refine our tastes. It is a time to tame our hunger for the world and cultivate a palate for heaven. Jesus does this in the desert.
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ 40-day fast, the model for our Lenten fast. Though Jesus ate nothing those 40 days, he was not empty. On the contrary, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He might have had a hollow stomach, but his soul was wholly satisfied. “One does not live on bread alone,” and so Jesus fed on the Holy Spirit. For 40 days he trained his human hunger to delight first in God. He trained his human nature to taste the divine first, and to judge every earthly flavor by its standard.
The devil offers Jesus all worldly glory, “if you worship me.” Jesus prefers the taste of true worship: “Him alone shall you serve.” The devil tempts him with pride: “If you are the Son of God, his angels will guard and support you.” Jesus prefers the taste of humility: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” When one is full on the Holy Spirit, sin is not appetizing.
Our tastes change, and we can change them. By our Lenten practices (especially prayer, fasting and almsgiving), we turn our appetites from this world and direct them to the delights of heaven. As we will pray at the end of Holy Mass this Sunday, we divert our hunger from the world, “that we might learn to hunger for Christ.”
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from Pontifical North American College in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s Scriptural reflections during Lent.