During the first Sunday of Lent, we are presented with the temptation of Christ in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11) In the Gospel, the devil uses his favorite tactics on Christ. Since Christ is sinless, he has no fissures the devil can peek into and exploit. So the devil uses the most obvious thing: Christ fasted for 40 days and he must be hungry. So the devil tempts Christ to use his power for selfish purposes of pleasure and self-satisfaction. Christ immediately parries with words from Deuteronomy. The devil then tempts Christ with the possibility of honor and recognition, for if he throws himself off the parapet of the Temple and God’s angels catch him, all there will recognize him as someone God loves for saving him. Once again, Christ fends off with words from Deuteronomy. Finally, when nothing seems to work, the devil promises riches if Christ worships him, and Christ squarely tells him to get lost.
What can we glean from this encounter? We can pull out three lessons. (There may be more for sure, but just three for this reflection.)
Lesson 1: If Christ was tempted, so will we.
In the Gospel of Matthew, it is interesting that the episode that immediately precedes Christ’s Temptation in the Desert, is his baptism. The juxtaposition of these two events is thought-provoking because if Christ who was baptized can get tempted, so can we. Our baptism, therefore, does not exempt us from temptation, but it certainly helps us fight it.
We say Christ is sinless, therefore if he was tempted, temptation cannot be a sin. The only time it becomes sinful is if we give in. So no matter how often, or how long, or if the temptation comes with physical pleasures, for as long as we do not give in to them, these temptations are not sinful.
Lesson 2: Do not engage in a conversation with the devil
The first reading that accompanies this particular Gospel is the story of The Fall. If we scrutinize it, we will find a big difference in the way Adam and Eve handled the devil as compared to how Christ did. The serpent asked Eve, “Did God really tell you to not eat from any of the trees in the Garden?” The devil is cunning (Genesis 3:1) and wants to create doubt in Eve’s mind with this question. Eve engaged him in a conversation. That was her mistake for it led her down the path of letting her trust in God die in her heart. This is a definition of Original Sin and every sin. In stark contrast, every time the devil tempted Christ, he parried right away. He did not enter into the conversation but stopped the temptation in its tracks.
We should learn from this! Every time we are tempted, we need to put an end to that conversation for if we do, we are not as cunning as the devil and we will almost certainly fall for his false promises. Instead, let us turn our gaze on the face of Christ to give us strength and to look at him who loves us unconditionally.
Let us be like Christ and tell the devil, “Get away, Satan!” The devil is a megalomaniac and three things can hurt his ego. First is if someone ignores him, and the second is if someone literally tells him to go away. In both cases, he flees lest his ego gets bruised. The third is humility because there is just no way a humble person will want anything the devil has to offer. He avoids someone like that because he knows his offers will be spurned and that too hurts his self-esteem.
Lesson 3: We need our guardian angels.
It must be puzzling to us that Jesus, who is God, had angels minister to him after the temptation. Scholars tell us that Christ had a brush with pure evil, and the angels were there to give him support. As a commentary, we are sure the angels were ministering to him the whole time for all angels belong to Christ (CCC § 331 ), but the Gospel was written in such a way so that we do not misconstrue that it was the angel’s triumph in fending of temptation, but Christ’s own.
This should remind us that there is a spiritual battle being waged against each soul. We should arm ourselves with graces from the sacraments. Confirmation gives us courage. The Eucharist nourishes our souls. Reconciliation increases our strength in spiritual battle. (CCC § 1496) Anointing of the Sick gives us the strength and courage to fight temptations especially in the face of death. (CCC § 1520)
We should also employ the aid of our spiritual warriors, our guardian angels. God gave each one of us a guardian angel that walks with us through our entire life (CCC § 336). Since all angels were created at once at the beginning of time, (CCC § 327) it means that God created each guardian angel at that moment too. The sublime implication is that each of our guardian angels waited for us to be born so they can minister to us. That’s how important they are to us in the infinite wisdom of God. It would be rude to ignore that one person who goes with us from the moment of our conception to the moment of our death. It would also be such a shame to ignore the natural and supernatural assistance our guardian angels are capable of doing for us; all we have to do is ask.
Let us, then, create a healthy relationship with our guardian angels so that we will eventually feel the gentle nudging they do. Let us ask for help for anything big and small. They will help us battle large temptations, and they can also help us find our lost trivial things (for they certainly know where we put them.) Talking to them often is the way to do this.
We will certainly be tempted; no one is exempted. Let us fight the temptations by refocusing our attention, from them, to the face of Christ. And let us ask the help of our guardian angels who are so eager to lead us to life everlasting.
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Joby finished Theology courses from the University of Notre Dame. He is a contributing writer at www.catholic365.com, and teaches in the De La Salle College of St. Benilde where he engages students in conversations about religion, pop-culture, and food.
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