The Temptation of Jesus
Every first Sunday of Lent, Satan makes his annual visit to our parishes. The Gospel for the day's liturgy—this year from Luke—speaks of Satan tempting Jesus in the desert. Even the Son of God is not exempt from temptations! We face many temptations every single day, and they seem to intensify when we are discerning.
Why is that? Because discernment is about understanding God's will for our lives. Satan's ultimate goal is to prevent us from achieving this understanding and to eventually separate us from God. I find three important lessons from the Gospel story that are helpful for those struggling with temptations during their discernment:
Lesson #1: Fight back against Satan with Jesus' words.
You can use the powerful words of Jesus found in the Book of Matthew's account of the same temptation story: "Get away, Satan!" (Mt 4:10)
The most important thing you need to remember about temptations is that they are a bunch of lies. The Bible calls Satan the prince of lies, not the prince of greed, not the prince of sex. He uses attractive lies to trick Jesus to do things. Jesus responds to these lies with the truth from the Scriptures. Then, according to Matthew, Jesus says, "Get away, Satan!" Interestingly, after Jesus pronounces those words, Satan leaves him. You can do the same!
When you start doubting yourself, concluding that you are not talented enough, not intelligent enough, or not holy enough to be even thinking about the priesthood or religious life, that is Satan planting lies in your heart. You must fight back and say, "Get away, Satan!" When you start doubting God's mercy, concluding that God will never forgive you for past mistakes, that is Satan planting lies in your heart. You must fight back and say, "Get away, Satan!" When you start believing that giving your life to God is not worth it, that is Satan planting lies in your heart. You must fight back and say, "Get away, Satan!"
Fight back using those powerful words of Jesus when you doubt yourself and feel discouraged.
Lesson #2: Be radical: think less of yourself and more of others.
The temptation of Jesus took place at the beginning of his public ministry. If Jesus gave in to those temptations, that would have been the end of everything. But he remained totally committed to doing God's will. He was thinking beyond his own wants. The point: the more selfish you are, the easier you will give in to temptations.
During this Lenten season, practice this radical altruism. Offer your help to the crew of Fish-Fry Fridays. Fast from unnecessary spending and give the money to collections to help the poor. Commit to praying the Stations of the Cross with others. Learn something about another culture. When you practice this radical altruism, you are not only protecting yourself from easily falling into temptations, but you are also gaining an invaluable experience needed for future ministry.
Lesson #3: Believe in God's love and mercy.
This topic is not from the temptation account, but its message is crucial in any vocation story. Before there is a call to follow God, there is a call to repentance. When you do give in to temptation and sin, own up to it and don't blame anyone else. It is never too late to change your life and begin again. As long as there is a heartbeat in your chest, you can rest assured that you will always have a chance to be forgiven. No matter how far you have strayed from God, no matter how grave your sins are, no matter how terribly you have treated your loved ones, no matter how embarrassed or humiliated you are by what you have done or failed to do, you can still change your life and begin again, because the one who keeps inviting you to come back is the God of mercy.
During this Lenten season, say a prayer daily, asking God to forgive you, asking him to claim and hold you, asking him to inspire you to proclaim and serve him, asking him to help you remember his love and mercy when you are feeling the weight of sin. Satan rarely gets near anyone with a contrite and repentant heart!
As you hear this Gospel proclaimed on the first Sunday of Lent, be assured that you will be tempted at times as well. But fighting back, being radical and believing in God's mercy will help you to avoid those near occasions of sin and to get back on track when you do slip. Lent is the ideal time to repent and try again.