September 27, 2023

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Temptation. Every First Sunday of Lent features one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) starts with a story of Jesus' temptation in the desert by Satan. If you are like me, you find it challenging that you are tempted. But many saints tell us that temptation and suffering is a sign of a loving God, not necessarily a bad thing. How can this be?
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Today’s Going Behind the Word is an extension of the homily which talked about the important value of temptation in our lives. The homily discusses how Jesus provides a model for each of us to overcome our temptations.

Going Behind the Word

Every First Sunday of Lent features one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) starts with a story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert by Satan. If you are like me, you find it challenging that you are tempted. But many saints tell us that temptation and suffering is a sign of a loving God, not necessarily a bad thing.

How is Temptation a Good Thing?

But how can this be? And why is this suggested? Let’s take a look at the grace of God and its place in our spiritual lives. Remember that grace is that gift from God that helps us to grow closer to Him. And we receive grace in a number of ways.

Sanctifying Grace

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Sanctifying grace is that grace we receive that always stays with us. When we were baptized we received sanctifying grace. It is this grace that would rightly be called that supernatural gift that means we can live forever.

It is why it is baptism is so important for Catholics, because when we are baptized it contains the means of our salvation. (This is not to suggest God cannot choose to save whomever He wishes.) By removing original sin, and if we were baptized after the age of reason, the forgiveness of our actual sins too.

This sanctifying grace then, is always with us. Actual grace changes our soul in a very real way. It is why we cannot be baptized more than once. It provides lasting grace because of its supernatural power. In fact, we might say that sanctifying grace is the supernatural life.

Actual Grace

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Actual grace is that grace that God gives us in particular, specific instances. We grow in faith by our response to the actual grace God gives to us. Actual grace is related to supernatural grace because God’s gift of actual grace is what seeks to influence our intellect and will to make those choices that lead us closer to God.

When we commit a mortal sin, the sanctifying grace is not active. Our soul is spiritually dead. Yet when we repent, or convert, it is a response to the actual grace that God gives us. And when we go to the Sacrament of Confession, our supernatural grace is restored by God’s forgiveness of our mortal sins.

So What is the Connection with Temptation?

So when we consider the role of grace in those instances when we are tempted, we can begin to understand how temptation, when understood in the context of the grace God gives us, can be a sign of a growth in faith, not an elimination of faith.

This is because when we are tempted, it is the case that we are provided the grace to resist the temptation. So, when we are tempted, it is a sign that we care about the Law of God and living in a way that pleases him.

What is interesting is that rather be distressed that we are tempted, we should be grateful. It is when we are not feeling tempted at all, or ever, that is the time we should be concerned about our spiritual life. This is because it could be a sign that we are no longer care about God or growing in the spiritual life.

Jesus Helps Us Learn How to Face Temptation

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And so the reason we hear each First Sunday of Lent the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan is that in facing his own temptations Jesus shows to us how to face our own temptations. For we may not be tempted by the same things that Jesus was tempted by, but we can learn from the ways in which he responded.

The most important factor is that in the face of every temptation Jesus is grounded in the Word of God, which is a reflection of the fact that Jesus is the ultimate Word. And so to each temptation Jesus grounds himself in an appropriate part of Scripture that helps him to counter Satan and his attempt to lead Jesus away from the Father.

But it is not simply the use of Scripture, because Satan himself uses Scripture. It is in those moments of temptations that Jesus recalls his loving and grace-filled response to God. He can resist Satan because he remains in the strong and loving relationship He has with the Father.

Stay Close to the Sacraments

One way we can be certain we are living in this grace is to stay close to the Sacraments. Satan absolutely hates it when we go to Confession or go to Mass. Anytime we become closer to God that is something that Satan absolutely hates.

And, by staying close to the sacraments, we also stay close to seeing the world the way that God sees the world. And the more we see the world, our lives, and ourselves in the same way that God sees these things, the more we will recognize the grace that God constantly pours out to us to help us to grow in this faith.

The Bible Helps Us to See the World Like God

Another help is to read the bible, especially and probably importantly with a Catholic bible that has a really good commentary. In listening to the Bible in a Year Podcast (now for the second time) one insight I have gained is that much of the journey of the Israelites in the desert was a time of instruction, teaching Israelites what it meant to live the way God wanted them to live.

The time in the desert was also a time where the people learned about how to worship God. And the people learned what types of attitudes are most appropriate for worship. By becoming familiar with the bible, we become familiar with the way God sees, so that we are better able to be aware of God’s love and presence in our lives.

The Take-Away

And so while it may seem obvious, the way to deal with temptation is to remind ourselves of our relationship with God. It is to remind us that we always have that actual grace to resist. The more we can ground ourselves in this relationship we have with God, the more we can become holy.

Grow Spiritually this Lent

You can find podcasts, homilies and more on this website. The reflections are provided by students at Christian Brothers College High School. The readings of the day can be found on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In addition to the Confessions of Saint Augustine, the Friar Book Club is reading the Meditations for the Time of Retreat by Saint John Baptist de la Salle. If you have intentions you wish to have prayed for, you can do so on this website.

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