Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE
First Sunday of Lent
Today’s Gospel begins sort of abruptly. It begins,
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
What “time” is it referring to? Well, in St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is led into the desert after the “time” of his baptism. But why, after His baptism and that awe-inspiring spectacle—the descent of the Holy Spirit like a dove and the echoing voice of God the Father proclaiming delight in His Son—would He be led into the desert?
St. John Chrysostom reminds us why.
Because all that Jesus did and said was for our instruction. He is led into the desert to be tempted to teach us about our own preparation for holiness, and in particular at this time of the liturgical year, to teach us about our Lenten preparation.
Jesus is revealing to us the truth that we set our sights on living a Christian life, to be ready for a struggle. The stark reality that Christianity is not a walk in the park led St. Teresa of Avila to boldly say to God one day, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!”
What is that struggle that Jesus wants to teach us about then? It’s first and foremost a struggle against sin. Since sin usually begins with temptations, then the true struggle starts there. Even now as we enter into Lent we probably feel a little more tempted now. Hopefully we have made some resolution to sacrifice something or take up an extra work of charity or extra moment of prayer each day. Having done so we can expect that temptation will try to draw us away from that good resolution. This is fine. This is normal. This is a sign that we are doing the right thing. Now, it’s only time that we persevere. This is exactly what Jesus is teaching us how to do in today’s Gospel—He is teaching us how to persevere in the midst of temptation.
In fact, says St. John Chrysostom, he teaches us five things through his own temptation:
1st: That temptations actually make us stronger. Fighting against them is an exercise for the soul. We know that every time we do some physical exercise our bodies are strengthened, well, in the same way, every time we persevere in overcoming temptations we are made stronger.
2nd: To keep us humble. We like doing good things, especially when those good things draw us closer to God, make us more like Christ, and help us grow in grace. However, in enjoying them we also run the risk of thinking we did all the work. The fact of the matter is, is that all good things come not from ourselves, but from God, as St. Paul reminds us, What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it? (1 Cor 4:7) When this same Apostle alludes to having a “thorn in his flesh, an angel of Satan” always present to keep him from becoming “too elated”, he says, we can apply these words to the reality of temptation. They are a part of our lives not necessarily to punish us, but to keep us honest—honest about the true source of our goodness—God!
3rd: So that in overcoming temptations the devil might be reassured that we do not belong to him anymore. Thus we bring about the victory of Christ over slavery to sin and death present into our own lives. For the only reason we can overcome temptations is through grace, and Jesus Christ is the source of all grace, thanks to his divinity and his sacrificial death on the cross. So the next time temptations come don’t think, “I can’t overcome this”, but “by grace alone I can overcome this” and cooperate with the grace that God always has ready to help you.
4th: In order that we may grow in virtue. This is where God’s wisdom prevails over Satan’s shrewdness. In allowing the devil to tempt us, God is actually providing us the opportunity to grow in virtue. Every time we say no to that temptation to eat a little more, we grow in temperance. Every time we keep our mouth shut and forgive that person that’s annoying us from our hearts, we grow in patience. Every time we say no to that temptation to think lustful thoughts or make lustful glances we grow in chastity. You see, the devil’s trap actually turns against him, if we see temptation for what it really is, and turn to God to overcome it.
5th: So that we may have a greater esteem for the treasures of God’s grace. The reason why the devil comes after us is because we are living in God’s grace. We should be more worried if we don’t suffer from any temptations, because it probably means that the devil is already satisfied with us. We already belong to him and are complacent in our sinfulness and forgetfulness of God. Having temptations, as long as we didn’t bring them upon ourselves by drawing near to occasions of sin, is a sign that we are probably doing things right. We must stay firm in our decision to live for God alone and not turn back to sin.
Let us then learn from Christ. Let us not be like Eve who remained undetermined in fighting and even fleeing from the devil’s temptations. Let us be like Christ! The reason we hear both readings today–Eve’s tempations and Jesus’ tempations–is to show us the two ways of confronting temptations. Holy Mother Church wants to show us the contradiction between Eve’s way and Jesus’ way so that we may learn the true way. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We men must expecially learn from Christ how to manfully resist temptations. We especially shouldn’t act like Eve, nor Adam for that matter. Adam was supposed to be Eve’s protector, where was he while she was being tempted—not doing what he was supposed to be doing. Men, we are often tempted when he are not fulfilling our obligations—when we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing.
Let us turn to Christ and see that in following His example of firmness and fidelity we can rest assured of our own victory against temptation. In doing so—trusting more in God’s grace than our own weakness—we too will enjoy the victory over Satan’s seductions and be consoled in seeing him flee from us defeated, as he was forced to flee from Christ in the desert.
We heard last week that we cannot serve two masters. We are called to serve God alone. In verifying our decision to serve Him He allows us to be tempted, never beyond our strength, and never without the help of His grace—we only have to turn to Him and reaffirm by our deeds that same decision we made at our Baptism: that I believe in God, that I belong to Him, and that this indelible seal made by God on my soul was not made in vain.
Renew within each us O Lord, a steadfast spirit—a spirit steadfast in fighting against temptations and sin, and steadfast in keeping the good Lenten resolutions we have made.
May the same Spirit who led Jesus, led us throughout this Lent toward a more perfect following of Jesus Christ, not in thoughts and good wishes, but in words and deeds. We were baptized as “other Christs”, now let us live like “other Christs”.
 Homily XIII. Matthew Chapter 4, Verse 1