Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Sunday of Lent: The Temptation of Christ

Traditionally, on this first Sunday of Lent, the Church hears and teaches about the temptation of Our Lord in the desert (or wilderness, depending on your Bible translation) by none other than Satan himself, the Father of Lies.  In the Traditional liturgy, the Gospel reading today is always from St. Matthew, as follows:
Matt. 4:1-11
At that time, Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. But He answered and said, It is written, ‘Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’ Then the devil took Him into the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He has given His angels charge concerning You; and upon their hands they shall bear You up, lest You dash Your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, It is written further, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And he said to Him, All these things will I give You, if You will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, Begone, Satan, for it is written, ‘The Lord your God shall you worship and Him only shall you serve.’ Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
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In the Novus Ordo, this liturgical year is "Year C", so the Gospel is from St. Luke, but it is essentially the same story, although the order of the second and third temptations is reversed.

What interests me the most about this Gospel is how it shows us that even Lucifer, who possesses the highly elevated intellect of an angel (albeit a fallen one), remains unsure whether Jesus is in fact the Son of God, God made Man.  Tradition teaches that it was God's revelation to his Angels of his intention to incarnate the Son as a man to redeem humanity which led Lucifer to revolt against God in the first place, taking a third of the angels to Hell along with him; these we now know as demons.  Yet even so, Lucifer felt the need to subject Jesus to these temptations in an effort to make sure of His identity as the Son.  I think he was finally convinced after his temptations failed to have any effect on our Lord.

Another interesting and very important point for all of us to keep in mind is the Devil's obvious knowledge of Scripture, which at that time consisted only of what we now call the Old Testament.  This reminds us to exercise the greatest of care in discernment whenever we are presented with arguments or contentions about our faith and the Church, even when cast in Scriptural terms or context.

One of the best commentaries I have seen on today's Gospel comes from the illustrious Jesuit scholar Fr. John A. Hardon, of happy memory, whose teaching hearkens back to the days when faithful Catholics could actually trust priests of the Society of Jesus to present solid catechesis and Scriptural exegesis, rather than the Modernist claptrap that dominates that once great order today.

I quote here from Fr. Hardon's commentary, (with added emphasis in bold font,) followed by a link to the website where I found it, and I encourage you to read the entire thing:

"In the third temptation, the devil does not start by saying that you are the Son of God. Rather he took the Savior to a very high mountain. On the high mountain from which a large view of the surrounding territory could be seen for miles up to the horizon. Commentators on the scriptures tell us that what the devil showed Christ was not only the land and the buildings surrounding a physical mountain in Palestine. It was a global view of all the kingdoms of the world and their majestic glory.
It was the devil’s last effort to tempt the Savior. But this time it was a temptation that only the devil, as the prince of this world, could offer. He told Jesus, “All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
What was the devil telling our Lord? He was telling Him that as the one who is lord and master of the earthly pleasures that the kings of this world over the subjects, he would give everything to Christ on one condition. All Christ would have to do is fall on His knees and worship the evil spirit.
The history of the human race is a history of a conflict between two powers, the power of the devil over the worldly possessions of our planet, and the power of God over the humble souls who are willing to sacrifice everything in this world rather than abandon their service of God.
This was enough. Christ’s reply has become one of the most known imperatives in the human language, “Begone, Satan!” The devil could just go so far, and no further. Christ told the demon, again quoting from the scriptures, that there are two kinds of adoration that human beings can practice: either adoring the evil spirit as the ruler of this world, or adoring the true God, who is the only One whom we may serve.
St. Augustine’s City of God is the masterpiece in Christian literature explaining through a score of chapters what is the only real warfare that had ever been fought in world history. It is a war between the City of God, whose Leader is Christ, the Son of God; and the City of Man, whose master is Lucifer.
We are so accustomed to thinking of idolatry as an ancient form of paganism that no longer exists. The exact contrary is the truth. Idolatry in the modern world is widespread. It is nothing less than the worship of Self, inspired by the father of lies who tells people it is their will which they are to follow; it is their choices they are to make; it is their world in which they are living, and not the fantasy that religious zealots picture as created and ruled by an infinite God.


Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the universe, protect us from the wiles of the evil spirit, teach us to follow your example of humility in submitting our wills to the will of your divine Son. He conquered the evil spirit and gave us the grace to follow His example. Amen.
 For the full text of Fr. Hardon's commentary go here:

 Laudator Jesus Christus!

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