Feb 20, 2015

First Sunday of Lent: the tempter approaches Jesus

It is clear that the source of our temptations to sin come primarily from three sources: the world, the flesh and the devil.  Among the three two are good and one is evil.  I hope I don't have to explain which is which.  While the world is good as God created it, it may also become a source of temptation for all that it offers to us.

The flesh and all material things are likewise a good.  But the lure of immediate gratification and power and prestige are subtle and at times very difficult to resist.

However, the one that is evil may indeed present itself as a good - a counterfeit of a good which therefore has no value like counterfeit money. St. Ignatius of Loyola famously wrote in his spiritual exercises that "the devil comes cloaked as an angel of light" for those who are serious about pursuing a deeper spiritual life.  So, to know what is of God and what is not is essential.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the story of Jesus' temptation in the desert.  This Sunday we have Marks version which is nothing more than a mention. As Mark writes: "The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." (Mk 1: 12-13).  That's all we know according to Mark. 

We are more familiar with the events related in Luke and Matthew:  (Lk 4: 1 - 13, Mt 4: 1-1) which expands more on the specific temptations Jesus encountered in the barren landscape.  That of the senses, pride, and power. The Judean desert in which Jesus found himself is wild, lifeless, filled with rocks and dangerous crawly things.  We can only imagine what it was like 2,000 years ago. 

In his book, Interview with an Exorcist, Fr. Jose Fortea a well known exorcist speaks of the temptations of Jesus in the desert as following a "subtle logic" on the part of the tempter.  The devil begins with a temptation of the senses, the bodily appetites (bread) as Jesus is hungry. 

Having resisted that, the tempter moves to a more challenging level as he tempts "with the world." Jesus has rejected earthly power and prestige in favor of embracing his mission and his Father's will so the world becomes more attractive when one attempts to leave it behind. 

Fr. Fortea writes as if the devil was speaking to Jesus in this second temptation: "Make a sign of acknowledgment toward me, proud as I am, and, as a reward, I will put myself at your side . . . I will help you in your work of saving souls.  Are you not humble?" As Fr. Fortea says, "It is the temptation to do a little evil so as to achieve a great good." 

Having resisted again, Jesus encounters the final temptation of pride - to be publicly recognized.  Fortea says, "Here the devil was saying, 'Even though God decides the time and the moment, why not bring the moment forward . . . by coming out into the light in a glorious and spectacular way?'"  This is the "most complex and subtle of all." 

If we study the above well, it should lead us to see the progressing of our own temptations.  There is nothing to fear as God is greater than the angels he created and those who fell from glory, though his enemy and ours, are already defeated. 

During this season of Lent it is spiritually healthy for us to reflect on the reality of temptation, our own choices and how we respond in this spiritual battle.  It is a graced time to strengthen our prayer life, to actively take part in charitable works, to become more aware of our "soft" spots and to make them strong through active self-denial. 

Is this easy?  No and if it was what kind of sacrifice would that be? Through God's grace and our humble and sincere efforts this Lent will not be burdensome but a source of renewal. 

A well known prayer by Pope Leo XIII:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the
wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly
by the divine power of God,
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
 who roam throughout the world,
seeking the ruin of souls.