Bottom line: By rejecting the temptations, Jesus shows himself more powerful than Satan. The same does not apply to us; you and I can only overcome demonic powers by calling on the Lord.
Each year at the beginning of Lent we hear how the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, where Satan tempted him. This Gospel reminds us of something many people would rather not face - the reality of the devil. People will sometimes say, "I don't believe in some guy with horns and red tights, walking around with a pitchfork." Well, I am not particular how someone imagines the devil. The Gospel accounts do not give any description on how he looks, but they do describe his activity.
The Gospel has plenty to say about the devil - or to put it more exactly, the evil spirits, the demonic powers. Because they are spiritual beings, we normally do not see them, but they are real as ultraviolet rays or microwaves. We know about them not by seeing them, but by their effects, by the things they do. The Gospel describes their activity and it is not a pretty picture.
Today we hear how the devil tried to use his power against Jesus himself. We see a progression of temptations. First, sensual pleasure, then worldly recognition and finally despair. In each case Jesus overturned the devil's power.
In past years I have talked with you about the way in which Jesus overcame Satan, how he uncovered the devil's deceit. This year I would like to stress something else. Maybe I have taken it for granted because it seems so obvious, but it has dawned on me there is something here which people can easily miss. Jesus overcame Satan because He possessed a greater power. He is the only Son of the Father. He is armed with the Holy Spirit. He is true God from true God. He is more powerful than Satan.
I stress that point because we tend to ignore an important fact: the difference between us and Jesus. He is the Creator; we are fallen creatures. In our self delusion, we start thinking we can confront the demons on our own. The truth is you and I are no match even for the lowliest demon. It would be comparable to someone like me going against a kick boxer. Even the most poorly trained kick boxer could have me on the floor, flat on my back in a matter of seconds. Just so, even the smallest demon could bring you or me down - if we try to deal with him on our own.
Consider the way a wolf attacks a sheep. You would think the quickest way to bring down a sheep would be to attacks its legs and make it stumble. But reportedly that is not the wolf's normal method. He goes for the neck. And when he sinks his teeth into the neck, the sheep cannot bleat. It cannot make a noise to call for the shepherd. The devil does something similar. He wants to first disable our voice so that we do not call out to the Lord.
Have you ever noticed that when you try to set aside a time to pray, that something always comes up? All of a sudden, you remember some chore or some person you should talk to or better yet, you want to just take a quick look at the TV or the Internet. Or perhaps you begin thinking about a snack you have in the cupboard. The devil will do almost anything to keep you from praying. Many families tell me about the trials they go through on Sunday morning, getting ready for Mass. Do you think that these things are just a coincidence? Not at all. The devil wants to attack at the throat, to take away your voice - so that you will not call out to the Lord.
Sometimes people ask why God allows the demons to attack us so much. I wish I knew the answer to that question. I do not. To tell you the truth, I donít know why, when I want a pleasant time outdoors, I sometimes get attacked by mosquitoes or other insects. But when it happens I sure wish I had some insect repellent.
Now, I do not know why God allows the demons to attack us, but I can at least make a guess. I think he does it for the same reason he allows anything bad to happen to us. He allows it for the sake of a greater good - namely, that we will turn to him. Sometimes we have to hit bottom before we recognize we cannot do it on our own.
There is something else. Whenever we give in to a temptation, it takes power from us, but when resist a temptation, we take power from it. The devil wants to take power from us, to make us impotent, but when - with the Lord's grace - we resist him, we gain strength. The more strength, the more power we have, the more we have to offer to God through Jesus.
I have talked quite a bit about the devil, more than I like to. I want to conclude by stressing that we do not have to be afraid of the devil. St. Augustine said that since coming of Christ, the devil is a chained power. In fact, Augustine compares the devil to a dog tied to a post. He can only harm us if we get within his range.
Stay away from certain temptations. You know what I mean. Perhaps you saw on the news a study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco. It showed that sexual involvement of any kind can harm a teenager. The study obviously could apply to older people. Stay away from certain temptations. Flee from them. Run to the one who overcame all the attacks of the enemy.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus has shackled the demonic powers. When we are tempted, we need only turn to Jesus. As the Lord says to us in todayís Psalm:
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him...
He shall call upon me - and I will answer him.
From Archives (Year C homilies):
Do Not Talk to the Devil (2013)
Who Is Like God? (2010)
More Powerful than Satan (2007)
Temptation of Spirituality (2004)
How Satan Operates (2001)
The Hidden Sin of Gluttony (1998)
Complete List of Homilies for First Sunday of Lent ("Temptation Sunday"):
Ash Wednesday homilies:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Fr. Robert Barron: "forget about your spiritual life", Bishop Gomez on Mortal Sin & Confession, Dedication of room in honor of Al & Nell Wheeler)
Parish Picture Album
(A child in Peru who needs your help)
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Parish Picture Album
Seattle Men's Conference
March 2, 2013 at St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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