Matthew 4;1-11. First Sunday in Lent. March 5th, 2017
As we begin our Lenten observance, we read about the temptation of Christ in the desert before He began His public ministry. The ashes we received on Wednesday signify our own deep desire to enter into our own time of desert, our own period of preparation, in order to purify ourselves for the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week, culminating in the great feast of Easter—both the coming liturgical Feast as well as the eternal Easter of Heaven.
You may have not thought about it, but the temptations we face are much like those that Jesus faced and conquered. And through Him we too can conquer our own temptations and our own demons. Through Him we too can be ministered to by the angels.
The devil is a real person. He is not a computer game or Halloween character dressed in red tights with a scary face and a pitchfork. He’d love us to make light of him or trivialize him. Satan is a fallen angelic creature of seraphic intelligence and power and evil. He doesn’t want us to know or believe that he is real; he does his most evil work, hidden.
Ultimately, the devil tries to convince the world that this world is all there is. He does this in one of two ways, either by trying to convince that there is no heaven or by deceiving that everyone goes to heaven regardless of whether or not they have lived for God on earth, by living His Holy Will through the following His commandments and the teachings of His Holy Church.
The devil’s logic is simple: if there is no heaven or everyone is saved regardless, then there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no Judge, and if there is no judgment then evil is good and good is evil and we, not God, get to choose what is good and what is evil, what is true and what is false—truth becomes nothing more than our own personal opinion, what we “feel” is true; in this, we become as God deceiving ourselves that we are “right” with God—this is the same temptation of our first parents in the Garden. They knew what was good and evil; the temptation was that they themselves, apart from God, could decide what was good and what was evil. Falling to this death brought death into the world and continues to be death into the world, not just physical death but spiritual death.
Ultimately in the temptations, the devil presents a shortcut from the cross. It is actually a temptation to do away with the cross, by giving us what we want instead of what we need- in short to take the easy way out—to take salvation for granted; and so as a result, to live for love and not for love of persons; or in other words, to live for self and not for the sake of the other, first of Whom is God and then our neighbor. It is to worship a cross-less Christ-Christianity without virtue-holiness without self-denial-love without sacrifice. Let us then look more closely at the anatomy of the temptations and put them into modern parlance.
In the first temptation, Satan told Jesus that he could win us over by filling our bellies with the bread of earthly desires and riches, comforts and pleasures, and so Jesus was tempted to change the stones into bread. In the second, he said, “Jesus, you can make them love you by giving them power to solve their own problems through politics so they can be released from being dependent on a tyrannical Father God. And so Jesus was tempted to adore satan and not the Father. And in the third, satan, said Jesus; you can win them over by amazing them with great feats and unbelievable technological marvels.
And so Jesus was tempted to throw Himself down off the temple, putting God to the test… “if you are real, God show yourself, rid the world of evil and suffering without our personal conversion; give the world peace apart from peace and purity of heart.”
The fact is, Jesus does desires to give us what the devil said would win us over, but not in the way or manner the devil suggested. The devil likes to give half-truths.
Jesus, wants to give us bread, but not earthly bread, the things of this world which never totally satisfy our hunger, but the Bread of Life, His very self, his whole self in the Holy Eucharist--the bread that a man may eat of, and never die.
Jesus wants to give us power, but not earthly power which corrupts and fades away, but the power of His divine life, a share in the very nature of God—who is Love Itself—the power of the Holy Spirit that comes to us through the power of the Seven Sacraments. Through this Sacramental Power, which by the way is the real Power in this world, Jesus, wants us to build the Kingdom of man, but not without reference to the Kingdom of God, but for the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that the Will of God may be done on earth as it is in Heaven, and God may be glorified on earth and men may be saved for union with God.
Jesus wants to give us great marvels and feats, but not the kind Satan suggested. Jesus wants to give us the greatest feat and marvel of all, that God would humble Himself, putting His divine power aside and become one of us, so he could die for us on a cross and give Himself to us as our heavenly food.
In this sacrifice of Love of Himself on the cross, Jesus showed us the greatest feat and marvel of love the world has ever seen or will see. And because of this feast, this sacrifice which becomes present for us at each and every Holy Mass, Jesus’ love is a love, which allows him to come personally and physically into each one of us during Holy Communion, so that we can love like Him, live like Him, become One with Him, and with the Father through Him; in this we become “other” Christs for the world and have life and have it to the full. But we for our part must in great trust offer ourselves more and more completely, more and perfectly in return on the sacred Altar. At Holy Mass, we must, through the Virgin, place our heart on the paten, no strings attached as an offering of our complete self and all that have in love to our Heavenly Father—this is to adore God in Spirit and Truth.
These three temptations of Christ by satan are also the same temptations currently facing us in the worship of God in the Sacred Liturgy. The devil is tempting us to believe in that the Liturgy is meant to feed us only on an emotional level, that is too make us “feel” good about ourselves. But not as the privilege place where the incarnation, the Word become flesh, becomes truly present in our midst. He is tempting us to make the Holy Mass into a place of entertainment and human spectacular alone—Liturgy merely as the work of the people instead of the work of God; that is, the work of Jesus the Head offering to the Father perfect worship on our behalf… Finally, the devil tempts us to make the Holy Mass, the Sacred Liturgy, as a place where we adore one another, instead of the place where we are to adore the Father in Spirit and in Truth, that place where we through the perfect worship of the Son offer our imperfect worship of God, the place that we offer ourselves through the offering of the Son in, with, through Human Nature of the Son made present by the power and love of the Holy Spirit.
The temptations of Christ in the desert teach us that we will never be truly happy with the things of this world, only with Jesus. We will never solve our problems by our own power alone, by the kingdom of man alone, but only with God’s power through God’s Kingdom which is found fully only in the Catholic Church. The kingdom of man without reference to the Kingdom of God becomes the hell and tyranny of totalitarianism. And worldly feats and technology in the end bore us, only God’s presence, only God’s Love suffices, He alone is Whom we seek, He alone is Whom we should believe, adore, hope and love.
In this Lent let us ask our Lord for the grace of a deeper repentance, to turn away from sin, not for the sake of sin, but in order to turn more fully back to He who is our Hope and our Life. Lent is a time where we take a serious look at our lives and simply place our dirty dishes, so to speak, in other words our souls, in the cleansing waters of the sacrament of penance--confession. If you haven’t made a confession for a while, now is the acceptable time. Remember, God promises us mercy; He doesn’t promise us tomorrow.
We all have many resolutions in Lent, let us pray that our resolutions will be ones that will change our lives, and through us change the lives of others; better yet, save the lives of others. Through our Dear Blessed Mother, let us ask for the grace to love our Lord even more than we do now, He who waits patiently in Love, as a prisoner of love, for us in the Holy Eucharist. Let us not neglect Him but adore Him and receive Him worthily by confessing our sins, doing penance and amending our lives. Amen