Unless we realize that Christ was truly man, as well as truly God, we cannot understand how Satan could tempt him. Unless we constantly recall that Satan, rejected once, will try again and again on another opportunity, we cannot appreciate what a persistent nuisance he is.
All human beings are subjected to temptations. St. Anthony of Egypt is the saint best equipped to be a patron of those tested by Satan. St. Jerome tells us his story.
Anthony, who flourished in the third century, had left his Egyptian village to escape the temptations that arise in civil society. But when he went off to the inhabited desert to live as a hermit, Satan and Co. followed him. To prevent him from becoming holier, they attacked him in every possible way with all sorts of wild visions and even physical violence. When he fasted or prayed more vigorously, they tried to persuade him he was not fasting and praying enough. If he could not be tricked into presumption, they thought they might trick him into despair. Anthony resisted, but it was a lonely fight.
One day, however, when the hordes of hell had beaten him up within an inch of his life, a ray of light suddenly fell on him from heaven, and the devils took flight.
Panting, but now at peace, Anthony addressed God, whose presence he sensed in the light. “Where were you my Lord and Master?” he asked, a bit impatiently. “Why didn’t you appear at the beginning to stop my pain?”
God answered “Anthony, I was right here, but I wanted to see you in action. And now, because you held out and did not surrender, I will ever be your helper, and I will make you renowned everywhere.”
St. Paul has given us the same assistance of God’s presence: “He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” (1 Cor. 10:13). We must be on guard against Satan, but not afraid of him. God is on our side so long as we are on His. The devil will always prove to be what he really is – a sissy.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q568: What is the basic lesson in those desert temptations of Jesus by the devil?
There is a profound lesson for us contained within the experience and example of Jesus, as described by Luke in today’s gospel (Luke 4:1-13). He is teaching us about prayer, fasting, temptation, and above all obedience to God.
First, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to a place where he could become quiet for prayer and focus on his heavenly Father. Jesus fasted for forty days—which in biblical language simply means a long time. The primary purpose of fasting is to free ourselves from the tyranny of material possessions (i.e., food), so that we can recognize and acknowledge our total reliance on God. It also helps us to turn our focus away from Self, and recognize the needs of our fellow human beings.
Jesus was tempted three times. The action involving Jesus just prior to today’s episode was his baptism—at which time he was indentified by his Father’s heavenly voice as the Beloved Son who pleased Him (Luke 3:22, RSV). Immediately thereafter came the triple temptation by the evil one—an obvious attempt to shift Jesus’ attention and desires to the passing delights of worldly values (especially power). The evil spirit wanted to turn Jesus into a “displeasing son” (as John Pilch, Ph.D. describes the scene).
Jesus’ response provides us with our fourth example to guide us today: always be obedient to the word of God. He quotes from Deuteronomy 8 three times, showing us his total dependence on his Father’s word—the word of Holy Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is his guide.
This becomes the lifeline of each one of us. Every time we enter a Catholic Church we pause at the baptismal font and remember our baptismal promises to reject Satan and all his temptations. We fast to put us in touch with God and the needs of others. And we pray in total humility and dependence upon our God.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Satan will tempt each of us to doubt God’s love, providence, and power. Follow Jesus’ example and respond to temptation like he did (CCC #2119).
Not By Bread Alone
Picture the Israelite bringing his basket of bread to the Temple and hear his prayer: “My father was a wandering Aramaean…” This passage from the Book of Deuteronomy gives us a moving prayer of thanksgiving but it is more than that. It is a confession of faith, a creed, a statement about who God is and who we are. This God is the Creator who made the earth and made it produce its fruits. He is also the redeemer, the God who rescued them from Egypt and gave them the land. Thus in word and deed the Israelites acknowledged their dependence on God. Then we see Jesus spend forty days in the desert as the Israelites spent forty years in the desert. Jesus is faced with each of the temptations that the Israelites gave in to. But Jesus does it right, responding to each temptation with a quote from Deuteronomy. This is his confession of faith and trust in the Father and his commitment to doing the will of the Father.
Lord Jesus, in baptism we make our confession of faith and commitment to in union with yours. When we meet the temptations that you met: to physical satisfaction, to power, to test God’s love, give us the courage and help to live out our faith every day of our lives.