The Temptations of Jesus
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let us ask the Holy Family for the grace of renewed love for God and one another within families throughout the world! This Sunday we celebrate the 1st Sunday of Lent. I share with you a reflection on the temptations of our Lord. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “The Temptations of Jesus: God allows us to be tempted so that we may grow in virtue: Lent commemorates the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in preparation for His years of preaching, which culminated in the Cross and in the triumph of Easter. Forty days of prayer and penance, and at the end of them the temptations of Christ, which the liturgy recalls for us in today‟s Gospel (cf. Matt. 4:1-11). The whole episode is a mystery which man cannot hope to understand: God is here submitting to temptation, letting the evil one have his way. A mystery indeed. But we can meditate upon it, asking Our Lord to help us understand the teaching it contains. (J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 61) It is the first time the devil intervenes in Jesus’ life, and he does so openly. He puts Our Lord to the test; perhaps he wants to find out whether the hour of the Messiah has actually arrived. Jesus allowed this intervention so as to give us an example of humility, and to teach us to overcome the temptations that we are going to have to undergo in the course of our lives. As Our Lord did everything for our instruction, says St. John Chrysostom, so He wished to be led out into the wilderness and there to enter into combat with the devil. He did this in order that the baptized should not be troubled if after Baptism they suffer still greater temptations, as though such were not to be expected. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 13, 1) If we were not prepared to meet the temptations that we are to undergo, we would open the door to a great enemy-discouragement and gloominess. Jesus wanted to teach us by His example that no one should consider himself exempt from any type of trial. Ronald Knox has the following to say: The temptations of Our Lord are also the temptations of His servants individually. But the scale of them, naturally, is different; the devil is not going to offer you and me all the kingdoms of the world. He knows his market; offers, like a good salesman, just as much as he thinks his customer will take. I suppose he thinks, with some justice, that most of us could be had for five thousand a year, and a great many of us for much less. Nor does he, to us, propose his conditions so openly; his offer comes to us wrapped up in all sorts of plausible shapes. But, if he sees the chance he is not slow to point out to you and to me how we could get the thing we want if we would be untrue to our better selves, and not infrequently if we would be untrue to our Catholic loyalties. (R. A. Knox, Pastoral Sermons) The Preface of today’s Holy Mass reminds us that Our Lord teaches us with deeds that we must overcome temptations and that we should derive benefit from all the trials that beset us. He allows temptation, and uses it providentially to purify you, to make you holy, to detach you more from the things of earth, to lead you where He is and by the route He wants you to take, so as to make you happy (in a life which may not be comfortable); so as to give you maturity, understanding and effectiveness in your apostolic work with souls, and… above all, to make you humble, very humble. (S. Canals, Jesus as Friend) Blessed is the man who endures trial, says the Apostle St. James, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him. (Jas. 1:12) The temptations of Jesus. The devil tries us in a similar way: The devil tempts us precisely by taking advantage of the needs and weaknesses of human nature. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Our Lord must have been very weak. Here He is in the wilderness; He feels hungry just like any other man in such circumstances. This is the moment the tempter chooses to come forward with the proposition that He should turn the stones that lie around Him into the bread He needs and longs for so desperately. Jesus not only declines the food which His body requires, but also rejects a greater temptation: that of using His Divine Power to solve, if we can express it so, a personal problem…How generous Our Lord is in humbling Himself and fully accepting His human condition! He does not use His Divine Power to escape from difficulties or avoid effort. Let us pray that He will teach us to be tough, to love work, to appreciate the human and Divine nobility of savoring the consequences of self-giving. (J. Escriva, loc. cit.) This passage of the Gospel teaches us too to be particularly watchful over ourselves and over those whom we have a special obligation to help in their moments of weakness and tiredness: to be alert when we ourselves are going through a bad patch. It is at such moments that the devil chooses to tempt us more fiercely, so that our lives may turn away from God’s Will and follow a different path. In the second temptation, The devil took Him to the holy city, and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written: „He will give His angels charge of You, and in their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone‟. Jesus said to him: „Again it is written: You shall not tempt the Lord your God‟. It seemed a very cunning temptation: if you refuse, you will demonstrate that you do not trust God completely; if you accept, you oblige Him to send His angels to save you, to your own personal advantage. (The devil does not know that Jesus would not need any angel at all.)
Christ refuses to perform pointless miracles which would simply be a matter of vanity or ostentation. We too have to be on the alert so as to reflect similar temptations that arise in our own circumstances. The wish to excel can be caused by even the holiest of things; we must be alert to false arguments claiming to be based on Holy Scripture, and not ask for (much less demand) proofs or extraordinary signs in order to believe. God indicates the path of Faith to us with sufficient graces and testimonies in our everyday lives.
In the last of the temptations, the devil offers Jesus all the glory and temporal power that any man could wish for. The devil, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and he said to Him, „all these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me‟. Our Lord now sent the tempter away once and for all. The devil always promises more than he can give. Happiness is very far from being his gift. Any temptation is always a miserable deception. In order to test us, the devil takes advantage of our ambitions. Probably the worst of these is that of desiring one’s own excellence at all costs, of systematically seeking ourselves in everything we do or plan. Our own self can often be the worst of all idols. Neither should we fall down to worship material things, making of them false gods which will ultimately make slaves of us. Material goods cease to be good if they separate us from God and our fellow men. We will have to keep up a constant watch, an unremitting struggle, because we still have the tendency to seek human glory, in spite of our having told Our Lord on many occasions that we want only His glory. Jesus speaks to us too: You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. And that is what we want and what we ask for; to be able to serve God in the vocation to which He has called us. Our Lord is always at our side. Arms with which to conquer: God is always beside us. Whenever we are confronted with a temptation He says, Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) And we place all our trust in Him because we know we would achieve very little by ourselves. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:14) The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Ps. 26:1) We are able to arm ourselves against temptation through constant mortification in our work; in the way we live charity; in guarding our external and internal senses. As well as mortification, we need prayer. Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. (Matt. 26:41) We must also guard against it by fleeing from the occasions of sin, (however marginal they may seem, for Whoever loves danger will perish by it, [Sir. 3:26]) and by having our time fully occupied, mainly in the fulfillment of our family, professional and social obligations. If we are to overcome temptation we will have to repeat confidently over and over again the petition in the Our Father: and lead us not into temptation; grant us the strength to remain strong when faced with temptation. Since it is Our Lord Himself who puts such a petition on our lips, it would be good for us to repeat it continually… We struggle against temptation by speaking openly about it to our spiritual director; making it thus known is almost overcoming it. He who reveals his own temptations to his spiritual director can be certain that God grants the spiritual director the grace needed to direct him well. (B. Baur, In Silence with God) We can always count on God’s grace to overcome any temptation whatsoever. But do not forget, my friend, that you need weapons in this spiritual battle. And your weapons have to be these: continuous prayer; sincerity and frankness with your spiritual director; the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance; a generous spirit of Christian mortification which will bring you to flee from the occasion of sin and to avoid idleness; humility of heart, and a render and filial devotion to Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted and Refuge of Sinners. Always turn confidently to Our Lady and say: „My Mother, I trust in you‟.” (S. Canals, op. cit.) (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Virgin most Powerful, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may we all have the grace of discernment of spirits and fortitude in the spiritual combat! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel