Fight the Devil

1st Sunday of Lent
Beloved in Jesus Christ, We are presented in the gospel today with this scene  of Jesus being tempted by none other than Satan. Our Lord of course resists the Devil, he shows us what victory over temptation looks like.   

In the beginning of mankind, the Devil had tempted Adam and Eve to distrust God. He convinced them that God was ‘gypping’ them out of happiness, and so they must follow their own desires, in order to be happy.  This is not only about the first man and woman, it’s a commentary on the state of mankind. We know what is right, what God wants us to do, but we feel that to be happy, we must do this sinful thing or that – and although we find short-term pleasure,  we just keep aimlessly chasing happiness.  

A mystery of life, is that by saying ‘no’ to our passions and desires – by instead, saying ‘yes’ to God, this gives us true life.   

You know, when St. Francis of Assisi[i] was young, he was a very good businessman.  His friendly nature allowed him to convince people who had no intention of buying anything, to buy, buy, buy!  

He not only made a lot of money, but he loved to spend it too.  He dressed in rich clothes, he loved to party – he was such the life of the party that his friends had a nickname for him: they called him the ‘King of the festivals!’ But this lifestyle did not bring him the fulfillment he craved. It would be later, after he had given up all he owned,  even his clothes – everything – that he found happiness.  This is a mystery of life: the less we satisfy our desires,  the more free we become, the more peace we have.   

And so – here we are in Lent. A time to turn away from bad desires.  St. Alphonsus says that unless we sometimes say ‘no’ to good things – deny ourselves – we won’t have the strength to say ‘no’ to bad things.  Our Lord shows us by his example today the path to true freedom, the path to life.  He who had no sin, allowed himself to be tempted by the devil.  Jesus is the New Adam, he is the true head of the human race, and he will lead the way for us to victory.   

Satan tempts Jesus in 3 ways.  
He is tempted to use his power to turn a rock into bread so that he can eat. He is starving, he is fasting. But he won’t do it.  
In the 2nd temptation he is tempted to perform a spectacular miracle, merely to win the praise of the people. But he won’t.
And in the 3rd temptation, Our Lord is promised riches and everything, if he will only sell his soul to the devil.  ‘Begone Satan!,’ he says. ‘No way!   So Our Lord demonstrates to us that we too can be victorious over the 3 types of temptations.

The 3 are really these:
1. Bodily comfort and pleasures – that is sensuality.  
2. Power: being popular, being important, being praised.  
3. Money, wealth, riches, financial security –   

Now different people are tempted to different things.   It is clear in hearing confessions that people have different weaknesses – by the way, what a huge number of confessions already this Lent at St. Johns! Amazing.  Anyway – people have different weaknesses.  

For some, their main weakness is sensuality: obsession with food, or sex, or laziness.  

For others, that doesn’t bother them at all; for them, it’s the pride of wanting to be important, to be admired and popular – and vanity.   

Others are ensnared by money or financial security or having the nicest things or the best clothes or greed.
The devil has his temptations, specially tailored to each person’s temperament.   

But let us consider a question posed by our patron, St. John Vianney:[ii] ‘What if a person says, ‘I do not have any temptations.’  Well, he says, that person is in great danger. Why?  

Who does the devil pursue the most? Who does he tempt the most?  Is it those who are leading an obviously sinful life?  Is it the person who is a drunkard, or those living together outside of marriage? Does he tempt mostly those who are full of hatred or anger all day long? Actually no.  The devil does not bother those people very much,  who are living a life of obvious sin, because he already has them.  St. Augustine says that the Devil does not bother these people much, he only spits on them.  It is as if Satan is the jail guard, who has all these prisoners locked up in his jail. They don’t even consider the possibility of getting out, of giving up their sins, and so they are resigned to remain in the devil’s jail.  So he does not tempt them much, he just keeps the key in his pocket.  

So who are the people most tempted by the devil? It is those who are friends of God, and who fight very hard to remain faithful. It is those who are fighting against their sins. Pope John Paul II used to say, holiness is not to not fall,  holiness is, although there are falls, to get up and keep trying. To keep trying, fighting.   

One day, St. Francis and all of his brothers were gathered at a camp; they were, as usual, fasting and doing penances  and trying by humility to fight their pride. Suddenly, one of the brothers was given a vision by God, in which he could see near their camp a gathering of 18,000 devils;  they were holding counsel to see how they could cause these brothers to sin.   
He was then shown, further away, a small town; at the gate of the town he saw a devil sitting by himself,  whose job it was to tempt that town. He asked, ‘why is it that we were being tempted by 18,000 devils, while this whole town needs only one devil? It was because the people of the town were sufficiently evil; they only needed one devil to keep them that way.  But Satan’s war is really against those who are struggling for holiness.  

St. Ignatius Loyola taught the same: The devils allow us an easy life if we are in sin, to keep us that way; but if we wish to be children of God, then comes the war.  

If we know what our weakness is, and we are fighting against it, then we should thank the Holy Spirit for this knowledge.  But if we say, ‘All is well, I have no sins, I’m a good person, everything is great’: Beware! Because we do not know ourself.   As Scripture says,  ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.’[iii]  

When St. Augustine was living an evil life, he was not aware of anything by which he was tempted. He felt at peace. But from the moment he decided to fight – it was all out war. He tells all this in his Confessions. Lent is the time to go to war.  Can we win this war? Alone, no.   

But with Jesus Christ, absolutely.  By showing us this gospel today of the temptations of Christ, Holy Mother Church proclaims that this victory over the Enemy should be ours also.[iv]  In this spiritual combat that goes on inside of us,  we are never alone; Christ is with us, helping us.  

Mary, pray for us, in this battle against the Enemy. and help us to speedily crush that serpent beneath our feet.[v]   

 

Entrusted to the prayers of St. Pelagia

 

[i] Fifty-Seven Saints, p. 215.

[ii] Ideas and quotes are from Sermons of the Cure of Ars, p. 96.

[iii] 1 John 1:8

[iv] Adapted from Catholic Culture.org, 1st Week of Lent.

[v] Rom 16:20

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