p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, February 26, 2023| First Sunday of Lent
Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11.
Let us begin with a fable, in which the protagonists are not people or animals, but trees. It shows very clearly how the mechanisms that make us succumb to temptation work in us.
Once, the trees of the forest formed an association in order to rebel against the ‘Axe’, which had caused much harm to all of their folk.
The trees, the redwood, the teak, the cedar, the oak, the cypress, the Sequoias and many others convoked a meeting and decided that none of them would allow the Axe to have wood for its helve (= handle of the axe).
But the Axe attended the meeting and pleaded to speak just for a couple of minutes.
The request was granted and the Axe spoke: I can very well understand the difficulties that all of you have faced, as a result of my nature. And I will definitely not stand in the way of your decision. But I just have this one suggestion: Each of you, be it the redwood or teak or cypress or any other. You look so majestic and splendorous.
People look at you, and raise their minds to the Creator for such marvelous creations.
Will you want your beauty and brilliance to be blocked by the small bushes and trivial creepers that grow in front of you and around you? So just allow me, to be given some wood only for this purpose that I may cut down those irritating and disturbing plants and creepers. And thus your grandeur can be beheld without any block!
This proposal seemed very viable and practical for those majestic trees and they allowed to give wood to the “Axe” for the ‘good and harmless’ proposal.
Do we need to continue to hear the story further? Well, you guessed it right. The moment the Axe was furnished with wood for its handle it chopped down all the trees, sparing none!
In the story of the temptations, Christ demonstrates an exemplary intellectual acceptance of the Word of God (what we call today the Gospel). This is not limited to the vulgar concept of “intelligence”. What does it mean to intellectually accept the Gospel? To simply not raise logical objections? To think that I understand it all perfectly?
In recent years, advances in science, technology, and the way in which we view our world have led to an increasingly broad use of the term “intelligence” (emotional intelligence, artificial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, spatial intelligence…). As we learn more about biological systems, we find more and more examples of complex and precise adaptive behavior in animals and plants. All of this has led to a modern and broader view of what intelligence is, which even from a purely worldly science point of view is understood to be a characteristic shared by systems capable of gathering and processing information from their surroundings and modifying their actions in order to fulfill a series of implicit or explicit goals.
Of course, we are interested here in understanding how our intelligence, if it is healthy, must be linked to our capacity to unite ourselves and be faithful to the objective that Jesus Christ presents to us as spiritual perfection: to live a filial and fraternal love without stain.
Sometimes with perverted intentions and other times with good desires, we make decisions based only on our experience. Today the Gospel tells us how Jesus turns to the Sacred Scripture, which contains the spiritual wisdom of wise people, and in so doing resolves at the root the conflicts that the devil wanted to sow in his heart.
It is one of the ways of witnessing that we cannot walk alone, without Him, nor without a community where the divine presence can be visible in the happiest and also in the most painful moments.
Many things can be said about the devil, even discussing his existence. But surely it is more practical to meditate on the reality of temptation, of which people who are not believers at all speak. Surely because sometimes we have the impression that we act as if someone had “occupied” our heart, as if someone were pushing us to do something that, at heart, we do not want to do. Thus, in such everyday matters as observing a healthy diet, there are people who say: I am tempted to eat a chocolate bar right now. Even a well-known cookie brand has as its slogan: Let yourself fall into temptation.
In fact, everything that we call “temptation”, in more or less spiritual terms, has a clear orientation, a true personality, a determined character, which in the end does not coincide with the best of ourselves. Thus, those who study human behavior define a temptation in this way: When a particular desire conflicts with a person’s goals, then he or she enters into a self-control dilemma and the desire becomes a “temptation.”
What are the effects of falling into temptation? You don’t need to be an expert in Theology to know. We all have experience. Either it leads us to disaster in our moral life, committing regrettable actions, or it absorbs our attention and energy so that we cannot be attentive to God’s will. The deepest result is the same: the devil has separated us from God.
The truth is that our intelligence is very poor when it comes to understanding the beauty of what Providence proposes to us, its invitation to be happy serving and the opportunity to be free from the world and capricious passions. Since our heart is divided and we do not always take it into account, the devil does not have to make too many efforts to make us slaves of ambition, of impatience, of what is classically called “the world and the flesh”.
For instance, a frequent temptation is that nearly that all things can be under my control, and with enough resources and efforts, I can master all that hinders my pleasure and health. Another deception occurs when the devil feeds the person who has scrupulous tendencies: he makes him confuse temptation with sin, the appearance of useless or negative thoughts with the acceptance of them.
This is how the devil’s personality manifests itself: his goal is division, to separate us from God and at the same time from people. As the Gospel says, he is the king and the father of lies (cf. Jn 8:44), and he uses two of our emotions to deceive us: fear and the “demands” of our instinct for happiness. It is important for each one of us to verify this, remembering our biography as sinners.
His lies are not logical, nor in the form of propositions, but by making us see reality in a distorted way: my fears (which are real, and sometimes well-founded) he presents them as invincible; my judgments (often not wrong, or at least with a good degree of truth) he makes them appear as untouchable, imperative. Thus it divides us, both inside and also outside.
Yes, we need to be single in our desire, single in our determination, single in our devotion. Jesus said: No man can serve two masters (Mt 6:24). You and I just can’t do it. We are double-minded, and because of that we will be unstable in all of our ways. We are like a wave; the wind just blows us about.
It seems appropriate to recall here the role of the angels, who were also present in the temptations of Christ. Today, little is said about them in the Church. Let us recall what a saint says about them:
Since God has given them orders in our regard, let us not be ungrateful to the Angels who execute them with so much charity, and assist us in our needs, which are so great. Let us be filled with devotion and gratitude towards such guardians. Let us love them as much as we can…They are faithful, they are prudent, they are powerful…Let us follow them…Should you foresee a grave temptation or fear a great trial, invoke your guardian…. He does not sleep; he does not slumber… [He] guards and consoles you every moment” (Saint Bernard).
A relevant observation: each one of us can be used by the devil as an instrument for the temptation of others. It is the opposite of giving a Christian testimony.
Scandal is an attitude or behavior that leads another to do evil. Jesus said: Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were tied around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea (Mt 18:6). Jesus also said: Temptations to sin will surely come, but woe to him through whom they come (Lk 17:1).
Let us end with a witty story, hoping that it will help us to remember our state of blindness and internal division, not with a pessimistic mentality, but with the spirit of not separating our gaze from the Spirit of the Gospel.
Years ago, a knight upon his white horse saw a beautiful lady. He rode up to her and he said, Oh, you are the loveliest lady upon the face of the earth. I desire to have you for my wife. And if you but marry me, I will give you my full heart’s devotion. I will serve you. I will honor you. I will protect you. I will be faithful to you till death.
She said: Oh, thank you for this promise of love, for this promise of devotion, thank you; for this promise of faithfulness. But before I say yes, in all honesty I must tell you, you’ve not yet seen my sister who is even more fair, even more lovely, than I. He said: Oh, it is impossible. No, she said, my sister is exquisitely beautiful; you must look at her first. Well, he said, where is she? She said, Right over the hill.
So the knight on his white horse goes riding over the hill and he sees the sister, and then he comes back, and he says: Oh no, no, she’s not nearly so fair as you are. You’re the one I desire. You’re one I want to marry. I will be true to you. She said: You will not have me. And he said, Why? She answered: You said that I was the fairest of the fair, and you would be true to me till death, and at my first suggestion you rode off to look at another woman.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,