The Association of Priests in the Opus Angelorum is for those who feel called by God to pastorally assist the faithful of the OA in their region and/or for those who want to find some spiritual support in their priestly ministry through clerical reunions of prayer and retreats. The monthly Circular Letter with meditations on the angels in Scripture is intended as an (unofficial) instrument of common formation and as a help towards deeper communion with the holy angels and among ourselves. It is directed to all bishops, priests and deacons who are particularly interested in collaborating with the holy angels and to the members of the Association itself.

XXII, March/April 2016

“… tempted by the devil” (Lk 4:2)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

When St. Luke describes the first steps of Jesus' public life, he accentuates the guidance by the Holy Spirit: "The holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove" at his Baptism on the Jordan (Lk 3:22). "Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert." (4:1) And "when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit" (4:12-13).

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. It is therefore clear that it was the positive Will of the Holy Spirit, always united with the Father and the Son, that Jesus was to "be tempted by the devil" (4:2-14). We dealt elsewhere on another occasion about both the positive purpose of temptations in general as a test as well as about the three particular temptations mentioned in the gospels. St. Thomas gives the following explanation for the temptations of Jesus in the desert: "Christ wished to be tempted; first that He might strengthen us against temptations…; secondly, that we might be warned, so that none, however holy, may think himself safe or free from temptation…, thirdly, in order to give us an example; to teach us, to wit, how to overcome the temptations of the devil" (Summa Theologiae, p. III, q. 41, a.1).

1. JESUS between the devil and the holy Angels

Contrary to St. Matthew and St. Mark, St. Luke does not explicitly mention the presence of the holy Angels, neither during nor after the devil's presence. Perhaps, the repeated reference to the Holy Spirit and the free will with which Jesus went to face the tempter made it self-evident. In any case, we do well to understand the Holy Spirit's presence in the life of Jesus – together with His servants, the holy Angels – inasmuch as this is an example for us.

a) The battle between good and evil

Jesus entered the battle between good and evil. This brings us once more back to paradise where we found man between the fallen and good angel. Adam and Eve fell prey to the enemy's seductions; Luke's gospel similarly begins with an encounter with an angel, this time St. Gabriel who announces good news, first to the hesitant doubtful Zachariah, and then to the humble, obedience Virgin Mary.

These scenes remind us that all of us find ourselves placed between good and fallen spirits. Note, the distinction: no demon could ever muster the humility and patience which God asks of our personal Guardian Angel, namely, to remain at our side all our life long, "in good and bad times." In fact, such a fallacious ideas lead to the dangerous dualistic understanding of our situation which the Church rejects:

"Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations: (a) when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and daemons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer; (b) when the daily events of life … are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels" (Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 2001, 217).

b) God's sovereignty and ours

The Church defends the freedom of rational creatures, not only that of our Lord Jesus Christ who commands the fallen angels and they obey him (cf. Mk 1: 27). Saint Faustina observed once, to her own surprise: "The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God" (Diary 741). As the Lord, Creator of the angels, so we too are sovereign before the good and fallen angels: "Your free will is your greatest blessing or your greatest curse" wrote Mother Gabriele Bitterlich (Maxim I,21). On the downside she noted: "the heaviest cross is always the one we make for ourselves" (X, 9). And in the Imitation of Christ we read: "Your self-love harms you more than anything in the world" (IC, III,27). This tells us that temptation itself does not cause damage nor does it mean that we have already sinned. Thomas à Kempis explains that temptation starts with a simple attractive thought; to this comes vivid and powerful imaginings which, third, awake lust and pleasure in the sensitive appetite. And then only does the temptation reach the will where it solicit a decision. Only with the will's consent does anyone commit a sin. Evidently, the quicker we react against temptation, the weaker the attack. (Cf. IC, I, 13).

2. The tempter and his temptations

Temptation shall occur throughout our life. Surely for this reason the Lord wanted to give us an example.

a) The tempter

We see the devil approaching Jesus in the desert, in a lonely place and "when they (the forty days) were over" and "he was hungry" (Lk 4:3) the devil approached him. Solitude as distance from creatures is good (cf. John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, 74.8-10), and so is fasting as it frees us from any slavery to earthly pleasures. However, such circum-stances make us also more vulnerable and needy, thus more sensitive to various suggestions. Popular wisdom has it: First you have to dry the wood, then you can get it to burn (cf. Lk 23:31). We can distinguish different temptations; the three temptations mentioned in the gospel reflect man's life in relation to the material things which may attract man both physically and spiritually. They also correspond to to the three stages of the spiritual life: First, beginners are attacked through attraction towards creatures. If they try to respond with the practice of virtue, they are assaulted with discouragement. Secondly, should the devil have failed in the foregoing, he turns to the use of pride to destroy whatever moral good may have been achieved. Finally, if the tempter continues to have no success, and man is advancing towards union, the devil a full range of offerings and attacks in any way possible, ; ultimately, though, he has one goal: he asks plainly to adore him.

b) The temptation to desist

We may meet people who complain: "The more I pray the more I get attacked. I don't want to pray anymore." The experience is not uncommon, both with regards to the discouraging experience and to the inappropriate response! It is good when people speak up – the the right person – for then they can receive encouragement and fitting orientation. The Catechism speaks of "discouragement" in prayer and attributes it "to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart" (CCC 2733).

In this context it should be understood that a stronger test is necessary the more perfect the soul becomes. The more prayerful a soul become, the more sensitive it becomes for the evil without. God allows it to be attacked more vigorously. Indeed, the devil becomes more active the further the soul moves away from him. Therefore, when the soul senses more intense spiritual struggles, the more she should resolve not to turn back. To the contrary, such difficulties should difficulties are generally an indication of her progress, which fact should encourage her to move forward with confident resolve: "The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy" (ibid.). The more resolute our resistance, the more quickly (generally speaking) shall we rout temptations.

3. The goal of all …

One of the hardest lessons in the spiritual life is to recognize and accept our own "nothingness". It is not we, who can turn ourselves into saints, but God! It is not our 'justice' which opens heaven's gates before us, but rather His mercy!

a) Discover and handle our nothingness

Jesus, fortunately, strikes a deadly punch to our "selfish love", to our "Ego": "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5); and:

"To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the 'nothingness of the creature' who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name (cf. Lk 1:46-49). The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world." (CCC 2097)

Therefore, the Church tells us to pray: "Surrender to God and He will do everything for you!" (Liturgy of the Hours, 1st Ant. in Off. of Read., on Tuesday, 2nd Week in Ordinary Time). "I can refuse nothing to the soul who expects everything from Me. Souls are too little aware how much I long to help them and how much they glorify Me by their confidence and their self-surrender" (Josepha Menendez, The Way of Divine Love). And the Church assures us: "I put all my trust in the Lord, and he has not failed me" (Liturgy of the Hours, 3rd Ant., Daytime Prayer on Friday, 1st Week in Ordinary Time).

b) Not helpless but hopeful

Difficulties and even temptations challenge us to move forward. Trials are graces. Seen from this side, we may even call them "servants of the Lord" who invite us to grow in detachment, to grow in trust, exactly when we arrive at the end of our capacities. God is waiting, and more: He is looking out for every soul: "while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Lk 15:20).

With the Father, the good and faithful angels are waiting for a chance to help, assist and lead us. We learn: "When the Angel lends us his eyes, he does this, so that we can better and more clearly recognize the will of God. But if the Angel lends us his strength, he does this, so that we can carry out the will of God more clearly and consistently." (G. Bitterlich, Maxim I,16 and 17). When heaven seems to high and far away, let us release our clinging to the earthly ballast which holds us down; let us consider all the saints whose hopeful trust and longing let them rise above earthly things and soar up to God.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the desert, who exposed him to this encounter with the devil. He also led him victoriously out of it: "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit" (Lk 4:14). Let us ask him with his servants, the good angels, to also guide our life according to God's most holy will. Then we can walk in peace where ever our way with God takes us, unworried about whatever may come up, for we are always in the hands of the Almighty who leads us to victory.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


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