Now that the holy season of Lent has begun, it might be good to set a course of action for ourselves based on the Gospel story of the Temptations of Christ. First, however, I can’t resist the temptation to comment on our Ash Wednesday observances. This might give us pause to see exactly where we are in our understanding of Lent and all that it entails. Many people called to inquire when ashes were being given out. When the answer came that it was “during each Mass,” the follow up was, “about what time in the Mass?” It occurs to me that for some people, the sacramental (ash) is more important than the Sacrament (the Eucharistic offering).
I guess we have a long way to go in catechizing Catholics about this purpose of beginning the sacred season of Lent. Noticeable, too, was the fact that more people came to the five Masses on Ash Wednesday (not a Holy Day of Obligation) than come on any of the Holy Days of Obligation, except Christmas (it’s sure hard to break old habits).
The first temptation, to turn stone into bread, signifies the temptation to satisfy the various kinds of desires of the flesh. Here Lust, gluttony, and sloth are the current vices and sins that come into play. Though Jesus called upon his Father constantly to strengthen Him against temptation, our failure to intensify our prayer life will allow us to be seduced into the evils brought about through computer porn, excessive eating & drinking, smoking, drug & alcohol addiction and, in general, the failure to live up to Jesus’ words to remember that “our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” Our previous enlightened attitudes become lax because we’re so easily influenced by our surroundings – the media, our neighbors, popular opinions and fashionable trends.
The second temptation features Satan offering power over the world around us. The world will be ours if we would bend to the wishes of the devil. Here wrath (uncontrolled anger), envy and avarice (greed) prey upon our weakened human nature. We immerse ourselves in building up earthly treasures rather than spiritual ones. We allow ourselves to dominate, subjugate and control people; or we totally disrespect and abuse people: the unborn, the elderly, human trafficking, prostitution. In-fighting, fighting among nations; and the proverbial “keeping up with the Joneses” poses a threat to those who mistake “license” for freedom.
The third temptation, (when Satan calls upon Jesus to fling Himself off the temple tower for God’s angels will save Him) is probably the most common way that Satan deceives us. Through the sin of pride, the source of all the other deadly sins, the Evil One invites us to see ourselves as being just like God when we succumb to praising and giving glory to ourselves. We tend to give priority to something over God; we walk out on God – perhaps by leaving Mass early (the “Judas Stomp”), or we don’t even come to weekly Mass (“I got more important things to do”), or if we do, we receive the Holy Eucharist unworthily. We neglect our daily prayers. We push out the “sacred” and let in the profane. Why? Because we don’t really believe in God. We may say that we do, but those words ring hollow and are meaningless when it comes to following His divine initiatives. So, we’re lacking in a true and vibrant faith.
Like us, the disciples were heavily influenced by what St. Paul would soon call “the wisdom of this world,” which teaches us to hold onto grudges and to take revenge, not to forgive. This is “foolishness in the eyes of God” because it can never bring what everyone wants: peace of soul. God did not design the human heart to hold hatred and harmony together. One or the other has to go, and worldly wisdom makes room for hatred at the expense of peace. Time and again, the Tempter’s suggestions lure us on, even in Lent: easy in, easy out; no pain, good gain. Before long, the scarcely perceptible path of temptation turns into a well-trodden way of life settled in sin, paved tight with stones of self-justification. We acknowledge God but don’t fear Him. We don’t repent because we had long before justified our way of life to our satisfaction. The Tempter behind our temptations brings us down by the simple method of getting us to blur distinctions. Confused by the same Serpent’s cunning, Eve disastrously failed to distinguish between the trees God had placed in the Garden.
Therefore, we need to take serious time to come to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and this can only be achieved through faith. We must seek Our Lord, who rescues us from sin and death, to help us make this Lent holy and fruitful. Regular worthy Confession, daily scriptural reading, weekend Mass (and daily Mass, when possible), and good Catholic literature or programs are means to achieve this goal. You don’t have to give up watching television, just change your channel selections into more worthy and suitable programs. Keep your mind free from all those distractions that would pull it into some abyss. Know that God is Lord and Master of all creation and will guide us away from the Evil One if we just call upon His Name.