Overcoming Temptation with and in Christ

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on February 25, the First Sunday of Lent, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

 

Who are we? No, not our individual names or our family or nationality or ancestry. What is it that identifies us all together, despite the differences I have just mentioned? Are we not, at least most of us, the baptized?

Yes, we are the baptized, members of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. In fact, St. Paul keeps repeating in his letters that we are baptized into Christ Jesus! This implies a real insertion into the Body of Christ, a real union with Christ and through Him with one another in the Community of His Disciples, a real identification with Christ Himself. The conclusion to all this is that we, the baptized, should live, individually and together within His Church, the way He lived. Or, to put this more precisely, we should let Christ live in us! His attitude, thoughts, words, actions must be ours!

But what does our personal experience tell us? Often, we are not living like Christ. This is why each year there is Lent! Lent is that grace-filled season to refocus on our true identity, the time to clarify our vision, a forty-day pilgrimage in which to turn away from sin and to turn back to Christ through prayer, penance and almsgiving and to begin anew to live more genuinely and completely the way He did, to let Christ truly live in us! St. Leo the Great puts it so succinctly: "What the Christian should be doing at all time should be done now with greater care and devotion."

What gets in the way of our identification with Christ? The realities of evil, temptation and, eventually, sin. Jesus Himself, though free from sin, struggled with the powers of evil, indeed with the evil one himself, the devil, and with the enticements of temptations. Baptized into Christ Jesus, we both face temptations as He did and can conquer temptation as He did. This is why in the opening days of Lent, on this First Sunday of Lent each year, the Gospel focuses on Christ being tempted.

By looking at Him and imitating Him, we can learn and relearn how to deal with temptations. Of course, we are tempted in many ways; each one of us knows these particular ways whether in attitude, thought, word, action or omission. However, the root of every temptation for us, as for Christ in today's gospel account, is to deny our radical dependence on God. Notice how the devil tried to make Jesus deny His radical dependence, in His human nature, on God His Father. It is as if the devil were saying: "You do not need God, so change this stone to bread; you do not need to worship God, so me instead; you do not need to trust God and obey Him, so force His hand to protect you." The devil uses the same tactic on us. He tempts us to exaggerated self-importance; to worship false gods, like prestige, power, money and pornography; to mistrust God's loving care and seek instead to do things "my way."

How do we overcome these temptations? We must do what Jesus did. Led by the Spirit, He went into the desert. There He found in prayer and fasting the strength to overcome; there He struggled and overcame the devil. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony" (no. 2849). We too need to go to the desert, that is, to find some moments of quiet for prayer, ten minutes a day, for example. In that solitude, we ponder the Word of God; His Word is near, St. Paul reminds us in today's second reading. There, in that solitude, we recall our identity as children of God and our radical dependence on Him, as the Chosen People were instructed to do in today's first reading. Yes, we need to discover in the desert of our daily quiet prayer the only antidote to temptation: the awareness and admission of our radical dependence on God, of our total reliance on Him for strength. "Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble." That is what Jesus did in the desert. That is how Jesus in His human nature conquered temptation. And that is the only way we can overcome temptation as well.

After all, we are baptized into Christ Jesus and what He said and did must be what we say and do. St. Augustine summarizes our identification with Christ well when he says to us: "If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him."

Yes, Jesus is our model, our Savior and Lord. In Him, we can do all things, even overcoming temptation and turning away from sin. I end with this wise counsel from Venerable Louis of Grenada: "Imitate the example of Christ as much as you can. Pray with him; fast with him; struggle with him; join your labors to his so that all of them will be acceptable in God's sight" (cf. Magnificat, vol. 8, no. 13, p. 358).

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