Temptation Comes to All
The biblical Book of Ben Sirach (also called “Ecclesiasticus”) says at the beginning of its second chapter: “My son, if you intend to serve God, prepare your soul for temptation” (Sirach 2:1). The great, learned, and holy Bishop, Saint Francis de Sales, preaching on the First Sunday of Lent, (when the liturgy always uses a Gospel passage about Christ’s temptations after His fast of forty days and nights in the desert), notes that this biblical verse proclaims the infallible truth that no one who has truly resolved to serve God is exempt from temptation. “This being the case, our Lord Himself chose to be subjected to temptation in order to show us how we ought to resist it” (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1).
However, Saint Francis de Sales points out that, although all Christians are subject to temptation, still no one may morally “seek it out and go of his own accord to the place where it may be found, since that same Book of Ben Sirach warns that “He who loves danger will perish in it” (3:27). Jesus Himself, in His human nature, was tempted not by His own choice, but by the action of the Holy Spirit, to which He submitted in obedience to His heavenly Father. Pope Saint Leo the Great said that “because of the frailty of human nature and the manifold attention demanded by the concerns of this life, even the hearts of the saintly become tainted with the dust of this world. Therefore, dearly beloved, the kindly providence of God has provided us a holy retreat of forty days (the Lenten season) during which we are to regain purity of soul and by pious works and chastening fasts blot away and atone for the sins of Cathedralother times.” Lent is the time to arm ourselves spiritually for the battles against temptation we are inevitably to encounter (Ephesians 6:10-17).
Saint Francis de Sales reminds his listeners that “it is a very necessary practice to prepare our soul for temptation. Wherever we may be and however perfect we may be, we must rest assured that temptation sooner or later will attack us, and perhaps persistently and relentlessly do so. Hence, we ought to be so disposed as to provide ourselves with the weapons necessary to fight valiantly in order to carry off the victory, since the crown of a heavenly triumph is reserved for the brave combatants who, with the help of divine grace, will conquer (2 Timothy 2:5; James 1:12). In this matter we should consider the weapons which our Lord made use of to repulse the Devil who came to tempt Him in the desert.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the temptations of Jesus in the desert “recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert... The Evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam Who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly. In contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals Himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this Jesus is the Devil’s Conqueror. He binds the strong man to take back his plunder (Psalm 95:10; Mark 3:27). Jesus’ victory over the Tempter in the desert anticipates His victory at His passion, the supreme act of obedience in His filial love for the Father.”
The Catechism goes on to say, “Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is the Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to Him and the way men wish to attribute to Him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us (Hebrews 4:15). By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
The traditional Lenten triad of more intense prayer, personal mortification, and generous charity to others, which the Church perennially sets out as the pre-Easter program for all her children, are the effective and well-tried means to put on anew truth, justice, Gospel doctrine, faith, and all that equipment that Saint Paul (Ephesians 6:10-17) indicates is necessary for the soldiers of Christ to don for the struggle against temptation, which comes, of course, from our fallen human nature (the flesh), our sin-filled surroundings (the world), and the fiendish archenemy of our true happiness (the Devil).
The Catechism relates, “Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, the practice of an ascesis (self-denial) adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), and fidelity to prayer..... Self mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life.” The days of Lent are the ideal time for us to renew our baptismal vows, promises, and commitments.
It is during Lent that, following centuries of traditional practice, catechumens and candidates are catechetically prepared for Baptism and-or for entrance into the Catholic Church. One of the most important intentions for which the faithful should pray during this season is for those “elect”, who, by our prayer, should be helped into the loving embrace of Christ and His Bride.
At the same time, we must always remember that for us who have already been baptized, Lent, in the words of Father Pius Parsch, is also the period for a second Baptism, the Baptism of penance, the time for interior purification. By prayer, fasting, and almsgiving God should be beseeched to send His grace upon us so that we might, at Easter, have been restored once again to our baptismal innocence. In the baptismal water used to bless us at the Solemn Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday itself we should be able to see again in full splendor that participation in the very nature of God, which is His sanctifying grace in our souls (2 Peter 1:4). At the great Easter proclamation sung at the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday evening, the Lenten observances that we will conclude will assist us to understand better and put into our lives what we hear: “It profits us nothing to be born if we are not saved. Father, how wonderful Your care for us! How boundless Your merciful love! To ransom a slave, You gave away Your Son! O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
An Ordinary Viewpoint
Some Thoughts For Lent - II
Temptation Comes to All