1st Sunday of Lent (A)
“Tempted? Pray! Read! Flee!
Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio
Joe and Emma, a young married couple struggled to make ends meet but their efforts were often hindered because Emma was a compulsive shopper. One day, Joe confronted Emma with the receipt for a $300 dress she had bought. "How could you do this?" he said. Poor Emma replied, "I was looking at the dress in the window, and then, somehow I found myself trying it on. It was like Satan was whispering in my ear, 'You look great in that dress. Buy it!'" "Well,” Joe said, "You should have said, 'Get behind me, Satan!'” Emma replied, "I did," but then he said, 'It looks great from back here, too!'"
A recent poll revealed that 59% of Americans admit they don’t do anything to avoid temptation and half cannot explain why they give in.
Everyone is tempted. It is an ongoing struggle in our spiritual life. There will always be within us that tension between the spirit and the flesh. Once during a retreat, a bishop spoke about this very struggle. Someone asked, “Excellency, so when do temptations end?” He replied, “About 20 minutes after you are in the grave.”
As Lent begins, the Church would have us consider this struggle and presents the Gospel account of Our Lord’s temptations in the desert. This teaches us the first thing we should know about temptation.
Temptation is not a sin. Otherwise we would have to call Jesus a sinner! Temptation is what entices us to sin. The sin lies in succumbing to the temptations. The sin of Adam and Eve was not that they were tempted but that they succumbed to the temptation.
Unfortunately, many people think that they are sinning when they have only been tempted and confess this. Temptation is not a matter for confession. What
matter for confession is the sin that results from the temptation.
Temptation is a consequence of our fallen nature that makes us vulnerable to these moments of weakness. But we can also be sure that the devil works hard to do all he can to keep us from the path of virtue and holiness.
Consider that the devil “threw everything he had” at St. Jean Vianney and St. Pio of Pietrelcina to frighten, discourage and weaken them. Why? Because they were drawing thousands to the Lord through the sacrament of confession.
We each have our own struggle with temptation. It may be enticement toward lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, anger, envy, or pride; perhaps gossip, fault finding, to drink or gamble in excess, or to be dishonest in our affairs.
What can help us when these temptations arise? Might I suggest a three point strategy?
This is not surprising. We cannot be alone in our struggle. We succeed when the Lord is at our side. Persevering prayer is the vehicle to God’s grace—and the most powerful graces flow from the Mass and the Confessional.
This sounds a bit unusual, but I am referring to the reading of Scripture as well as solid spiritual books. This motivates us and provides the insights and encouragement we need.
Usually running away from something is considered the easy way out. But in this case, it requires strength. What we need to flee are what the act of contrition calls, “the near occasions of sin.” We need barriers that will protect us from evil enticements.
A young man once asked the great preacher, Fr. Cantalamessa, “Father, Isn’t it really ‘OK’ to look at beautiful women? After all, God who is Beauty created the beauty of woman and the eye to look upon them!” He replied, “Well, yes. But the God who created the beauty of the eye, also created the eye lid that covers the eye!”
At times we linger with temptations, sailing very close to sin, thinking, “I’m strong. I can do this. This is a test of my resolve.” An unwise approach!
The best course of action is to flee!
Keep busy! Keep good company! Avoid certain activities and places. If drinking or gambling is the enticement, we don’t wander into a liquor store or allow the car to take us to A.C.! If the internet is a problem, turn it off or tape a huge image of our Blessed Mother on the screen!
We should also be a help to others; that is to say, not to tempt them by encouraging or tacitly tolerating occasions of sin. We should flee but also allow others to flee!
My brothers and sisters…may the season which is before us strengthen us in our struggle in the desert of our temptations which come and go. May we persevere in our praying our reading, and yes, our fleeing!