A Satanic Temptation

(Homily for Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Last Sunday we saw Jesus establishing a hierarchy - a sacred order. Today Satan reacts immediately by attacking that order. His ploy is to offer an easy solution to a terrible dilemma. Like all Satanic temptations, it is attractive - at least on the surface. Jesus had just told the disciples that, in order to accomplish his mission, he had to accept the torments of Roman crucifixion. They knew what that meant. After public humiliation, the condemned prisoner spent hours affixed to a beam, gasping for air. Peter reacted in a natural way, just what one would expect from the person second in command:

“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

Yet it was a satanic temptation. In fact, Peter is the only man in the Gospels whom Jesus addresses as “Satan.”

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”

The temptation must have enticed even Jesus – in his humanity. Faced with gastly torture, he would pray, “Father, if it is possible take this cup from me.” (Mt 26:39) To make such a prayer is only human. But that is precisely the problem. As Jesus tells Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” We are like an insect which alights on a great masterpiece. It does not see the picture, but only a few confusing lines and shades.

In today’s second reading St. Paul warns against this "human" (ungodly) way of thinking. "Do not conform yourselves to this age." (Rom 12:2) I have seen people with great fervor, including priests, gradually become empty. Setting aside the Liturgy of Hours, they read the daily paper, thinking it will tell them what is happening in the world. Influenced by stories which highlight Christian contradictions, they begin imagining themselves as bold rebels against an oppressive hierarchy. Unfortunately, they do not see what dreary comformists they have become.

I remember once listening to a Sister explain her ideas for Church reform. She was about my age (mid fifties) and the second youngest member of the community. Years back they stopped praying the Office, but they still get the morning paper. They sometimes even experience tension over who will get what section first. When she first entered her community, nuns stood out - not just for their manner of dress, but their way of thinking, relating. Now, sadly, most are indistinguishable from other women of their age group. The media does a powerful job leveling us.

Although newspapers and television have a certain value, they can also be an obstacle. They get in the way of what St. Paul calls the “renewal of the mind.” Only by it can one “discern the will of God.” That deep renewal requires prayer and spiritual reading. The early Fathers referred to this as lectio divina.* Unless a Christian has such a discipline, he will slide into a worldly way of thinking, without even realizing what has happened.

One of the dreams of Vatican II was that not only priests and deacons, but also laypeople would pray the Office.** This form of prayer has proven its effectiveness by centuries of experience. It helps a Christian avoid being fooled by satanic temptations and to recognize true profit and loss. Jesus states the issue bluntly: To gain the world at the cost of ones soul*** is a fool’s bargain. (Mt 16:26)

I would like to conclude with the words of a young woman who saw what was at stake. By extraordinary acts of self-denial, she showed her willingness to undertake any suffering in order to follow Christ. She lived in Peru about four hundred years ago. We know her as St. Rose of Lima. One of her writings has been incorporated into the Office of Readings:

“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.” (Office of Readings, August 23)


*The Catechism gives this description:

1177. "The hymns and litanies of the Liturgy of the Hours integrate the prayer of the psalms into the age of the Church, expressing the symbolism of the time of day, the liturgical season, or the feast being celebrated. Moreover, the reading from the Word of God at each Hour (with the subsequent responses or troparia) and readings from the Fathers and spiritual masters at certain Hours, reveal more deeply the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, assist in understanding the psalms, and prepare for silent prayer. The LECTIO DIVINA, where the Word of God is so read and meditated that it becomes prayer, is thus rooted in the liturgical celebration. "

**"Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually." (THE CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY #100)

***Greek: Psyche, inner being, ones very life, the soul.

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 4
2011: The Real Cross
2008: Not Spiritual, But Religious
2005: Get Behind Me, Satan!
2002: A Satanic Temptation
1999: Mater Sí, Magistra No?

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Maybe a comparison would help. Suppose that each time the media does an article on the Obama administration, they refer to the corruption of Chicago politics and the president's use of cocaine. Would that be fair?

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