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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Meditation: "Lead us not into temptation..."

Temptation of Christ by Sebastiano Ricci

"Resist the devil and he will flee from you."  James 4:7 

"I delight to do your will, O God." Psalm 40:8

The Gospel for today describes Satan's temptations of Jesus in the desert. Set the scene. Immediately following the baptism of John, Jesus goes out into the desert to prepare for his public ministry. For forty days he fasts and prays. And then the devil approaches to tempt him.

To be temptations, the allurements offered to Jesus by the devil had to be real. If they weren't they couldn't be temptations. And Jesus was truly tempted. Let's look at each of them.

In the first temptation the devil plays on Jesus' physical hunger. He hadn't eaten for 40 days. He was truly hungry.

But for us, it also addresses all our disordered physical desires, what spiritual writers refer to as "temptations of the flesh." Think of the seven deadly sins. Six of them: lust, gluttony, greed, anger, envy, and sloth address man's physical nature and the temptations to misuse the good things God has given for our pleasure. God wants us to enjoy life. He could have created all our urges as instincts performed without any pleasure attached to them. But God loves us and wants us to enjoy life properly: to feast with enjoyment when appropriate, for married couples to rejoice in their physical union, to enjoy wearing attractive clothing and decorating our homes comfortably. Can you imagine Mary keeping a slovenly home or dressing Jesus in in filthy, torn clothes? No, she wove him the seamless tunic that the soldiers admired and for which they cast lots. It is our misuse of good things that makes them sinful.

Jesus knocks; will you answer?
Sexual relations are holy within the context of faithful marriage, but think of the woman at the well with her many serial sexual relationships. Breaking bread is one of the joys of life, especially within family celebrations and the blessing of friendship. But think of the late Roman empire where the rich gorged themselves at feasts and then purged so they could continue their gluttony. Reflect on God's invitation to us to practice love for one another wishing the good of all people. And then recall the anger of St. Ignatius of Loyola before his conversion when he had to be restrained by his friends from killing a man who jostled him in the street. Having and appreciating lovely things is reflected in the pleasure St. Thomas More had in collecting interesting and unusual artifacts that he liked to show to his visitors. He also had an extensive library and a great love of learning. But remember how easily he parted with his material possessions when persecution came. Contrast that to Richard Rich whose envy and desire for power and riches led him to perjure St. Thomas and sell his soul for advancement. Finally, sloth, the distaste and neglect of the things of the spirit, tends to arise from giving into the other temptations of the flesh. When one immerses himself in physical excess, there's little room left for God. What a tragedy!

Yes, the temptations and sins of the flesh are all too real. Our Lady pointed that out to the little shepherd children at Fatima when she said most souls go to hell for sins of the flesh. Is it any wonder the deadly sins as outlined by St. Paul in Galatians chapter 5 mostly relate to the physical passions and temptations to misuse them?

With the second and third temptations of Jesus, Satan switches tactics focusing on pride. "IF you are the Son of God," show just how powerful and important you are by flinging yourself down and the angels will bear you up. And finally, take your proper place as the Lord of the World! All you have to do is worship me. How many people trade their souls for human respect and worldly power? Too many to count. Just examine any field of endeavor. Entertainers, business executives, politicians, scientists, etc. -- all have opportunities to trade their integrity and moral values for advancement and worldly honors? I receive a regular email update on scientific fraud describing the number of published papers that are withdrawn because of fraudulent data. Pride and self-conceit are serious temptations.

One of the reasons we mortify ourselves in Lent is to minimize the impact of temptation. If we voluntarily choose to fast from something pleasurable, we resist the temptation to give in to gluttony, greed, lust, etc. And when we center our day on prayer, turning or faces to God we move our hearts to more closely desire His holy will.

I hope your Lent is off to a good start and that you will persevere throughout these 40 days. Let us pray for the grace to make a holy Lent that finds us closer to the Lord on Easter Sunday than we have ever been before. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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