Bishop's Column

Temptation and St. Joseph

Jesus fasted in the desert outside Jerusalem for 40 days. The Judean desert is barren and craggy, hot in the day and frigid at night. Jesus prayed without ceasing, and without food, for weeks. And then Satan appeared to him, and, while Jesus was hungry and tired, Satan tempted him, with food, glory, power and pride. Jesus was tempted by Satan, but he did not succumb to the temptation.

In Lent, as we offer small sacrifices and penances—small acts of charity or commitments to prayer—Satan often tempts us to abandon them. He tells us that they are too hard, or useless, or that we can make excuses to keep our fasts. We can look to Christ, who conquered temptation in the desert, and ask him for the graces we need to overcome our own temptations. And in the moral life, when we are tempted to sin, we can also look to Christ.

Jesus loves us, and desires for us to be holy. And when we are tempted, he knows the experience. He knows the difficulty. He wants to help us. The letter to the Hebrews says that in Christ, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet never sinned.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that in the desert, “Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror.”

Jesus conquers the devil. And when we’re tempted, we can rely on his grace to conquer sin. The Lord wants to help us overcome temptation. He wants to deliver us from evil. He knows the power of temptation, and he wants us to be free.

The practice of sacrifice in Lent helps us to grow accustomed to asking Christ for help, so that when we are tested in greater ways—when the temptation seems more urgent, or the stakes seem higher—we will already know that we can rely on Jesus. Our Lenten sacrifices aren’t supposed to be a test of our strength—they’re supposed to be a reminder that we can only conquer sin through Christ, who conquered temptation in the desert.

For Jesus, fully God and fully man, temptation was different from our own experience. We can’t really understand what it was for him to live with both a human and divine will. But we do know that as Christ grew into adulthood, he had the experience of watching his foster-father, St. Joseph, a good and virtuous man, who often resisted temptation, in order to follow the will of God.

From St. Joseph, we can learn three important lessons about resisting temptation.

First, St. Joseph was a man of prayer. He heard the voice of God, in his dreams, especially, because he lived prayerfully, in close union with the Father. Pope St. John Paul II wrote that St. Joseph was a man “who with his whole life seemed to cry out to God: ‘You are my father!’”

His life was punctuated by prayer. “How many times,” the Holy Father wrote, “in the course of long days of work would Joseph have raised his mind to God to invoke him, to offer him his toil, to implore light, help, comfort?” St. Joseph, in his work, and his family life, offered himself to the Lord in prayer. And he heard the voice of God. Because he heard God’s voice, he knew the Lord’s will, and was firm in his resolve to follow. Prayer, at every moment, strengthens us against temptation.

Second, St. Joseph was a man of silence. The epistle to St. James says that “everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” St. Joseph was quick to hear, and slow to speak. He was slow to anger. He built the habits of patience and forbearance. And in his silence, he grew deeper in awareness of the Lord, and deeper in the life of prayerful friendship with God.

We live in an age of noise. Cultivating an interior silence makes us slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to hear the word of the Lord. Silence, like St. Joseph’s, helps us to resist temptation.

Finally, St. Joseph was close to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is, in fact, nearly impossible to imagine the beauty of the friendship between St. Joseph and the Mother of God. They were unified in their desire to raise Jesus, to be good stewards of what the Lord had given them, to humbly undertake the great call which God had given them. How often St. Joseph must have sat with the Blessed Mother, how often he must have taken solace in her company. And how often her holiness must have inspired him to holiness. St. Joseph, as chaste bridegroom, learned patience and kindness through his love of Mary. He did so, not by keeping himself closed off, but by pouring himself out in love for Jesus Christ, and for his mother. That intimate and beautiful friendship—his love and respect for Mary—must have given him trust in the Lord’s plan at moments of temptation.

Christ gives us the grace to overcome the temptation of Satan. The Church gives us the holy season of Lent to grow in reliance upon that grace. And St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrate next week, gives us a model for reliance and cooperation with grace, to serve the Lord with love and generosity.

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