Frightening, because for a temptation to be a temptation there must be some risk of it being given in to. What if Our Lord had yielded? Of course, here we enter into the mystery of the hypostatic union of his human and divine natures and know, from Church teaching, that whilst He suffered temptation in His human nature, as do we, his Divine nature informed his response to them.
These temptations are a consolation: Our Lord suffered temptation in His human nature as do we. This is difficult for us to grasp, but when we do recognise that our Blessed Lord was fully human and was truly tempted, He becomes more ‘approachable’ as it were, in our own struggles against temptation and sin. That is part and parcel of the Incarnation – something we sometimes forget. That Our Lord experienced such things is indeed consoling. He knows our difficulties ‘from within’ as it were. Our prayers to Him in times of temptation, or worse, are heard by a more than an understanding ear.
And these temptations are instructive – in two ways. Firstly, in their content.
“You can have all that you want, and more,” the devil says to us in every possible circumstance, “so long as you worship me.” Power, money, gratification and pleasure are all on offer, if only we would renounce God and fall down and worship the devil. What the devil does not say openly, however, is that what he offers is enslavement to power, lust, money and all manner of worldly goods – an enslavement which, after its initial romance or excitement, eats away like a cancer at all that is true, good and beautiful in men and women created in the image and likeness of God.
‘Fall down and worship me and I shall give you avarice, addiction, unhappiness and eternal death’ is what the devil is in fact saying. But of course, he does not. Rather he assures us that exploiting this person, engaging in this or that behaviour we know to be wrong, going to certain websites, missing Mass or not praying daily are ‘fine really’ and will in fact give us happiness. And if we consent to these temptations then he leads us further – further away from God and towards falling down and worshipping him.
We know this sad and dangerous reality only too well in ourselves and others whom we know and love. The Gospel of this Holy Mass, indeed this season of Lent are, therefore, a wake-up call to each of us.
And this is how these temptations are instructive: We are to worship the Lord and serve Him alone. That is perhaps relatively straightforward for monks and nuns who don’t have to live in the world and deal with its ways, but power, wealth and many pleasures are goods to which we can and sometimes should aspire – from good and truly noble motives.
Many Christians are necessarily occupied with these things. The use of worldly realities is a fact of life: but their worship is utterly forbidden. I may have the exercise of power and use it for the good. So too I can do good or evil with money. I may engage in lawful pleasurable activities. But I may not worship any of these things. I cannot become their slaves. I cannot allow them to occlude the worship which I owe to Almighty God alone. Our Lord teaches that if we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness … all these things shall be [ours] as well” (Mt 6:33). It is therefore not a question of disdaining the good things of this world. Rather, it is a question of putting the worship of God first and of distinguishing carefully between their rightful use and their capacity to enslave.
Our task this Lent is, then, to sort out what is right and wrong in our own use of the gifts Almighty God has given us and, using the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to do battle against the devil and his temptations as they present themselves in the particular circumstances of our own lives.
For the grace to make a good start on this necessary Lenten work, and to persevere in it, let us beg Almighty God in this Mass. +