The lesson taught by Christ’s temptation: Early in Lent

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the First Sunday of Lent at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

The scene is the same each year on this First Sunday of Lent. The scene is Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert. Why is this the scene projected before us each year so early in Lent, only four days after its beginning? Because in being tempted in His human nature. Jesus gives us a model and an example of how we are to struggle against and overcome the temptations that test us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us to reflect on the meaning of Christ being tempted. "The evangelists (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event (the Temptation of Christ): Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. … Christ reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. … Jesus' victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of His filial love for the Father" (No. 539). We need to remember that we are members of Christ's Body through Baptism. What happened to Christ the Head must likewise happen to the members of Christ's Body, to us. We must imitate Christ - that's the essence of Christian discipleship. So, in temptation, Christ is our model and example. As Saint Augustine stated: "If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. … See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him."

In Baptism, we were joined to Christ - baptized into Christ Jesus. This intimate relationship calls forth our being faithful to Jesus all life long. Discipleship implies daily fidelity to the Lord. Every temptation is essentially a test of that fidelity. Whatever the form of the temptation, at its core, lies the essential question: Will I be faithful to the Lord's Word and Will or will I be unfaithful, doing things my way? Again, we recall that Jesus was absolutely faithful to His Father; His whole life while among us was one of "not my will, but Thy will be done." The temptations recorded in the Gospel account today were invitations to not do the Father's Will: to prefer one's own need, to worship false gods, to mistrust God's saving presence. Jesus overcame these by being faithful to the Father. We too will overcome our temptations only when we do as He did: when we remain faithful to God's Word, meditated through the teachings of the Church, and when we remain faithful to God's Will, trusting in our Loving Father as Jesus did.

Early in Lent, as I said, only four days old, we are being asked to look into our lives since last Lent and to identify those areas in which we are being tested or tempted. The areas will differ for each of us, but no one of us is exempt from being tempted. We must ask the Lord for the grace to be honest as we look within, to identify without anxiety or fear what the concrete areas are in which we are tempted and where we need to be strengthened in our willingness to overcome these temptations, "to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the Gospel."

As Jesus faced His temptations in the desert, He remained faithful to God His Father. Being faithful implies being obedient. Now, for most of us today, "obedience" causes us to cringe, because we erroneously misunderstand what obedience really means. So many among us understand obedience to imply total subservience to another, or to mean a slavish acquiesce to what is being told us to do. With that kind of mindset, obedience means to be totally controlled by another.

However, obedience means something way different. Obedience means "to listen," to open one's ear to what is being asked or told to us. Jesus was indeed faithful to His Father's Will. He was obedient fully and faithfully to what God His Father asked Him to do - ultimately to give His life in ransom for the rest of us. He did precisely that, therefore, and has become the source of our salvation.

It is in prayer that we really listen to God speaking to our hearts. Fasting and other forms of penance strengthen us to do what the Lord tells us in prayer. Almsgiving enables us to make prayer more fervent and penance more sincere.

Jesus in His human nature was both faithful and obedient, and when tempted and tested to be unfaithful and disobedient, He clung to His Father and His Saving Words, remaining faithful and obedient. Let us look to Jesus and cling to Him ourselves.

Yes, the scene can be the same every day: temptation overcome by Jesus Christ, and through Him and with Him and in Him, temptation overcome by us! Yes, the scene can remain the same: Victory over temptation. Why? The mercy of God, made present in Jesus Christ, endures forever!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016