On this first Sunday of Lent, we hear about the temptations of Our Lord. At the beginning of his public ministry, Satan tries to sway him from the way to Calvary, from the way to the cross and the work of redemption.
If Jesus is the Son of God, says Satan, he could commend that the stones be turned into bread. He could satisfy his own hunger, which must have been considerable after so much time in the desert. What is more, he could win the masses, too, if he just kept their bellies full. Our Lord replies that man does not live by bread alone. He did not come to be a bread king. He came to bring us forgiveness of sins. He came to fulfill the role of Isaiah's Suffering Servant.
Next, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. All Our Lord has to do is worship him. Jesus replies that, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve." He did not come to be a slave to the Devil.
He came to free us from our enslavement to him.
Finally, if Jesus is really the Son of God, Satan says, he can throw himself off the parapet of the Temple. Surely the angels will protect him, as it is written in the Scriptures. Our Lord says it is not good to put God to the test. He did not come to win souls with cheap tricks.
Again, it seems to be Satan's plan to sway Jesus from the way of the cross, from doing the will of the Father who sent him into the world. When we meditate on this particular Gospel passage, there are some important lessons we can take away regarding the spiritual life.
First, if we are serious about doing the will of God, we will have to face an adversary who wants to trip us up and distract us: the Devil. If Our Lord did battle with him, so will we. Peter tells us in one of his letters to be on guard against him. He is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He has a way of making what is sinful look mighty attractive and desirable. I could not help but feel a little guilty while watching the Super Bowl. The ads for Budweiser beer are usually cleverly done. Unfortunately, they do little do help promote the virtue of temperance. There are many who can testify to the destructiveness of alcoholism.
Second, temptations come to all of us. Sometimes they come without our willing them. For example, it is tempting to want to get back at someone who has hurt me. I am dependent on God to give me the strength to fight it, and I might be a little more successful in fighting because I do not want it.
But, we can also place ourselves in harm's way. We are more likely to fall in this case because we are opening ourselves up to disaster. We need to remember the closing lines of the "Act of Contrition": "I firmly intend with the help of your grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin."
During the season of Lent, we practice penance, fasting and almsgiving.
These can be powerful spiritual weapons in fighting temptations, focused as they are on mortification, self-denial and self-discipline. We have to realize that if Our Lord was tempted, we can expect no less. The Devil will try his hardest to keep us from doing God's will. Fortunately, with the grace and strength that comes from God and through our Lenten practices, we can begin to fight back.