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Devil on the prowl

Experience tells us that the times when we are most susceptible to temptation are when we are fatigued, in physical or emotional pain, hungry and thirsty, or when we feel alone or frightened. In such times, we must remain spiritually vigilant, for it is in moments like these when the evil one comes to us, expecting our defenses to be down.

Our Lord was no stranger to this dynamic; we see in the Gospels that He, too, often faced temptation when He was in distress. For example, on His last trip to Jerusalem, Jesus was burdened with the knowledge that His Passion and Death awaited Him. In order to prepare His disciples, Our Lord revealed to them that He would suffer and die when they reached the city. Understandably, they were taken aback, and Peter said, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall happen to you" (cf. Mt 16:21-22). Jesus recognized these words for what they were: a temptation from the evil one at a stressful time. Thus, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mt 16:23). Even with a heavy heart, Our Lord remained faithful to the will of His Father and continued on to Jerusalem and the cross.

Then, as Jesus hung dying on the cross, Satan tempted Him again. This time, it was through the words of the chief priests and scribes, who shouted, "He saved others; He cannot save himself … Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him." (Mt 27:42). In His divinity, Our Lord could have come down from the cross. Yet even then, in the most agonizing suffering, Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of the evil one .

We find the devil on the prowl once more in this Sunday's Gospel (Lk 4:1-13). Our Lord had fasted in the desert for 40 days, so He was tired, hungry and weak. Satan saw the opportunity to pounce and approached Jesus with three temptations. First, he tempted Jesus with the desire of the flesh, commanding Him to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy His hunger. Jesus refused. The evil one then tempted Jesus with power, promising to give Our Lord all the kingdoms of the world if He would only worship the prince of lies. Again, Jesus refused. Finally, Satan asked Jesus to throw Himself from the high wall of the temple, for His Heavenly Father would surely save Him. With this challenge, the evil one asked Jesus to prove God is who God says He is. Our Lord faced this particular temptation many times in His life, for His followers would repeatedly command that He perform miracles or signs for them. Jesus calls us to faithfulness and trust, and we cannot see Him as an object of our bidding. Certainly, we can pray for miracles but never command them of God. Jesus denied Satan's last temptation as well by quoting Scripture: "You shall not put the Lord, Your God, to the test" (cf. Deut 6:16).

Each of us has been tempted by desires of the flesh and by the allure of power and prestige. We all have been tempted against our faith in God with a thought that God should prove He and His promises are true. Against all temptations, Jesus stood steadfast. We, however, often fall.

So why does the church offer us this Gospel at the beginning of Lent? Because it offers us hope. Jesus is more powerful than the evil one. Our Lord is near us in those moments when we meet the evil one, especially when we are weakest. Christ is readily present to us - dwelling within us when we are in the state of grace (cf. Jn 14:23), filling us with His spiritual gifts, feeding us with His True Body and Blood in the Eucharist and uniting each of us within His Mystical Body, the church. Also, even though we turn from Jesus many times and in many ways in our sins, He remains faithful to us, calling us back to communion with Him through confession where He makes us new through His mercy.

Stubborn temptations call for a response of prayer, confession and the Eucharist. For when we face temptation, especially one to which we have fallen many times, we are as strong as our union with Christ who "gives us the victory" (cf. 1 Cor 15:57).

This Lent, as we seek to loosen ourselves from the clutches of the evil one and follow Jesus more closely, may we be filled with hope that we have an all-powerful Savior who desires that we remain with Him, that He may constantly offers us His mercy and love, even when we fall.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016