A young seminarian, struggling over lustful thoughts and desire, came to his spiritual director and asked, “At what age do you think all these go?” The eighty-year old priest confidently replied, “Eighty, son, at age eighty.” “Eighty?” the seminarian gasped desperately and started to leave. Suddenly, a young sexy lady crossed the street and the priest’ eyes were glued to the crossing beauty. Still gazing at the lady, he called back the seminarian and said, “Son, did I say eighty? Well, make that eighty-five.”
(The story is from Lessons We Laugh to Learn by Larry Faraon)
The story of the temptation of Jesus in the desert is appropriate as we enter the season of Lent. The Church invites us to go into the desert ourselves and spend forty days to know the will of God in our lives, to understand the ugly schemes of the devil and to gather spiritual strength through prayer and self-discipline. The desert might be any place or moment where and when we can be by ourselves in silent prayer and reflection.
Saint Thomas Aquinas said that God allowed Jesus to be tempted by the devil for four reasons, namely: to strengthen us against temptation, to remind us that no one is free from temptation, to teach us how to overcome temptation and to fill us with greater confidence in his mercy. Because Jesus had been tempted in every respect as we are, we become confident that he would sympathize with our weaknesses and provide us with the needed strength in times of temptations (Heb 4:15-16).
The gospel helps us to see the value of “facing temptations”. After his baptism by John at the Jordan River, Jesus had to understand what his Father really wanted him to be and to do. An essential part of this discernment process required him to face his individual temptations. In their book entitled Journey of the Spirit: Meditations for the Spiritual Seeker, T. Hudson and M. Kelsey point out how Jesus faced the tempter and listened to what he had to say. Jesus knew that in order to resist the evil one he had to know his dirty tricks. Only then was he able to ascertain that his life was not like that of the devil and that he lived according to the ways of his Father in heaven.
Facing temptations is a disquieting process, and this perhaps explains why we don’t normally do it. We prefer to see ourselves as well-meaning individuals, free from any kind of interior conflict. Yet, we know that all of us have our share of evil thoughts, dark passions, selfish desires and motivations that could harm our relationship with God and with others. Hudson and Kelsey insist that it is better to acknowledge our inner struggles rather than to deny them. We cannot get rid of things within ourselves unless we confront them. We cannot renounce what we do not recognize. Jesus himself found this kind of confrontation necessary. It must also be for us.
How are we going to face our temptations? First of all, we have to find some time alone; we need to have our own little “desert experience”. If we are always on the move, we can hardly challenge the tempter and his enticements. The devil would like to keep people busy because he doesn’t want us to pause and address our inner struggles. In contrast, the Holy Spirit would like to lead us into solitude and into our interior selves because this is the arena where the evil one could be faced and defeated.
After we have achieved some kind of stillness, we need to identify our temptations, name them just as Jesus did. His temptations were three, namely: to focus on material things at the expense of the spiritual; to become an instant religious celebrity; and to exchange his fidelity to God for worldly power. Like Jesus, we need to know clearly the nature of our temptations. Hudson and Kelsey suggest that it would be helpful if we can write them down on paper. This process may be annoying because we would know how the devil often has succeeded to trick us. And yet, this is an important beginning in our journey to Christian maturity.
Our temptations may not be exactly the same with those of Jesus. Some of us may be tempted to be choosy with friends, biased against superiors, thoughtless toward co-workers, possessive of associates and insensitive to the feelings of others. Others may be enticed to earn money and prestige at the expense of personal integrity. Whatever they may be, the principle remains constant: “What we don’t face, we cannot deal with, and what we will not deal with, we will never control.”
After having clearly identified our temptations, we must realize that we cannot deal with the power of the evil one alone. We need the grace of the Risen Lord who has proven his superiority over the powers of darkness. As we turn to him, he comes and stands by us in order to protect and guide us along our spiritual path.
On examination day Mark was stumped by many difficult words. Softly the tempter whispered, “Look at Jane’s paper; she’s an honor student and always gets them right.” Mark heeded the suggestion and copied several answers. The teacher noticed his actions and was greatly surprised, for she had always thought of him as an honest boy. When it came time to collect the completed work, she observed that Mark was having an inner struggle. After bowing his head for a moment, he suddenly tore up his paper. Although at first he had yielded to temptation, he finally decided to take a zero rather than be dishonest. Calling the boy to her desk, she told him, “I was watching you, Mark, and I want you to know that I’m very proud of you for what you did just now. Today you really passed a much greater examination than your spelling test.”
(The story is from The Storyteller’s Minute by Frank Mihalic)