St. Joseph Catholic Church - Toledo, OH

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February 18, 2018 - "Lead us not into Temptation"

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“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil”

Today we, like our Lord Jesus Christ, being led by the Spirit, enter the desert.  Our time in the desert, like his, is a time of fasting, a time of prayer, and a time of contention with the temptations of the enemy.

On this Temptation Sunday a number of questions can arise:

  1. Could Jesus really be Tempted?
  2. Why was He tempted?
  3. How are we to understand “He was led by the Spirit … to be tempted”?

As True God there could be nothing inclining Jesus’ heart toward any sin. Thus the temptations, while real temptations, were entirely external temptations - meaning He did not allow them to enter into or to move His most Sacred Heart.

Christopher West, commenting on this weekend’s Gospel writes:

Since there was nothing inclining Jesus’ heart toward pride, greed, lust, envy, or any other vice, we must probe the nature of his temptation. “There is only one temptation,” wrote Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete. “All particular temptations are expressions of this one original or ‘primordial’ temptation. It is the temptation to believe that the fulfillment of the desires of the human heart depends entirely on us.” In the language of St. John Paul II, it’s the temptation to deny God’s Fatherhood, to deny that God will provide the fulfillment for which we long as a gift. The New Adam redeems the first Adam by living through the original temptation without denying God’s gift. The “desert experience” is the experience of raw, naked, vulnerable humanity. It’s the experience of every human hunger, desire, and longing at its peak. And it’s in that moment that we are most vulnerable to the primordial temptation: God is not coming through for you…. If you want satisfaction, you have to take matters into your own hands. “No! God is my loving Father! Get behind me, Satan!”[1]

Thus, the nature and purpose of Christ’s temptation is, as the New Man, to begin the work of undoing Adam’s fall at the first temptation.  Christ in this moment undergoes that original temptation of the enemy to deny the Father and His loving plan for us.  It is the first blow in the victorious fight which will come to an unquestionable end through the Passion and Resurrection.

By gaining the upper hand in the struggle, Jesus began to prove to us, through His example, that we too can gain victory over the temptations that arise within us.  The temptations of pride, greed, lust, envy, or any other vice are real and they speak to a hidden longing which can only be filled by the Father’s love.  We are given the example that by abandoning ourselves in complete trust to the Father, we can overcome temptation and our longings will be satisfied.

How do we go about growing in this trust which overcomes temptation and satisfies our longings?  The answer to this, takes us back to one of my earlier questions: How are we to understand 'He was led by the Spirit … to be tempted”; and I am reminded of a recent news item that begs the same question.

Back in December it was reported: Pope Francis “wants to change words in the Lord’s Prayer”; specifically the line “et ne nos inducas in tentationem” - “and lead us not into temptation”.  Without going into every detail - the whole situation is more about how we are to understand this phrase than what words should be used.  It is the question: does God lead us actively into temptation?  Did the Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted?  At their heart these are the same question - so how are we to understand them.

Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas “agree that the Pater noster contains seven petitions (i.e., [1] hallowed be thy name, [2] thy kingdom come, [3] thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, [4] give us this day our daily bread, [5] forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, [6] lead us not into temptation, and [7] deliver us from evil). Both the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church confirm this reading. St. Thomas additionally notes that these petitions are exhaustive in that they refer in some way to all the goods which we may licitly desire. Moreover, the seven petitions are presented according to the order in which we ought to desire these same goods.”[2]

Recalling that Christ’s temptations (and each of our own) were and are linked to all desires of the human heart - which we overcome by abandonment to God as the fulfillment of those desires, we grow in this through ardently praying for the fulfillment of these desires through the devout recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

[3][By “Lead us not into temptation”], according to St. Augustine, we beg God for the divine aid we need against the inclination to sin (contra inclinantia in culpam). While this seems clear enough, ... Why say, “lead us not into temptation,” as if to imply that God can and perhaps sometimes actually does lead us into temptation?

St. Thomas answers this very question in his Expositio in orationem dominicam. He writes: “Is it possible for God to lead someone into evil, since [the Lord’s Prayer] says: ‘and lead us not into temptation’? I say that God is said to lead into evil through permitting it. This occurs when, because of many sins, God withdraws his grace from a man who then falls into sin after grace has been removed. Thus, we sing in Psalm 70:9, ‘when my virtue fails, do not abandon me, O Lord!’ Now God directs man not to be led into temptation through the ardor of charity, since any charity, no matter how small, is able to resist any sin.”

From these considerations, then, we can gather both what is and what is not contained in this sixth petition. As is plain, this petition does not contain a request that God remove temptations from our lives. For, disturbing as they may be, temptations may also be greatly meritorious in the Christian life.

The truth that temptation can actually be good for us (meritorious) is attested to by great saints throughout our history.  St. James writes in Sacred Scripture “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”

Additionally, St. Alphonsus Ligouri writes:

Yet the Lord sometimes permits that souls, which are dear to him, should be tempted with some violence, in order that they may better understand their own weakness, and the necessity of grace ot prevent them from falling [...]; God permits us to be tempted, that we may be more detached from the things of earth, and conceive a more ardent desire to behold him in heaven [...]; God also permits us to be tempted, in order to increase our merits. [...] 
When it is disturbed by temptation, and sees itself in danger of committing sin, the soul has recourse to the Lord and to his divine Mother; it renews its determination to die rather than offend God; it humbles itself and takes refuge in the arms of divine mercy.  By this means, as is proved by experience, it acquires more strength and is united more closely to God.

 Brothers and sisters, temptations are real and they are the manifestations of deepest longings of our hearts.  When we give into these temptations we in effect are saying: “The Father’s love is not enough for me.”  But Christ, led by the Spirit, overcome these temptations giving us the example of how to overcome these temptations - complete abandonment to God the Father.  Thus we can pray -

Be with me lord when I am in trouble,
Lead me not into temptation,
But, when my virtue fails, do not abandon me or Lord.

[2] St. Thomas Would Oppose Changing the Lord’s Prayer. By David Arias. accessed Feb. 17 12:00pm.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Love of our Lord Jesus Christ, chap. 17 (as quoted in Navarre Bible)

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 February 2018 14:19  

Iustus germinabit sicut lilium: et florebit in aeternum ante Dominum.
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