Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

First Sunday of Lent

13 March A.D. 2011

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

Psalm 90-Translated from the Old Latin

“Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.
And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. ”

It seems curious that the all powerful Son of God would allow Himself to be tempted by the Devil.  By a simple act of His will Jesus could have sent the tempter to the far side of the Universe, or constrained him perpetually in Hell, never to be bothered by Him again.  Instead, He peacefully accompanies him on this charade.  Perhaps this is best explained by our Lord's perfect humility.  As God He was impervious to any form of temptation, but He had taken the lowly nature of humanity in order to redeem us, so he chose to face the tempter burdened by the weaknesses of our human nature.  As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.....  He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.{2}

    (1)  He was tempted, first, by the needs of the flesh.  He hadn't eaten in forty days, so a loaf of bread would have been pretty satisfying right about then.  (2)  He was tempted, secondly, with the idea of showing off His highness over created being—His fall would not merely be broken, but it would be broken by a corps of angelic body guards—far more impressive than the guards of the greatest presidents, potentates, and rock stars of all time.  (3)  And last of all, He was tempted by all the wealth and glory of the world—more than any conqueror has ever possessed.

    Yet in spite of the weaknesses inherent in His human nature, our Lord succumbed to none of these temptation.  We might ask “Why not?”  And, when we ask the question, we ought to consider whether or not the answer provides us with reasons for resisting our own temptations.

    One reason was that the Devil was not really offering anything—the Devil had nothing, and could deliver nothing.  He offered to make no bread, for he had none—his suggestion was that Jesus produce this bread by using His divine power to transform a stone.  Had Jesus been foolish enough to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, the Devil was not going to rescue Him—our Lord would have to provide His own angels if He wanted to land safely.  Some deal!  And, of course the Devil could no more give away the glory and riches of the world, than you or I could do so.  One reason that the temptation was unsuccessful was that the Devil offered nothing, and our Lord knew it.

    But let us suppose that the Devil had something to offer.  Suppose he had a loaf of bread in his knapsack, or say a helicopter waiting on the roof of the Temple, or maybe had gotten a good deal on a few of the kingdoms left by Alexander the Great when he died so unexpectedly.  But, even if we presuppose all of these things, it is clear that the Devil would have failed to tempt Jesus Christ in the way the Devil wanted to temp Him.  All three of the temptations initially appealed to human pride—they were temptations to show off divine power, transforming rocks, and summoning angels, and so forth.  But Jesus is the perfect humble man—He knows that He can do all these things, and much more—but He has no need to put His abilities on display, or to impress the onlookers.  The need to boast of one's abilities is a sign of weakness and self doubt—those who boast are most often trying to convince themselves of their own adequacy.

    The Devil failed for a third reason.  In all cases, temptation to sin is successful only if the one being tempted can be mislead into perceiving a good end to some action that, in reality, produces something bad.  Bread, the favor of the angels, and wealth in the world are good things, in and of themselves—God's creation is all good, but it can be misused.  Bread (or food) is necessary to life, and was given by God:  “... bringing bread out of the earth:  And wine to cheer the heart of man.... making the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man's heart.3  Without food, we would wither up and die—but we also know the plagues that excessive eating and drinking can bring.  If we sin with food and drink, it is because we fail to distinguish the evil of gluttony from the good of nutrition and conviviality.

    Likewise, wealth, in itself, is not an evil thing.  The man who cannot put a roof over the heads of his wife and children;  the family that must choose between having food on the table and medicine for a sick child;  the children who go without shoes (not to mention education) are far more likely to despair and to blame God for their condition than their counterparts who are able to provide such things for themselves through their own industry.  Voluntary poverty may make Christians holy, but not burying one's children for want of medicine, shelter, or food.  Moderate wealth is thus a good thing, and becomes evil only when pursued to the exclusion of other good things—when there is no time for God or family or friends;  or when no concern is given to the needs of the poor—or when wealth is gained through dishonest means.

    But why did the Devil think that he could tempt even the Son of God?  What could he have been thinking?  Perhaps he was influenced by his own fall from grace.  God created the devils as the equivalent of the angels—pure spirits not subject to material limitations, powerful intellects capable of piercing discernment and instantaneous communication of knowledge.  They were no fools—or maybe, in the grand scheme of things they were the worst of fools.  They had been created for eternal happiness with God—but they threw that happiness away in rebellion against Him.

    Again, we must ask: “Why?”  Why would they follow Lucifer in a doomed rebellion?  The answers are all the opposites of what our Lord demonstrated in today's Gospel—and they are very much the same as the reasons why we human beings give in to temptation and sin.  So, let us consider them carefully:

    (1)  Lucifer had nothing more real to offer the rebellious angels than he offered Christ in today's reading—no bread, no glory, no kingdom—he offered nothing but illusion.  Be sure to understand that he has nothing real to offer you in exchange for your rebellion against God through sin.

    (2)  Lucifer was successful in tempting the rebellious angels only because they lacked humility—unlike our Lord, who “emptied Himself,” they were quite “full of themselves,” they wanted to show off their abilities to gain the acclaim of their fellow angels.  “I will not serve … because I am more beautiful, more glorious, more perfect than anything else in creation.  I will not serve.{4}  “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High.”{5}  “I,” “I,” “I,” “I,” “I,”  “But yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, into the depth of the pit.”{6}  Be sure to understand that Christ-like humility is a sure defense against temptation to sin, and that pride is the vice of the devils.

    (3)  The devils fell because they were not realists—they knew that freedom was a good thing, so far as it goes—but they deceived themselves into thinking that freedom from God was a proper use of freedom!  They failed to reflect on the reality that serving God is the highest form of regal behavior that can ever be.  When you are tempted, be sure to understand that God has given us many many gifts, but He has also given us an intellect to know the proper use of those gifts—we must have Christ like realism.

    Christ has given us the example of His temptation in the desert to strengthen us in the desert of life:  The Devil has nothing to give us.  Only foolish pride will make us think that he does.  We must be content with the many many gifts of God, according to the purposes for which He gave them too us.

The Lord thy God shalt thou adore,
and Him only shalt thou serve.”{7}


1  Gospel: Matthew iv: 1-11

6  Ibid. vrs. 15.

7  Matthew iv: 10





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