Every year on the First Sunday of Lent we read the gospel passage that recounts the temptations of Jesus in the desert. The Church wants Catholics to start this holy season thinking of their struggles with temptation and sin so that they will approach the Lord for His forgiveness. I am sure you have wondered: “Why did Jesus allow Himself to be tempted? After all, He is the Son of God and as such, He cannot sin.” 

Some say that Jesus was subject to temptation to set us an example. Some Scripture scholars, on the other hand, assert that it is in facing these temptations that Jesus clarified His own identity as the Messiah. As He refuses to utilize His power to turn stones into bread and thus satisfy His hunger, Jesus affirms that He has come to serve and not to be served. In rejecting the devil’s offer of the world’s riches, Jesus projects Himself as the Messiah who comes not with worldly pomp and splendor but in humility. Dismissing Satan’s vile attempts to persuade Him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus chooses not to be presumptuous of His sublime status as the Son of God. It is in facing and overcoming the three temptations that Jesus recasts the role of the Messiah from a secular ruler to that of the Suffering Servant of the Lord.

In the same way, as followers of Jesus we discover our own identity in facing and overcoming our temptations. It is a fact that none of us is above temptation. We face within ourselves the struggles that St. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. “I do the things that I do not want to,” says the apostle, “and I do not do the things that I want to.” Isn’t that our daily experience? For many of us, pride is the constant temptation. For some it could be lust or anger. Whatever our temptations may be, we all battle them day after day. As George Eliot writes, “The devil tempts us not. It is we who tempt him, beckoning his skill with opportunity.”

How are we to face our temptations?

First of all, we need to rely on the power of the Lord. Here comes the need for prayer. We cannot overcome our temptations on our own; we need strength from above. That is why Jesus enjoins His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Every time we recite the Our Father, we ask God, “Lead us not into temptation.” In order to be victorious in our spiritual warfare, we need to be individuals of prayer. In this context, the sacraments – Eucharist and Reconciliation – offer us powerful ways to receive the power of God.

Second, we need to build up our spiritual stamina. Most of us have grown up in a culture of indulgence. The mantra of our society is: “If you like it, do it; do it now!” Often we do not even delay gratification. In such an environment of self-pampering it is impossible to overcome our struggles. I still remember what we were taught in the high school seminary: “In order to be able to say ‘No’ to illicit things we need to say ‘No’ to licit things.” We used to call the practice “mortification.” We need to deny ourselves things that are legitimate from time to time so that we will have the strength to say “No” to temptation. For instance, on a hot day you return home after a run or a brisk walk and the first thing you want to do is to open the fridge to get a cold drink. If you wait for fifteen minutes to have that drink, you build up your spiritual stamina. Or, if your spouse or parent accuses you of something that you do not deserve, you ignore it instead of reacting immediately. The call to self denial or penance during Lent is a means to build up our strength to fight temptation.

Third, we need to draw closer to the Lord. The closer you draw to the Lord, the farther temptation will retreat from you. A Christian writer offers the following reflection on the subject:

In the old legend the sirens sang so sweetly that all who sailed near their home in the sea were fascinated and drawn to their shore only to be destroyed. Some tried to get safely past the enchanted spot by putting wax in their ears, so that they should not hear the luring, bewitched strains. But Orpheus, when he came, found a better way. He made music on his own ship which surpassed in sweetness that of the sirens and thus their strains had no power over his men.

The best way to break the charm of this world’s alluring voices is not to try to shut out the music by stopping our ears, but to have our hearts filled with the sweeter music of the joy of Christ. Then temptation will not have power over us.

Let us then use this sacred time to become aware of our own sinful tendencies and to forge ways to overcome them. If we haven’t been to confession in a while, let us retrace our steps to this font of God’s mercy. Let us find avenues to deny ourselves and partake of the Cross of Christ.

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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