The Temptation of Spirituality

(Homily for First Sunday of Lent, Year C)

In his book The Holocaust Gilbert Martin gives an account of the murder of six million European Jews. He documents how the Nazis subjected Jews to unimaginable suffering in ghettoes, slave labor factories, concentration camps and forced marches. Reading this book one might conclude that, beneath the thin veneer of civilization, human beings are mere beasts. However, as one Jewish writer pointed out, if we call the Nazis beasts, we insult animals.* No, when a man falls into temptation he does not turn into an animal, but a devil.

Most of the top Nazi officials never saw the torture and murder of a Jew. Heinrich Himmler, a principal architect of the Holocaust, witnessed only one mass execution. In Minsk on August 15, 1941, he had 100 Jews selected for a “demonstration.” The Einsatzgruppe commander arranged them in successive groups, forced them to lie down in a ditch and killed the women and men with machine guns. Some died immediately, others writhed in pain. As the pile of bodies and corpses increased, a bullet exploded one person's skull, scattering brains and blood, some of which landed on Himmler’s trench coat. Always a delicate man, he turned and vomited. But later he regained his composure in order to applaud the killers, praising the interior strength required to carry out their “noble mission.”

In his infamous speech at Poznan (October 4, 1943) Himmler declared, “we have fulfilled this most difficult duty for the love of our people. And our spirit, our soul, our character has not suffered injury from it.” The Nazis saw themselves as elite, spiritual men – and so they were. The devil is a pure spirit, much more spiritual than us - and he is always ready to assist those who wish to enter the higher realms of spirituality.**

Of Jesus' three temptations, only one is an appeal to his animal nature, “command this stone to become bread.” But even that was more about misusing power than simply satisfying hunger. The devil prefaces his temptation with a taunt, “If you are the Son of God…” How many people fall into sin just to prove something? They want other people to realize that they are a someone you don't mess with or a real man or a sensual woman or nobody’s fool. We can only resist such temptations by joining ourselves to Jesus – the one person who has nothing to prove.

The next two temptations are clearly spiritual. No animal craves power and self-exaltation as we humans do. The devil offers it for a price: immersing ourselves in the culture of death, that is, worshipping him. After that comes despair, “throw yourself down from here.”

Mel Gibson tells about having everything our society values: success, good looks, money, prestige, adoring members of the opposite sex who would do anything for a moment with him. He had it all, yet felt so empty and miserable that he wanted to throw himself out of a window.

Faith, the working of grace, pulled Gibson back from the brink. He produced The Passion as a personal testament. The movie has evoked great interest. It poses the central question: how we relate to the sufferings of Christ. Is human suffering merely a cosmic absurdity or does it have some meaning and value? Or to put it another way: If we recognize that the source of man’s inhumanity to man is distorted spirituality, that suffering has a spiritual cause, does it also have a spiritual solution?

St. Paul lays out this challenge:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.


*In Zvi Kolitz's "Yosel Rakover's Appeal to God," a fictionalized account of notes found in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he writes: "The beasts of the field in their freedom and gentleness seem to be so lovable and dear that I feel a deep pain whenever I hear the evil fiends that lord it over Europe referred to as beasts. It is untrue that the tyrant who rules over Europe now has something of the beast in him. He is a typical child of modern man; mankind as a whole spawned him and reared him." See: We can master sin Torah Study by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

**Like the early Gnostics (and their modern counterparts such as Dan Brown) it is easy to congratulate oneself on being spiritual - as opposed to "materialistic" or even "so called religious" people. The Gnostics (like Himmler) felt they could engage in almost any kind of activity with no damage to their "spirituality." In the face of modern Gnostics we need to be clear that spirituality is not our goal. Our goal is God. We come to him not by some exalted spirituality, but by the cross.

People misunderstand St. Paul's contrast between the "spirit" and the "flesh." Notice that when he lists the sins of the flesh, he mentions the things we normally think of - drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, etc. - but also things like envy, anger, dissension, party spirit and jealousy. (Gal 5:19ff.) A person with an exalted spirituality not only can readily fall into those sins, but even take them as added proof of his high spiritual plane. For St. Paul "flesh" is distorted spirituality.

Versión Castellana

Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies):

First Things: Prayer (2016)
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"):

2016: First Things: Prayer
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 1
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 1
2013: Do Not Talk to the Devil
2012: The Convenant with Noah Today
2011: The Purpose of Temptation
2010: Who Is Like God?
2009: Knee Mail
2008: The Devil is a Logician
2007: More Powerful than Satan
2006: Sir, Go on the Other Side
2005: The Temptation of Sloth
2004: Temptation of Spirituality
2003: Lent with C.S. Lewis
2002: First Signs of Spring
2001: How Satan Operates
2000: The Rabbit's Foot
1999: Original Sin & Temptation
1998: Hidden Sin of Gluttony
1997: Jesus' Temptation & Ours

Ash Wednesday Homilies:

First Things
New Mind and Hear
Go to Your Inner Room
Return to Me
The Purpose of Lent
Two Cheers for Catholic Guilt
Don't Waste This Crisis
When You Give Alms
Back to the Basics
Dealing With Guilt
Exercise of Holy Desire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Divine Mercy visit, Gay Marriage, Is Passion too violent for teenagers?)


Information and Registration form for Fr. Corapi Conference (March 5-6, Holy Family, Seattle)

Pictures of Brigittine Monastery & Monks

How is one saved, Sir?

Slippery Slopes

Mark Shea on the problem with zero tolerance thinking

And from Seattle's Liberal Larry: Bush Hates Gays (for the humor impaired this is what you call satire)


Here is my review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ

Discussion Points on John Jay Report on Clergy Sex Abuse of Minors (from Archdiocese of Seattle)

my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood

Archbishop Dolan: Letting Crisis Pregnancy Centers Do Their Work


my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)

Parish Picture Album

Separated at birth?

SMV Bulletin


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