Circular Letter: Lent 1992

The Temptations of Christ

Whoever comes to love our LORD, will also come to look at their own lot in life differently.  Love desires to share in the life of the beloved. Hence, the holy angels will draw every GOD-loving soul into our LORD’s life in time and beyond, and similarly into the life of the Holy Church as it is presented to us in the unfolding of the liturgical year.  These souls, within the limitations of human comprehension, will also sense the unfathomable depths of Holy Scripture.

During the holy Christmas cycle we were introduced into our LORD’s Life, Birth and Childhood, our hearts having been deeply touched by that overflowing grace in the simple poverty of the shepherds. Now, however, as we enter the Lenten cycle, we are called upon to experience the desert, hunger, thirst, and solitude in the midst of trials. With our hearts and minds ever more responsive to what our LORD took upon Himself in the mystery of His temptations, let us accompany HIM in these forty days in the desert!

In the temptations of CHRIST by Satan, the Prince of this world, we can see the three characteristic and profound capital temptations of mankind.  For in and about each person are focused the three great objectives of the Evil One:

To strike GOD by means of the physical creation; To strike GOD through His creaturely likeness, man; and finally, To strike GOD directly by the Evil One himself, the anti-god.

The First Temptation

Matter, food, is at the core of the  first  temptation, but also — with a tremendously sure instinct — the Adversary uses bread in its transformation as bait. “Bread and Circuses” — guaranteed good food and plenty of pleasure have always been the net with which to catch a worldly, decadent people.Taken individually and collectively, man falls easy prey to this purely material temptation, because he wants to remain in this security, and cares neither to be transformed himself nor to be part of any transformation whatsoever.

Satan knows perfectly well that there is a Divine, sacred transformation.  It began with the Incarnation of the SON of GOD.  But when  the Incarnation was to take place, and who the SON of GOD was to be were things hidden from the Evil One.  He merely suspected in restless doubt, and so it was that he approached JESUS in an attempt to uncover the mystery.  He offered JESUS h i s blasphemous imitation: magical transformation, in which something apparently useless is changed into something useful, like changing stones into bread, and lead into gold, etc.  (The tempter gladly sees his reprobates as alchemists).  This purely material transformation is intended to be, and actually becomes, the core of all temptations of mankind. Does the Apostle not say, “The love of money is the root of all evil”? (1 Ti 6,10).  This temptation aims at situating man more and more securely and comfortably in his earthly life, thus causing him to deny and forget his eternal destiny: his life and transformation in GOD.  Presently, mankind is increasingly succumbing to this temptation, such that  everything is seen in terms of its financial value.   In the process, men even try to turn creation, including their fellow-men and themselves, spiritually into ‘bread.’  As a consequence,  they destroy themselves, becoming sterile and like stones.

Our LORD’s answer is simple and sober: “Man does not live by bread alone…”  HE affirms the order of creation manifest in man’s need for food.  But HE simultaneously veils His own mystery of the Divine Bread, which contains the transformation unto eternal life.  HE Himself is this Divine Bread.  HE is the WORD, from Whom all words come forth.  HE shows us the true path which leads over our daily bread up to Himself.

We may also ask why in the desert CHRIST refused to turn stones into bread, whereas at the wedding feast at Cana HE turned water into wine.  The answer is immediately apparent:  The tempter was actually offering CHRIST an alternative to the CROSS.   The Blessed Mother, on the other hand, did not hesitate to request this miracle, knowing that the Incarnation itself was the beginning of the Divine transformation, of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and that she would share in the mystery of her SON.  She understood also that this miracle would hasten CHRIST’s hour of the Passion where in the winepress HE would be crushed into the New Wine of the New and Everlasting Covenant.

The Second Temptation

In the second temptation, the Evil One steps into the very domain of GOD.  He hopes to strike GOD in man, by trying to prod GOD’s Servant, JESUS, into disregarding the Laws of GOD, as if they did not exist for Him, being too slight and insignificant.  (Under this category fall all the vain temptations which incline us to treat ourselves as if we were special cases exempt from the law). The angels whom the tempter quotes will catch HIM lest HE dash His foot against a stone (cf. Ps. 91, 12) are to be the witnesses of this seduction.  If this Jesus should not be dashed to His death in the plunge, then the secret of the Messiah will have been brought to light.  In fact, the tempter, rather than aspiring to CHRIST’s death at this point, would himself catch HIM with the help of his demons, thereby subjecting HIM to his own perverse purposes.  For this is, indeed, the path of all false prophets, heretics, gnostics and sectarian leaders: the devil stimulates their appetite for power by collaborating in extraordinary works that cause sensation — cures, visions, fortune-telling. Then he uses these people as tools to prepare and consolidate his position as sole prince of the world.  Again, our LORD foiled his plans by His humble submission to the will of the FATHER manifest in the laws of nature: “It is written, you shall not tempt the LORD, thy GOD!”

The Third Temptation

In the third  temptation Satan claims power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world. In the first two temptations, he had been hesitant and fearful that CHRIST, despite His humble appearance and poverty, might actually be the promised SON of GOD. Therefore, he addressed HIM, “If you are the SON of GOD,…” thus hoping to lure HIM into an admission or into vanity.  Although our LORD’s answers point to GOD alone, as ours should, the Adversary is still satisfied that he has but a mere man before him, although one of great holiness. 

Since CHRIST had already twice scorned Satan’s pomps and manifested unequivocally and uncomprisingly His exclusive will for GOD, the tempter lets his mask fall in the third temptation.  For us to comprehend the horrifyingly deplorable state of the world, we have only to recall that JESUS Himself refers to the adversary as “Prince of this World.”  To be able to strike GOD directly by himself, the anti-god is willing to let it cost him dearly.  He would literally give the whole world and all its glory, if he could only wound GOD full in the Heart.  However, in the hour of darkness, when  this world’s prince finally did wound GOD directly in the Heart with the centurian’s lance, he definitively lost dominion over this world to the Paschal Lamb, to the Prince of Peace.

Presently, though, let us direct our attention to the third temptation, truly the most terrible one, for it takes place daily and even hourly, in the midst of our lives, whenever the Evil One diverts man’s will from GOD in order to enthrone the EGO in his heart.  There has perhaps been no other epoch so totally given over to self, to ruthlessness, to ambition and the thirst for power.  Like a new ‘original sin’ the Evil One fans the passion of egoism from childhood on so as to destroy the created order in man at an early age, thus enabling every one to become their own god.  Time and again, the Enemy whispers and cajoles: “All this shall be yours, if you but worship yourself.” He knows full well that man cannot worship himself except by worshipping the Prince of this World — and they will see what a paradise he has in store for them!

This last temptation is the temptation of the Spirit.  The Adversary wills to eliminate and to exclude every efficacy of the HOLY SPIRIT within the world.  GOD SPIRIT is light in terms of human conceptualization: light of love, light of understanding, light of holiness.  Lucifer, however, as the uppermost of all the unfaithful spirits, calls himself the Light-Bearer. It is with his light alone that Lucifer wants to illumine the world, errant a light as it is.  How innumerable are the children of this world who run after this false light!

By His answer in this last temptation, JESUS offers us the proper guidelines.  In such circumstances, we must imitate CHRIST and say: “Begone Satan!  For it is written: The LORD your GOD shall you adore, and Him only shall you serve!”

Accordingly: Begone Satan, who seeks to defeat me by inciting my own ego, who constantly tempts me to self-pity, self-exaltation and self-centeredness.  By continuous preoccupation with self and self-dialogue you seek to divide and to cut off our spirit from GOD the HOLY SPIRIT.  You drive us to ever more frantic activity and productivity, so that we might stuff our hollowness and interior emptiness with material success, and then fall prematurely like a worm-eaten piece of fruit.

Souls, O souls, wake up!  The cock has already crowed twice!  You have already betrayed the LORD  many more than three times!  Wake up and save your lives, for no one knows the hour, in which HE, your GOD, shall call you to give an accounting for your life.

Prayer: LORD JESUS CHRIST, by Your words: ‘Come and follow ME,’ YOU call us to enter these days of grace-filled, earnest reflection and transformation and to be with YOU even at the foot of Your Cross.  O LORD, grant us Your angels as helpers and guides with their unerring light and strength, that we may ever be conscious of Your Divine gaze, and so learn again to bend our stiff necks, to relax our cramped fingers and open anew our cold hearts to YOU in love and sacrifice.  Accept us, O LORD, for all our weakness and misery.  Free us from the snares of the world and our own self-love, and grant that, at the hand of our angels, we might enter with YOU through Golgotha into the Jubilation of Easter.  Amen.

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