Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!


Ave Maria!
First Sunday of Lent—5 March A.D. 2017

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

Jesus Tempted by the Devil

 “Behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now, is the day of salvation.”[1]

    We begin the holy season of Lent with this rousing call from Saint Paul.  It is time to get serious about our eternal salvation!  Of course, it is always the time to strive for salvation, but all of our efforts should be doubled and tripled for Lent.  What better example of this striving can we have than our blessed Lord Himself?

    Indeed, we are told that His temptation of the desert was instigated by the Holy Ghost—“Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil”—the Latin text capitalizes the word “Spirit” so it can only refer to the “Holy Spirit,” the third Person of the Holy Trinity.[2]  Jesus was led into the desert to be an example for us as to how we are to deal with temptation.  The devil, who is damned from the moment of his rebellion against God, is jealous of us who may one day enjoy the happiness he abandoned.  He would like us to follow his bad example, of denying the Divine Will with our own human wills—his best method of getting us to deny God is, of course, temptation to evil.

    In today’s Gospel we see three principal forms of temptation.  First, our Lord is tempted to bodily comfort and enjoyment: “After forty days you must be hungry; make these stones into bread.”  He was tempted, against humility,  to “show off” His divine blessings:  “‘If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down…’ the angels will surely rescue thee.”  He was tempted by vast riches: “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.”

    In all three cases, our Lord’s answer is to refuse to give in to the temptation.  The first important lesson to learn is that it is always possible to “just say ‘no.’”

    The second important lesson is found in the fact that the devil did not really offer anything to our Lord.  The devil did not offer bread, but only suggested that Jesus provide His own!  The devil provided no angels to break Jesus’ fall, but suggested that God the Father would send them!  The devil did not own the “kingdoms of the world or the glory of them,” for those kingdoms were built with the hard labors of working people, under the wisdom of their leaders.  Whenever the devil tempts us, he is trying to sell us smoke and mirrors—he offers us nothing in exchange for the sale of our souls!

    We might take this a step farther and say that, in every temptation the devil is trying to get us to deny reality—he wants us to convince ourselves that we are getting something that is good for us, even though it may be positively bad for us.  In every sin we commit, we perceive something that is good, but fail to see that the way we are approaching the good thing is by making evil use of it.  All of God’s creation is good—indeed, created existence is a reflection of God’s goodness, truth, and beauty.

    After all it is God who brings “forth grass for cattle, and herb for the service of men…. that wine may cheer the heart of man. That he may make the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man' s heart.”[3]  It was God who determined that: “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help-mate like unto himself…. and they shall be two in one flesh. [4]  God loaded His earth with precious wealth:  “And the gold of that land is very good: there is found bdellium (a sort of balsam), and the onyx stone.[5]

    All of these things are good—but, with or without the help of the devil—men and women have devised ways to abuse them, denying the reality of their proper use, and turning good into evil.  Man has learned how to smoke the herbs intended for his food and medication;  to eat too much bread and drink too much wine; to unite not two but three or four as “one flesh”; and even to kill one another for the gold and spices and stones of the earth.

    You noticed that I said “with or without the help of the devil.”  Most of our temptations are self generated.  The devil can usually just sit back and watch us misuse God’s creations by ourselves.  The devil knows that men and women are strongly influenced by the corruption and concupiscence that we inherited from the original sin of Adam.  He may stimulate concupiscence a little by causing us to see visions of “forbidden fruit,” but mostly he acts upon our intellect so that we don’t make careful judgments about the goodness of things we encounter.

    But modern society seems to exist to do the devil’s work.  It suggests that there is no objective moral order—that there are no underlying natural purposes for the things of God’s creation.  Indeed, it suggests that God has no say in the running of the world, and that men and women should just do whatever feels good—that reality is whatever we decide it should be, and that the only sin is to interfere in someone else’s subjective reality, particularly by refusing to positively affirm their sins against God and His creation.

    There is a third lesson to be learned from today’s Gospel  We see at the end that after Jesus refused the temptations of the devil, that “the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.”  We ought not seek out temptation—surely none of us has a will to resist sin as strong as the will of Jesus Christ—but temptations are not evil in and of themselves.  The sin comes when we give into temptation to do evil.  Many of the greatest saints were regularly plagued by the devil and his temptations to sin—their greatest sanctity comes from the fact that could have sinned but did not.

    The purpose of the Lenten observance is to strengthen us against temptation.  By denying ourselves innocent pleasures we learn to deny guilty pleasures.  By meditating on the goodness, truth, and beauty of God’s creation we learn to discern the way God wants is to behave with the things around us by seeing His purposes—and in prayer we are further drawn to Him and His law by knowing His love.

    Let me summarize:

  • It is possible to "just say no."  And so we should.

  • The devil never really offers you anything--he is a smoke selling fraud!

  • Resisting temptation is a sure way to heaven and eternal reward.

“Behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now, is the day of salvation.”

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