In Sunday's Gospel we saw Jesus tempted by Satan. He shared completely in our human condition, and this includes the reality of temptation; a fact of life that none of us are spared from. To be tempted means that someone is dangling in front of us some thought, word or deed that is very appealing, but also very harmful and dangerous.
To surrender to temptation is to sin. That means we knowingly, and willingly, choose to participate in some activity that goes contrary to good reason, and to the plan of God for us. We can be tempted to doing sins of commission, and of omission. Omission means that we willfully neglect to perform our duties; we pass up a good thought, word or deed that we were expected to perform.
A friend knows when he or she is neglecting the requirements of true friendship. Parents know when they are neglecting the many and nuanced duties of parenting. Children know when they are not carrying their share of family chores or school work. The common good depends upon the faithful fulfillment of our duties and responsibilities. To neglect them may result in real harm.
A sin of commission means that we are willing to participate in some thought, word or deed that is destructive of human relations, something that disrupts the trust of our neighbors, or harms the fabric of life lived together.
We note immediately that each of us is frequently tempted to abuse our freedom. But this means that each of us must learn the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, the just and unjust. And where will a person learn these vital matters? Probably not in public education, where any appeal to morality is discouraged, since “who are we to say what is right and what is wrong?” We learn these vital matters in our families, with the assistance of the Church and most especially with the help of God’s teaching as found in divine revelation.
That is why learning the Catechism is so important for young people. That is why adults becoming a Catholic need RCIA programs. That is why we must keep informing ourselves, with the aid of the Church, about how morality applies to new problems and new possibilities. In the real world, we must constantly deal with the reality of good and evil.
In Jesus' first temptation he had just finished a 40 day fast in the desert – He was very hungry. The Devil tempted him to take the extraordinary measure of turning stones into bread. Jesus refused: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by all the words that come from the mouth of God.” In other words, there are greater needs than just satisfying our physical hunger. Sometimes we must suffer hunger and thirst so that greater values may be accomplished. Don’t look to the material goods of this world to satisfy your deeper hungers.
In his second temptation, the devil tells Jesus to throw himself down off the parapet of the Temple, and force God to save him by sending his protecting angels. But Jesus countered this with: “You are not to put God to the test.” So also with us. We are not to expect God to do for us what we can accomplish for ourselves. We pray as though everything depended upon God, and then act as though everything depended upon us. Good fortune blesses the brave. Thus, we are to address our problems forthrightly, with the assurance that God will support us.
In his third temptation the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, in their full splendor, and told him that they were his if He would bow down and adore the Devil. The Devil is the prince of this world, and it is the kingdom of darkness that we must always contend with. We are reminded of those great tyrants and monsters who used every means of force and violence to subjugate peoples to their despotic will: think of Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tungs, Adolph Hitlers, Fidel Castro, or others throughout history. They colluded with the forces of evil. They were responsible for immense human misery and suffering. We only adore the one, true God, who is the Creator of all things. And we pay him our homage by complying with his plan for the human race, by obeying his Commandments. We refuse to transfer this homage to any mere human mortal.
In the first reading we see the temptation in the Garden of Eden. The Devil was already trying to find a way to seduce, to deceive our first parents – he talks to Eve privately planting seeds of doubt in her mind. He challenges the warning that God had given to Adam and Eve. They were free to enjoy the fruits of all the trees in the garden, but they were to strictly avoid eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The meaning behind this symbolism is that God alone determines what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. Only God can design human nature, and determine what makes it flourish and what makes it threatened. If a human being attempts to determine morality, the difference between good and evil, then he or she is playing God, trying to usurp an authority which completely surpasses him or her. Ask yourself: Is this happening today?
The great tragedy here is that our first parents experienced so many signs of God’s goodness and love for them. Everything they had, and everything they enjoyed, came from God’s hands. But this wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more. They wanted to be other gods. And that was totally unacceptable, totally out of character for a mere, frail, human creature. Our first parents lost paradise for the whole human race. They were tempted, and they failed to cope adequately with their temptation.
You and I know that the temptation to disregard God’s plan and designs for us is a constant reality. In this life, we will never be completely free from temptation. God assures us that we will never be tempted beyond our strength, but with the increase of virtue and grace, we will probably be tempted in ever more subtle and pernicious ways. So we must be on our guard; keep your spiritual defenses up at all times. Stay strong in the Lord.
In the second reading St. Paul assures us that there is no comparison between the consequences of the sin of the first Adam, and the consequences of the gift of reconciliation graciously given to us by the second Adam, Jesus, our Savior. As a result of Original Sin, sin and death spread throughout the entire human race. We live in a fallen world, but God did not abandon us. He found a way to help us cope with our fallen condition, how to cope with temptation, and how to overcome the ravages of sin and evil in our lives. That is why we call Jesus our Savior. He saved us from our sins and death. Where sin abounded, divine grace abounds even more.
During this Lenten Season, we are to pay close attention to Jesus, and to what he has accomplished for us. In the readings for Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in the Passion narratives of the Gospels, watch how Jesus went about his mission. He encourages people to take up their duties and responsibilities, to carry their cross. He gives his strength to all who ask for it. He shows us how to use our freedom well so that we are constantly pursuing the good while exposing and resisting the evil.
In this Mass, as at all Masses, we ask God for the grace and strength that we need to live this life successfully, and thus to arrive at our true final destiny, which is to be united with him and the entire communion of saints and angels, forever, in Heaven.