Sunday, February 10, 2008

First Sunday of Lent


At that time, Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry. And the tempter coming said to him: If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. Who answered and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him up into the holy city, and set him upon the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down, for it is written: That he hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.

As we have now entered upon the holy season of Lent, the Church most appropriately puts before us the gospel narrative of our Lord's fast of forty days in the desert. For this Lenten fast was instituted by the Church in commemoration of what is recorded in this day’s gospel in order that we might walk in the footsteps of Him Who came to give us an example how we ought to walk. But, my brethren, we must bear in mind that fasting is by no means the only thing which we have to consider at this holy season. The example of our divine Lord proves to us that it is also a time of retreat from the world, its conversation and amusements; that it is a time of preparation against the assaults of temptation. It is a most wonderful mystery that our Lord, Who is Holiness Itself, should have permitted Himself to be tempted by the evil spirit. But, my brethren, it was for our sakes that He did so, and for our consolation, in order to teach us how to conduct ourselves under temptation, how to prepare for it, and how to overcome it.

This, then, is the lesson which we are to derive from this Sunday’s gospel, and let us study it well; for, assuredly, there is not one amongst us who is exempt from temptation, and there is not one amongst us who can afford to despise this danger; seeing that the Son of God Himself, Who wished to be made like unto us in all things and to bear all our infirmities, consented even to be tempted by the evil one. Since no one, therefore, is exempt from temptation, let us always be on our guard against it. "Let him that thinks himself to stand, take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. X:12). What, then, is the example which we are to learn from our blessed Lord, as to the manner in which we should conduct ourselves under temptation?

We learn, in the first place, what kind of preparation we must make against temptation. We learn from His example that we must retire from the world; that we must mortify our flesh by fasting and works of penance; and that we must engage in prayer and meditation on the eternal truths. Hence, we must not suppose that we have done all that is required of us by merely complying with the law of the Church in corporeal abstinence; for this is, after all, but a means to an end; and that end is the discipline of the soul, and preparing it for the inevitable conflict with the powers of darkness. Consequently, to the exterior works of mortification, must be added the interior discipline of prayer and recollection of spirit, and retirement from the world, its amusements and occupations, as far as this lies in our power. Hence, we must guard ourselves from falling into an error which is very common. Those who are able to keep the law of fasting in its rigor, are apt to rest satisfied with this, without taking any pains to fulfill the other conditions which our Lord’s example proves to us to be necessary for the spiritual combat in which we are engaged. On the other hand, those whose bodily infirmity, or circumstances in life, exempt them from complying with this law, are apt to suppose that by being dispensed from the law of fasting, they are also dispensed from all works of mortification and spiritual discipline.

My dear brethren, how is this possible? If any one could be dispensed from temptation, from all those incentives to sin which we carry about with us, and which surround us on every side, then, perhaps, it would be conceivable that we might be dispensed from this spiritual discipline. But since, in point of fact, there is no one, whatever may be his station in life, his state of health, or circumstances, who is so exempt; it follows that no one is, or can be, exempt from the obligation of preparing for the assaults of temptation by such spiritual exercises as those of which our Lord gives us an example in this day’s gospel. Let us, then, consider the nature of those temptations, and how we ought to overcome them; and let us consider the subject by the light of this day’s gospel.

First, there are temptations of mistrust of God’s Providence. This is a very common kind of temptation, through which many are lost. The devil, by this means draws people away from the practice of their religious duties, by suggesting to them the necessity of making provision for themselves and their families. How many are led away by this suggestion, who forget that the God Whom we are bound to serve is able, and not only able, but has promised to provide for all our wants, both spiritual and temporal; and that it is the height of folly to imagine that we shall the better obtain what is requisite for our bodies, by neglecting the care of our souls, for which we ought to be chiefly solicitous. Let us, then, for the future, silence this crafty sugges- tion of the tempter, by telling him, as our Lord did, that our first care should be, not to labour for the bread that perishes, but to nourish our souls with the Word that proceeds out of the Mouth of God, and which endures unto eternal life; that is to say, by conforming ourselves entirely to the Will of God; by keeping His Commandments; by strengthening ourselves in His grace, through the sacraments which He has provided for us.
Another temptation is equally common, though it is of an opposite kind to the other. The devil, who at one time tempts us to mistrust God’s providence, at another, tempts us to a misplaced confidence and presumption. He places us in some dangerous occasion, and bids us cast ourselves down, telling us that we have nothing to fear; as God will take care of us. This kind of temptation also causes the ruin of many souls. The drunkard, the profane swearer, the impure, the dishonest, sinners of every kind, all flatter themselves with this deceitful suggestion of the devil, that there is no harm in exposing themselves to this or that occasion of sin; forgetting that it is written: "thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." They flatter themselves that God has given His angels charge over them that if anything happens to them they can go to confession, they can call in the. priest, and secure to themselves immunity from the consequences of their rashness. My brethren, what is this but tempting God? And what course could we take more calculated than this to shut ourselves out from the reach of those efficacious graces, without which , priests and sacraments will not be of the slightest avail to us? God Himself has said that when any one during life has neglected His counsels and despised His admonitions, He, in turn, will in the hour of the sinner’s necessity, turn His back on him; and will mock at him when the destruction which he now fears, (though he formerly despised it) is coming swift upon him. Let us, then, be always on our guard against this insidious temptation of the evil one, and when he seeks to induce us to expose ourselves to the occasion of sin, let us shun the pit which is dug before our feet, and answer with our blessed Lord: "thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."
The third kind of temptation which the devil makes use of is worldliness. We have but to open our eyes and see how completely the whole world is overcome with this temptation. The heart of man must have something to worship. And the devil, knowing this, in order to divert men from worshiping the one true and living God, proposes himself to be worshiped under the disguise of the things of this world. Accordingly, we see nearly the whole world completely wrapped up in the pursuit of riches, honors, pleasures, worldly position. There is scarcely an exception. The rich and the great seek to become richer and greater. The poor and the lowly seek to advance themselves, and crave for those worldly gratifications which are, more or less, within their reach. But what they never think of seeking, is the Kingdom of God and His Justice, (Matt. vi:33) which is the only thing worth seeking. The one object of all their aspirations is this visible world, the figure of which passes away (I Cor. vii:31).
Now, all this, my brethren, is, as we learn from this gospel, nothing else but devil worship; and, when these unhappy people have served the world all their lives, they will find in the latter end that it is the devil they have been serving, and that he will be their master for all eternity. Is it possible that we can be so blind as to submit to this degrading yoke? Can we not break off this galling bondage and say to the demon, Begone, Satan, for it is written "The Lord thy God shalt thou adore; and Him only shalt thou serve." He is our only true Master; a Master whose yoke is sweet and burden light, (Matt. xi:30) who never requires of us more than we can do. He is at the same time a loving Father, Who is able to sweeten all our toil with the abundance of His consolation; Who has Himself carried our burden for us on His Own shoulders; Who has trod the same path that we tread; Who made Himself like unto us in all things, excepting only sin; Who even submitted to be tempted, that we might learn from His example how to overcome temptation; a Master and a Father, Who will Himself be our Reward exceeding great, if we prove faithful. "Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love Him."

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