Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

One of my Lenten goals is to read Pope Benedict's books, Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. I am greatly encouraged by what he writes regarding the sixth petition of the Lord's prayer, and lead us not into temptation:

"When we pray it, we are saying to God: 'I know that I need trials so that my nature can be purified. When you decide to send me these trials, when you give evil some room to maneuver, as you did with Job, then please remember that my strength goes only so far. Don't overestimate my capacity. Don't set too wide the boundaries within which I may be tempted, and be close to me with your protecting hand when it becomes too much for me.'" ~from Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI

How're you doing on your Lenten sacrificial offerings?  Are you off to a great start or are you caving in to temptation? I wish I could say that I have been doing great, but in all honesty, I have fallen more than once.  Maybe I bit off more than I could chew and overestimated my abilities.  But Jesus gives us a great example in His three falls beneath the cross.  Each time He fell, He got back up and kept on going.  Time for me to do the same!  Giving up is not an option, but offering it up always is!

 "There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside."  ~St Basil


Last week I was blessed to hear Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, give not just one great talk, but two inspirational lectures.  You can read about his talk on Heroic Catholicism here, and the other one, on temptation, below.  This particular talk was in regards to last Sunday's Gospel reading (Luke 4:1-13) on the Lord's temptation in the desert.

From Fr. Jim's talk:  

We are often tempted to try to be the God of our own lives, to try to take control and use God as a last resort.  We all need conversion.  Pope Benedict XVI stated in his Year of Faith remarks that the world is seeing a spiritual desertification where God is no longer found and people don't believe in God.

From Adam and Eve to the time of Jesus, temptation has always been a fact of life.  It's part of human nature to be tempted because we have an enemy.  Satan is the enemy of human nature and Jesus, being human, was subject to temptation.

It's a mystery why God allows the evil spirit to work in our world.  We don't have an answer.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the power of Satan is limited and not infinite because he is a creature and not God.  But we know that "in everything God works for the good of those who love him." (Romans 8:28) Jesus temptation was part of God's plan.  He identified with us to save us from within.  Christ came into the world to set us free from sin and he did it by fighting the tempter himself until the cross.  The world is improved by fighting temptation.  The ultimate sign of things not going well is the giving in to sin.

The only way this world will become better is one person at a time through each individual struggle.  We carry on this battle in the spiritual desert and we pray for the grace and strength to battle temptation when we pray "lead us not into temptation."

We know that God does not tempt us, but that he allows temptation.  And why does he allow it?

One reason is to teach us humility.  We become humble when we are tempted.  We realize that we aren't perfect and that we are drawn to our own will instead of God's.  Teresa of Avila said that humility is the foundational virtue of all others.  Pope Benedict said, "It can be a penance for us in order to dampen our pride so we can re-experience the paltriness of our faith, hope and love and we avoid a high opinion of ourselves.

God also allows temptation to make us more compassionate.  Through our temptations we realize that we are in solidarity with suffering humanity. In Hebrews 4:15 we learn that "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin."

Jesus temptations symbolize all of our temptations.  When Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones into bread, this was a temptation against nature.  Today we see this temptation when someone undergoes gender-altering surgery or when two people of the same sex want to marry.  It's not natural.

We are tempted to power when we believe that we ourselves can change things without the assistance of God through prayer.

When the devil told Jesus to throw himself off the temple because the angels would care for him, he was encouraging the sin of presumption.  We see this today in people who think it's ok to give in to temptation and sin because they can always go to confession afterward.  They are presuming upon God's goodness.

Pope Benedict reminds us that at the heart of all temptations is the act of pushing God aside because we see Him as annoying.  We live as if God isn't important; we think we can make our world better without God.

Another benefit to God allowing us to be tempted is for our growth.  We see this growth even in Jesus, "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."  (Hebrews 5:8-9)  

We know that Jesus was always perfect.  The abyss of all virtues still needed to be exercised to develop and grow and become even more perfect.  Jesus was always obedient but through his testing and trials his perfections culminated in a garden called Gethsemane where Jesus' obedience was even more perfect than His obedience in the desert.  He united His will with the will of the Father.  His obedience reached the pinnacle of perfection.

Every temptation has an opposite virtue.  When we fight temptation we exercise our spiritual muscles to develop them and keep them healthy through hard work, discipline, and suffering.  We shouldn't go looking for temptation, but it will certainly come our way.  When God allows temptation he is giving us the opportunity to grow in a particular virtue.

Virtues are often misunderstood.  They aren't all-or-nothing, in other words, if we have a particular virtue we'll never have to be tempted.  Actually virtues are a matter of degrees.  They aren't something we have and won't lose.  We often falsely equate them with feelings; if we feel holy we are holy.  When Blessed Mother Teresa struggled with the darkness she felt within her, yet acted against it, and worked to only give love and kindness to others, she was living virtue and holiness.

Consider what your major temptations are.  What opposite virtues is God giving you an opportunity to grow?  For example, if you are impatient, God is calling you to patience.  If you live in fear, worry and anxiety, God is allowing you grow in trust and faith.  Are you tempted to uncharitable remarks, gossip and negativity?  You are called to grow in charity toward others.  Lustful temptations can lead to growth in the virtue of chastity.  If you are tempted to despair you are called to grow in the virtue of hope in God's grace.

God often allows temptation to be an especially heavy burden upon those who are closest to him.  They enjoy a special communion with Jesus who suffered temptation until the end of time.  All of the great saints suffered temptation and through it they were drawn to make sacrifices and to be close to Christ.  They offered their burdens as a sacrificial offering for the salvation of souls.

And we can do the same with the burden of our temptations; we can turn them into a prayer.  Any suffering that is attached to a temptation can be offered for others who are tempted in the same way.


You may also find great inspiration from watching Bishop Donald Hying's video on temptatation.  It's one of my favorites so far!  To view the rest of his "C4 Ignite Your Catholic Faith" videos visit this link.

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