Sunday, February 14, 2016

Temptation and Growing Closer to Christ

Every year on the First Sunday of Lent, the gospel brings us into the desert as Jesus is tempted by the  Devil. We hear this gospel every year not just so that we can be reminded of the same old things again and again. We hear it because this gospel contains a treasury of spiritual truths. This year, I would like to focus on just four ways that this Gospel can help us. But, before I do so, I have to say that the only way this gospel can really be helpful to us is if we approach it as people who really are serious about our spiritual lives and who desire to grow closer to the Lord. (Since it is arctic cold outside tonight, I suspect that you are indeed serious about your spiritual life.  Good for you for being here tonight)!

1. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert immediately after his baptism in the Jordan by John. You will remember a few weeks ago that we heard that gospel. John baptizes Jesus and the Father announces, "You are my beloved Son." After this, Luke provides a list of the ancestors of Jesus. From these two passages, we see that Jesus is both God and man.  

Sometimes, when we experience temptation, it throws us into a panic. If I''m baptized and washed clean from sin, why do I still experience temptation? In going into the desert to be tempted, Jesus is teaching us something. He goes immediately after he is baptized. He is showing us that temptations will still occur after our baptism. The devil is always trying to insert himself between God and us. He likes to cast doubt on our relationship with God. He said to Eve, "Did God really say not to eat from any tree in the garden?" He likes to sow doubt. He approaches Jesus and says, "If you really are the Son of God . . . ." He likes to sow doubt. When we try to live a holy life, the Devil tries to convince us that we are wasting our time. He tries to convince us that it is really kind of silly to "follow all of these rules."  

In moments of temptation, let's not be thrown off our guard. Remember, as soon as the Devil heard God say to Jesus, "You are my Son," he began to tempt him. I believe it was St. John Vianney who once said that we should not fear being tempted. He said that what we should really fear is not being tempted because if we are never tempted, there is good reason to believe that the Devil already looks upon us as his property.

2. The second thing we might take away from tonight's gospel is that Jesus prepared for these assaults of the Devil by fasting. Fasting is one of those words that makes us cringe. As soon as we hear it, we start coming up with excuses like, "Well, I'd fast, but when I fast, I get really hungry." Yeah . . . that's the idea! Fasting is a spiritual weapon that most of us employ far too infrequently. When we fast, our spiritual senses become much sharper. We are able to see spiritual things with much greater clarity. I can see how weak I am, how much God's grace helps me, what my faults are, and how much God loves me. Jesus didn't fast because he needed to fast. He fasted in order to give us an example. Don't be afraid of trying to fast. Even if you fail . . . it's okay. Give it a try.

3. The Devil tempted Jesus while Jesus was alone in the desert. Of course, we know that he wasn't really alone because he was with the Father. But, we can learn from this that the Devil likes to tempt us when we are alone and isolated. This is why we need to have good Catholic friendships, friendships where you pray with and for one another. This is why it is so important for us to be together on Sundays. (Sometimes when people say, "I don't need to go to Church to worship God. I can do that at home." I always say, "Yeah, but I bet you don't!") We need each other. I know that Lent is much better for me when I feel like I am living it with others, praying together, fasting together, growing in charity together.  We are stronger when we are together.

4. Lastly, we can take joy in the fact that Jesus conquered all of these temptations. He was subjected to every temptation and resisted them all. Now, we might say, "Well that's nice for Jesus. I mean, he's Jesus. But what good does that do for me?" That's a great question! It has everything to do with us. It brings us back to the first point. Jesus was tempted after he was baptized. When you and I were baptized, we became members of the Body of Christ. So, we are united to the One who has conquered every temptation. We can resist every temptation. We can be victorious because we are united to Jesus Christ. His victory can be our victory too. Sin is not inevitable.  And, even if we do fall to temptation, Jesus can turn even our defeats into victory. If we do fall into sin, then we go to Jesus with hearts full of sorrow and contrition. He will take that contrition and lift us up. We are sons and daughters of the Father. In Christ, every temptation has already been defeated. When we are in the midst of the desert and are being assaulted by the Evil One, we rely upon the Son of the Father and our union with Him.

As one last word, I'd like to say this: If you haven't chosen a Lenten discipline yet, don't go to bed tonight until you have one. The Season of Lent is an awesome time to grow closer to Christ, to become more like him, and to receive his graces. He is offering us great graces this Lent. Don't be afraid to accept them.  You've already accepted a grace today. I bet some of you were tempted tonight not to come to Mass. Maybe you heard that whisper in your ear, "It is freezing cold out. God would understand if you didn't go to Mass tonight. What kind of God would expect you to go to Mass in such cold weather."  But, you received some sort of grace to resist that temptation. And in doing so, you became a little more like Christ. Lent is filled with opportunities just like that. Opportunities to become just like Jesus. Let's make the most of it.

1 comment: