In the Gospel of Matthew (4:1-11), Jesus has just been baptized, he is filled with the Holy Spirit and is led by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus is teaching us by example. As he prepares for his public ministry he wants to teach us how to deal with temptation because, during our time on earth, we will be tempted to do things that offend God, offend others, and can cause us to feel bad about ourselves. God wants us to be happy and Jesus shows us how.
During these three temptations from the devil, Jesus stays focused on his mission which can only be accomplished by obedience to the Father. Even though Jesus was God, he also was human and had a human will just like us, and he was also subject to the weaknesses that are part of our human nature. As the Gospel says, Jesus fasted for forty days and was hungry. So the devil tempts him to use his power to change stones into bread. Jesus never used his power to serve himself. All the temptations of the devil were an effort to get Jesus to use his power to obtain the things that most humans desire, unrestrained gratification of our human appetites, longing for power, prestige, and the freedom to do whatever we want as if we were god.
So Jesus deals with these temptations by using his human will to dismiss every temptation to show us that we also can overcome temptations in the same way.
We Must Deny Ourselves
There are three levels of temptation. We see the first level in today’s Gospel. Jesus recognizes the temptation and immediately dismisses it. We all are tempted every day to do something that we know we shouldn’t. There is no sin in temptation if we immediately dismiss it. The second level is when we recognize we are being tempted, but do not dismiss it. We may think about it for a while and begin to enjoy the possibility of giving in. This of course is dangerous because we are beginning to compromise our conscience, which may already be a sin. The more we compromise our conscience the weaker it becomes until it no longer alerts us. The third level is when we decide to give in to the temptation knowing that it is a sin. When we allow sin to remain in our lives unchecked, we end up damaging our relationship with God and with others. We all sin but Our Lord wants us to deal with it and he makes this possible through the sacrament of reconciliation.
When we received ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, we may have heard, Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. It’s a choice, an act of our free will that connects us to God. The sacraments assist us greatly in making our journey back to God, especially the sacrament of reconciliation. In this sacrament, our sins are not only forgiven, but we also receive the grace we need to help us overcome temptation.
When we think about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we might think it is too difficult. After all, Jesus says if we want to be his follower, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.
There is Always Hope
I can remember when I was not ready to commit my life to Christ. I had a plan for myself that I thought would make me happy but it was not influenced by my faith. It was only after I began to take God seriously that I started to experience real happiness. It didn’t take away life’s difficulties, but it did give everything a new meaning. Through prayer, the sacraments, and an effort to be faithful, I renewed my conscience and began to once again recognize the temptations that had long gone unnoticed. Monthly confession has been an important part of my commitment to Christ and a great help to my wife Mary Jane and me in our marriage and the ministry we share together.
Life is a mystery and can be difficult, but in his Church, Jesus has given us everything we need to remain in peace and hope. No matter how bad we have it on our worst day, there will always be someone who has had it much worse than us and yet maintained peace and hope because of their living faith.
Jesus spent forty days in the desert, not because he needed to, but because he wanted to teach us the importance of prayer, fasting, and obedience to his Father’s will.
With God’s Help, We Can Overcome
These forty days of Lent are a time for us to take a look at how we are doing spiritually. Do we love God above everything else and our neighbor as ourselves? The most important thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love is to order our lives to God. He will help us overcome the temptations that cause us to hurt one another and to feel that we are not loved by God. Jesus waits for us to come to him in the sacraments so he can renew us in his love and mercy.
At the beginning of every Mass, we acknowledge that we are sinners and need the mercy of God to make us whole. Through our participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and worthy reception of Holy Communion, we are freed of all venial sin. Any serious sin must be confessed in the sacrament of confession before receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion.
As a faith community, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together before Holy Communion and acknowledge the majesty of God and his divine providence. He provides not only our daily bread but allows us to receive him under the appearance of bread and he will provide for every need of our soul. He reminds us that he will forgive us all our sins in the same way as we forgive those who sin against us, and he will help us to overcome temptation if we remain connected to him so that he can deliver us from all evil.
We pray that these forty days of Lent will help us to deepen our faith so that we will be aware of the presence of God every moment of our life, especially when we endure trials that can only be remedied by the grace of God.
Deacon Tom Fox, C.K.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Deacon Tom is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Commander Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.