Readings: Deuteronomy 26: 4-10; Psalm 91, Response: Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble; Romans 10: 8-13; Luke 4: 1-13
One of the things that impressed me in my seminary formation was what my spiritual director and formators told us time and again: When you come closer to doing what God wants you to do, the evil spirit will do everything and anything to prevent you from doing it.
We see this clearly in this Sunday’s Gospel, Christ’s Temptation in the Desert. On the eve of the start of his mission, when he was set to begin his public ministry, the devil tempts Christ.
There are three points for reflection with regard to temptations. There’s the first point above, and, second, how temptation “hits” us in a way that attracts us or plays on our needs or weaknesses. Third, the severity of the temptation is commensurate to the power of the good one can do.
I have often seen and experienced how the evil spirit goes all out every time a person comes closer to doing what God wants him/her to do. It is always the critical point, and one can consider this the pivot point that will spell the difference.
Put more eloquently, as Evelio Javier was believed to have said, “If you tilt at windmills, it will either crush you or cast you among the stars.” It is a moment that can break us or define us.
Power of temptation
The second point is the power of temptation over us. Temptation has a way to disarm us, either through seduction or reduction, i.e., reducing us to a sense of helplessness by playing on our weaknesses.
How often have we been seduced by beauty and pleasure? And when we have conquered this through a sublime and spiritual ascent, the evil spirit shifts strategies by casting doubt on this choice. It plays on our weaknesses and reduces our ability to authentically choose the sublime and the spiritual.
This onslaught of temptation is as strong as our power to do good. We see this most clearly in the Gospel for this Sunday.
It is the struggle, the battle between good and evil that begins within. The power of the evil spirit’s temptation betrays its fear of the good Christ could and would do.
Ignatius of Loyola vividly captures this in his Meditations on the Two Standards, the standard of Satan and the standard of Christ. He outlines the steps of the evil spirit: first riches, then honor, and finally pride, then all this will lead to all other vices.
Ignatius juxtaposes these with the value system of Christ: spiritual poverty, and if God so desires, actual poverty, leading one to desire contempt and insults from which spring humility. Poverty versus riches, contempt and insults versus honor, and humility versus pride.
Knowing “the enemy” is half the battle won. Acknowledging that there is an evil spirit and knowing that it will thwart any attempts for us to do good, especially when we have made the fundamental choice to live our life according to what God wants us to do, makes us less of a victim to the evil spirit’s cunning.
The flip side is freedom from our brokenness, woundedness, sinfulness that, likewise, leads to gratitude in our awareness and acceptance of these negatives in the presence of a merciful and forgiving God.
All these lead to humility, the truth of who we are: blessed by a gracious God, redeemed by a merciful and forgiving God, called to mission by a God who loves us unconditionally. This is what empowers us to do good and this is the power that puts to rest the power of the evil spirit.
To paraphrase Fr. Anthony de Mello, SJ, be grateful for the temptations, the trials and tests of life; they are harbingers of grace when we discover our greatest power to turn to God and dedicate ourselves to him. —CONTRIBUTED