At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert,
to be tempted by the devil.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
90-Translated from the Old Latin
One of the criticisms that is leveled against Catholics in our observance of
Lent is that it is often a negative thing -- that we give up this or that,
that we seem to be punishing ourselves for being Christians. And if that is
really the way we approach Lent, then the criticism is more or less correct.
On the contrary, Lent should be a period of spiritual growth. If we give up
things, or otherwise deprive ourselves, we should do so for positive
reasons—to do penance for our sins, or those of others; to develop a measure
of self-control in good things, so that we can resist the temptation to do
evil; or perhaps so that we can share what we have with those who are less
But, even at that, Lent should not be viewed only in terms of what we are
going to give up. It is also a time for doing positive things -- a time to
get in the habit of doing good things which we sometimes find difficult; to
get in the habit of prayer, and meditation, and spiritual reading; to get in
the habit of attending Mass even on days when it is not of obligation, an
extra day or two a week; to get in the habit of making a regular Confession
of our sins, even if none of them are seriously evil, just simply out of
The Gospel today suggests one of those positive things that should come out
of a good Lent, the ability to resist temptation. Perhaps we are a little
bit surprised by the concept of our Lord being tempted. The Gospel implies
that He may have arranged this purposely, just to give us this lesson—it
says that the Holy Ghost is the one who led Him into the desert—Spirit with
a capital “S.” But yet, it still bothers us—“How can the Son of God be
subject to temptation?”
The answer is that temptation is a very normal and natural part of human
life—and our Lord shared our humanity with us. Please understand that I am
talking about temptation, and not about sin. A few years ago, someone made a
very bad movie that portrayed Jesus as a sinner—and that was wrong simply
blasphemy. But temptation by itself is a different matter, as we see in this
To understand what temptation is, we must understand what we mean when we
say that something is “good.” That's a simple word, but one that is often
misused. First of all, understand that nothing which God created is evil in
itself. All “being” —all things that “exist”—are a positive improvement over
not existing. And if we think about those things which we consider “evil,”
we will recognize that it is not the thing that is evil, but rather its
misuse that is evil.
To put it in a more practical perspective, we can say that things are “good”
for us when they help us to achieve our appropriate “end”—our proper “goal,”
if you will. They are good when they help us to achieve long term goals like
the glorification of God and our eternal happiness in heaven. They are good
when they help us to achieve short term goals, like knowing, loving and
serving God—or simply being in reasonable health and the right frame of mind
so that we can do these things which are appropriate for us as rational men
But that is where temptation comes in. It is often difficult to make
judgments about the things that come to us in the short term realities of
life. It is easy to be misled, and think that something is good for us, when
in reality it actually works against our achieving our proper human goals.
For example, food is good. Or, romantic love is good. One is necessary for
us to stay alive, the other to continue the human race. But we all know how
these two “goods” can be misused. We eat too much, or eat the wrong things
and we can ruin our health. Be attracted to the wrong person and we can
wreck a life, or a whole family, or worse.
That's why God gave us our intellect. With it we can examine the things that
attract us—that seem to be good—and try to determine if they really are good
for us—to see if they will help us to pursue God's plans for us on the one
hand, or if they will actually hurt us in the long run.
Now, we may make mistakes, and we may do things that are not in our own best
interest because our intellects are limited—but if we at least intend to
follow God's plans for us, we won't fall into sin.
By definition, then, our Lord couldn't fall into sin, because His will was
always the same as God's will. But we can fall into sin, because our will is
not always so well directed, as it should be. So, for us, it makes sense to
avoid the more obvious sources of temptation—to avoid the “occasion of sin,”
as we say. For us, it makes sense to avoid the persons, places, and things
that have caused us to sin in the past or are likely to do so in the future.
And, that in itself is one of those positive things that we can try to
achieve this Lent: to develop the good habit of carefully examining things
that seem to be attractive and good, and to see if they really are.
It is not a sin to experience temptation; to be drawn towards false “goods.”
But it is a serious sin if we don't bother to consider the outcome, or if we
ignore God's will in the matter.
So make a positive thing out of Lent. Make it a time of practice, to avoid
that which is evil and to do that which is good—to properly use your
intellect, and to conform to the will of God.