I met a nun recently who looked more joyful and excited than usual. She narrated how she had been terribly sick with severe Covid-19 and pneumonia and how she was hospitalized for close to two weeks. She ended, “Thank God! I survived and overcame this sickness.” Her joy and excitement were palpable.
She was joyful and happy because she experienced and overcame sickness, a physical evil. Imagine the joy of overcoming the moral evil of sin. Imagine the joy of facing temptations and triumphing over them by the grace of God and our eagerness to do battle with the temptation.
Once when Jesus’ disciples had told Him of their triumph over the demons in their ministry, Jesus had this to say to them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”(Lk 10:20) Jesus thus teaches that there are two things that bring true joy to Christians – our belonging to God and our faithfulness to Him in overcoming temptations.
We see these two sources of joy in Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Jesus faced and overcame these temptations with the sense of belonging to the Father by possessing the Spirit, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the desert and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” The affirming words of the Father during His baptism in the Jordan were still fresh in His mind and heart, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
However, this belonging to God was not enough for Jesus. He was also determined to be faithful to the Father in resisting and overcoming temptations. He freely allowed Himself to be tempted to teach us that our joy too is not complete until we begin to be faithful to God in resisting and overcoming temptations in this life.
Even Satan knows that our belonging to God alone is not enough to fill us with true joy without our resolve by His grace to be faithful to Him in times of temptations. Hence, he prefaces his temptation in this way, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil first tempts us to doubt that we belong to God as His children before he brings us to follow him in rebellion against God through sin.
Lest we think that these temptations were the only ones that Jesus faced, St. Luke added, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him for a time.” Satan’s temptations did not end here for Jesus but they will intensify till His death on the cross, “He was tempted in every way yet without sin.”(Heb 4:15) But Jesus remained faithful to His Father throughout these temptations of His earthly life.
Like Jesus, our temptations in this life will never end because we do not belong to this world but to the Father through faith and baptism, and we are on a journey back home to Him, “Because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of this world, therefore the world hates you.”(Jn 15:19) No matter how beautiful this world may be, it is not our home. Our constant temptations serve to remind us that we are pilgrims in this world and not migrants. We start conquering temptations when we are convinced that we cannot find full contentment and perfect satisfaction in this life. The only way to this joy is to face and overcome temptations by the grace of God.
The following are some ways in which we can overcome the unrelenting temptations that we face in this world.
Firstly, we must believe that in Christ God has set us free from the dominion and bondage of sin and given us the means of victory over temptations, “The sting of death is sin…But thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”(1Cor 15:56-57) The Israelites arrived safely in the Promised Land by that faith that God had “brought them out of Egypt with His strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders.”(Deut 26:8) We cannot overcome temptations when we approach them with the sense of being conquered by sin already.
Secondly, we must be grateful to God for all that He has done for us, especially for giving us His only begotten Son to die for our sins. Are we most grateful to God for His innocent Son who hangs on a cross for us sinners? A heart that is grateful to God will also hope in God alone and find contentment in God alone. This would further strengthen it to resist temptations.
Thirdly, we must place all our trust in God and His merciful love and not in ourselves, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”(Heb 4:16) Time of temptations is a time when we need the grace and mercy of God that is never lacking to us. It is not a time to trust in our good or firm resolves but trust in mercy that forgives us and grace that enables us to triumph over all temptations.
Fourthly, we must face and accept the unchanging and unchangeable truths of moral good and evil in our lives. We cannot hope to fight and resist temptations while thinking that moral truths can change at the whims of the hierarchy of the Church. Imagine the troubling words of German Bishop Georg Bätzing when he was asked about the permissibility of “same-sex” marriage. He replied, “Yes, it’s OK if it’s done in fidelity and responsibility. It doesn’t affect the relationship with God.” So, calling evil good does not affect our relationship with the God of Truth? Whatever we may call sin, it still has the same effect of killing our freedom and joy by making us hopeless slaves, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.”(Jn 8:34)
We cannot confront and resist sin with the same clarity and conviction that we see in Jesus’ response when we think that moral truths are dispensable. The only person who is happy with such bizarre moral teaching from the Church’s hierarchy of our times is the devil himself, who loves to sow seeds of confusion and doubt for his own diabolical purpose.
Fifthly, we must pray fervently in the name of Jesus. Let us call upon the name of Jesus immediately when besieged by sinful thoughts and desires. St. Paul assures us, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart – that is, the word of faith that we preach…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Christ Jesus is always with us before, during, and after temptations, whether we overcome them or not. We only have to call upon Him and allow Him to save us and lead us to victory over temptations, “No one who believes in Him shall be put to shame.” (Rom 10:8 – 13)
Lastly, we must seek to offer ourselves to God always. Let us offer ourselves to God always, especially in the moments of strong temptations. This can be done in a powerful way during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when we place ourselves on the pattern with the bread during the Offertory at Mass and ask the Lord to use the members of our body for righteousness lest we use them for evil. We can also offer ourselves to God through consecrating ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We will find it hard to use the members of our body for sin if we live with this deep sense of belonging completely to Jesus through Mary.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our God is a God of joy and happiness. His joy echoes in our hearts when we are determined to overcome sins in our lives, “There is so much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:7) The Blessed Virgin Mary, all the angels, and saints are cheering us to victory. Even if we do not overcome all natural and physical evils in this life, God wants us to be truly joyful now and in heaven with Him by overcoming the moral evils that proceed from our free actions.
This is why Christ Jesus always offers us His Holy Spirit in each Eucharist. He wants to share with us His own life, His own love, His own mission, His own temptations that never end, and His own victory over these temptations all the days of our lives.
No matter what the past has been and what lies we have come to believe, let us begin to strive today to belong more completely to God and be faithful to Him in overcoming temptations. Why should we do this till our last breath? Because without facing and overcoming temptations in this life, our joy will never be complete.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!