I met John many years ago when he was hospitalized in the terminal stage of his cancer. He proudly told me how that was his fourth bout with the disease and how he had fought and won the previous battles. He vowed to fight the disease again and beat it as he had done before. When I asked what gave him so much hope and determination to fight the cancer, he replied to me, “I do not fight for myself. I fight for my lovely young wife and two beautiful kids. I want to be there for them. It is for them that I will fight this cancer till my very last breath.”
John passed away about three months after this conversation with him but I will never forget what he taught me. He taught me that only true lovers fight to the very end and they do so for the sake of the beloved. He knew he was loved by his family and he loved them too and that mutual love gave him both hope and energy to fight a deadly disease to the very end.
Only true lovers fight till the very end. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Only true lovers — those who know they are loved by God and who are likewise truly committed to respond to that divine love in action and continuously growing in it — would fight sin and temptation to the very end of their lives. We easily lose the battle against sin when our faith in God’s love for us or our commitment to love Him begins to fade.
The way that Satan tempts Jesus in today’s Gospel is exactly the same way that he tempts us into choosing sin. His first move is to make us focus exclusively on our needs or desires at the present moment. He approaches Jesus when he senses Jesus’ need for food, “Jesus ate nothing during those days, and when they were over He was hungry.” His second move is to make us doubt or question our relationship with God, doubt God’s goodness to us and His willingness and ability to meet all our needs and desires. He phrases his temptation thus, “If you are the son of God…” This is the devil’s two-move tactic that has always succeeded in bringing us down.
Jesus fought these temptations to the very end because He was a Lover. He knows that He is loved and accepted by the Father even in His temptations and trials. The affirming words of His Father to Him at the baptism of the Jordan is forever alive and fresh in His heart, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He knows He is hungry but His greatest hunger is to respond to the Father’s love and to prove His love for Him in action in the moments of temptation and thus grow in this love. Jesus was not contented to just receive baptism in the Jordan and send His Father into ecstatic joy over Him; He was also ready to advance in His love to the point of receiving the “baptism” of His crucifixion and death to please the Father greatly by bringing salvation to us.
St. Paul states that if we truly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then God has brought into a saving relationship with Him in Christ Jesus and we have the divine assurance that “no one who believes in Him will be put to shame.” Jesus Christ fought and conquered sin and death for us. So if the devil is putting us to shame today over and over again by leading us into every possible sin and leaving us completely hopeless in the struggle, then we need to stop and ask ourselves how deep is our commitment to love God back and to grow continuously in this love. It is only when we become true lovers who are committed to growing in our love for God that we can become the fighters who will fight sin and temptation to the very end no matter the wounds and failures of the past.
So how firm is our faith in God’s love for us, even as we face intense and unremitting temptations? Is our commitment to love God back and to grow in this love evident in our willingness to listen to God alone and to believe in His words and promises? Are we committed to trust God to supply our needs and desires according to His will? How ready are we to put aside our own will and desires for the moment and to obey His will knowing that He always wills the best for us? Are we ready to pay the price of following Jesus wherever He leads us and to do all to please Him and not ourselves? It all begins in experiencing that divine love and remaining in it because we will only listen to, trust, obey, follow, and strive to please the one that we know truly loves us.
One concrete way that we can experience, respond and grow in our love for God is to mature first of all in our prayer life. Many of us approach prayer in a very childish way, simply seeking to meet our desires and wants in life. We reduce prayer to merely petitioning God for all our spiritual and material needs for ourselves and for others. We judge the efficacy of our prayers by the visible results forgetting that prayer is first of all a love relationship. We should pray because we know that we are loved by God and we have a desire to deepen our communion with Him and to grow in that love because that is the only thing that will ever satisfy us.
The devil is leading us astray by making us fixate only on our real and imaginary needs and by doubting God’s love for us and His desire and power to fulfill us completely. How can we reply to the Devil’s temptation like Jesus, “One does not live on bread alone,” when our prayer life is completely focused on attaining what we want and desire without any movement towards greater fidelity to God’s love for us? Like Jesus, we too must learn to pray always because we are loved and we want to respond to that love whether our needs and desires are met or not.
Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” and He was “led by the Spirit into the desert.” This is the Spirit of love and prayer, the One who “helps us in our prayer because we do not know how to pray as we ought.” (Rom 8:26) When our prayer goes beyond merely seeking to meet our needs, this Spirit is awakened in us, we grasp the reality of divine love for us, and we know we can depend on this love even if our needs are met or not. This is what makes us true lovers of God, intent in maturing in our love for God.
Divine love is, once again, made present to us in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Spirit of prayer is infused in us as Jesus offers us His own body and blood, soul and divinity. We are indeed the beloved of God even as we face the devil’s fiercest and most unrelenting temptations of our lives as individuals and as members of the Body of Christ. Let us strive to respond to this love in action and grow in it and we will become true lovers of God and do what lovers do best – fight sins and temptations till our very last breath for the sake of the Beloved Son who fought, died, and rose for us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
image by Günther Simmermacher via Pixabay