This morning we find ourselves in desert with Our Lord as he suffers three temptations during his own personal 40 days of Lent. To set the context, this is the beginning of his public ministry. He has only recently been baptized by John in the Jordan River and upon its completion he immediately finds himself compelled towards the desert. But Our Lord would have it no other way. We are tempted to sin and so will he be tempted. He became human because he desires to know us – our pains, our struggles, our weakness. The promise of God is to redeem every area of our lives and leave nothing untouched by his grace. Because of this, each and every moment reveals the divine to us if we only take the time to see.
We can put it even more strongly and note that the path to spiritual greatness goes through temptation. There is no easy alternative to victory – only the way of the Cross. The world is hostile to God and always will be, so the Church will never be at home here until she finally overcomes the world. In the meantime, this means you and me facing temptations every day.
If the devil on your shoulder seems to be particularly persistent, that doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. Often, Satan chooses to attack us precisely when we are on the verge of victory; for Our Lord it is right at the moment when he is about to reveal the love of God to the world. But what Satan intends for harm only makes us stronger. Think about this for a second, Satan decides to place our Lord at the pinnacle of the temple to tempt him. Once Our Lord rejects the temptation, the tables turn quickly and dramatically, because Satan has unwittingly led Our Lord to a place of symbolic honor. Jesus is revealed to be the Lord of the Temple, raised high and exalted. In fact, we find here the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from Isaiah, “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” Temptation has brought about a moment of supreme triumph for Our Lord and all of Satan’s evil intentions are co-opted by God just as light drives out darkness.
It is the same for you and me. Remember that Jesus assumed all of humanity when he came to earth, so whatever temptation he overcame, we too can overcome. Each attempt by Satan to cause Our Lord to sin is a subtle attack on one, specific spiritual necessity – obedience to the will of God. This makes sense, right? Because the first sin is Eve questioning the will of God and deciding she knows a better way. The root of sin is the separation of our will from that of God, the desire to make our own choices for ourselves alone. The way in which Our Lord responds provides helpful clues to how we might overcome temptation when it arrives.
First, seek the will of God. We cannot love God if we don’t know him, and we can’t serve him if we have no idea what he asks of us. Ask him for clarity about his plan for your life. And don’t simply ask, take the time to listen. Go to confession so that sins don’t cloud your mind. Spend time with Our Lord in Adoration. Read the scriptures. Give up distractions.
Second, trust that the will of God is for your happiness. He is on your side. Satan tries to make us doubt this. He tells Eve that God is holding her back. He tells Jesus that if he denies his Father he can have all the riches of the world. The ways of God are not always the easiest ways, but nothing in life worth achieving is ever done so by the easy way.
Third, to the extent that you know God’s will and learn to trust him, submit your will to his. He may ask of us what seems impossible, or simply undesirable, or at odds with what we want. When we offer our will to God, remember that it is through the faculty of the will that we love, because love is a decision we make and then act upon. So seeking his will, trusting his will, and submitting your will is the greatest act of love of which we are capable. The love isn’t one-sided, either, and Our Lord is the proof. He doesn’t ask anything of us that he doesn’t first experience, and for him, obedience to God is not an easy task because it consisted of suffering, humiliation, and death on the Cross. This offers additional insight into how Satan’s temptations attack us. He finds out exactly what obedience to God means, exactly what cost Lent, repentance, and Christian sacrifice might extract from us and he twists it. Instead of seeing how such sacrifices set us free from sin and death and make room for happiness, Satan shows us only the suffering. He lies and tells us that it never gets better, that following the will of God will ruin our lives.
With each breath we take, we are offered a choice. Eve was offered a choice. She formed a disobedient desire and in an instant changed the course of history. Jesus was offered three choices, in the moment each one undoubtedly seemed overwhelmingly desirable, but he used his moment to make a choice that would endure beyond that moment. There are echoes of these temptations throughout the life of Christ. He conquers them, but they return again and again. He never wavers. Never takes his actions away from the will of his Father until finally on the night before his death, he says, “Not my will but thy will be done.”
Fulton Sheen says, “Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast. The other of Satan, which starts with the feast and ends with the headache.” Which will you choose? Whose will is going to be more powerful in your life? The decisive moment is now. This moment is the chance for each of us to decide, right now, to allow the will of God to work in and through us, to imitate Christ and say with him – in the world, in my family, at school, at work, in the very heart of creation, I will be love.