Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent and Temptations

I believe that all Catholics (Christians) desire to do good, to do what is pleasing to God, to be molded into the image of the Beloved, His Son, Jesus Christ. As for myself, many times I know what to do but find myself unable to do what I should do. It is not as if I am incapable; it is as if I am mired in a tar pit, everything little thing requiring the utmost of energy. Many times, seeing little to no fruit for my labors, I resignedly think, “What is the use; how is this going to benefit anyone?” For Lent this year, I am reading Michael Aimino’s book, A Journey into the Wilderness: Forty Days of Lent. Included in his meditation for today, the day after Ash Wednesday, he wrote: “…there are times when we wonder if our efforts really make any difference.

On those days when we wonder if our work matters, it helps to remember that it is not so much the results that count, but that we make the effort to work in cooperation with a much greater plan and design, for a much greater purpose than we realize.” It is something that I knew; however, I often let the visual, or perception, inundate truth. We are responsible for the labor when it comes to the Kingdom; we are not responsible for producing the fruit. That is up to the Holy Spirit. As Mr. Aimino surmises, “When we place our work in the context of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of justice and love, then every little effort, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is helping to build something that really, truly matters.”

As an individual, we are not the Church; nonetheless, we are a microcosm of the Catholic Church. Therefore, when we repent of one sin as an individual, it has a tremendous effect upon the universal (redundancy intended) Catholic Church. Although sin is a personal act, it affects more than the individual. Our Catechism defines “sin:”
“Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain gods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’ (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas). 
Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight’ (Ps 51.4). Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.” (Para 1849, 1850)
Therefore, every sin we commit, we are sinning against God, human nature itself, and against the Church. Contrariwise, every act of good (holiness) praises God and helps heal human nature and the Church. We are a functioning part of a living organism, the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is not an organization; it is a living organism, the visible Christ on earth.

We are in the second day of Lent. Lent consists of giving up something and doing something good. Some people give up chocolate, candy, soda, etc. When they desire the substance, they should turn their minds to God and pray instead of partaking in the thing they desire. What I would exhort people to do is: Do not only stop partaking during Lent, but completely, because the thing they are doing is fulfilling a desire of the flesh, turning their free will to satisfy themselves instead of God. We cannot honor God by honoring ourselves, which we do by fulfilling our desires. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. “On earth” means our bodies, which come from the earth. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” When we no longer desire the thing we have given up, let us do some introspection and give up another desire of the flesh.

“Desires of the flesh” make me think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Jesus, after His baptism, was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted, tested. Satan tempted Him. Was Satan visible to Jesus or invisible? Satan is a spirit. He can enter a person, but I do not know whether he is able to assume the likeness of a human body—unless, of course, God granted it. For me, personally, it aids me when I think that Satan tempted Jesus through His mind, His thoughts—remembering that Jesus was also wholly man and was tempted in every way that we are tempted. St. Thomas Aquinas believed, I think, that Satan was physically present to Jesus; however, he says that others believe otherwise. I don’t know; but, because Satan does not appear physically to me but tempts me many times through my mind, my thoughts, it helps me to think of Jesus being tempted in the same fashion.

Now, eating to stay alive is not a sin. When the disciples were walking through the grain fields and eating the grain because they were hungry, Jesus did not rebuke them; He rebuked the religious leaders. He did say to His disciples, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every words that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Likewise, He did not think this when He fed the five thousand. If we went one day without eating, having the power to convert a stone into a pepperoni pizza, what would we do? Turn the stone into a pepperoni pizza. Why was it wrong for Jesus to turn stone into bread? Jesus went without food and water for forty days. It is my understanding that it is impossible for a man to live forty days without water, let alone food—without the intervention of God. Jesus knew His mission; He knew why He was being tested; therefore, He knew His Father would keep Him. Nevertheless, He was starving because He was a man.

Because Jesus knew the Father’s will, that He was sent to redeem mankind, He knew that the Father was not going to let Him die of thirst or starvation. If we tried to go forty days without drinking or eating, we would be tempting God. Jesus needed to undergo severe temptations, more than any single individual would undergo in order that He would understand “firsthand” the temptations that a human being undergoes. He now “knows” how weak we are. He “knows” how to help us, when to actually deliver us and when to just give us grace to endure. We no longer can blame God. We see the Son of God, who is also Son of Man, overcoming the most brutal of temptation in another Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. Last but not least—really, most importantly—He underwent the temptations as part of our salvation. Humanity had to overcome everything that humanity succumbed to in the Fall.

Where the Head goes, the Body must follow. Jesus forewarns us that because He was persecuted we must also be persecuted. Likewise, if He was severely tempted, at times the Church—and her members—must also be severely tempted. It is only because Jesus persevered through the severest of trials that the martyrs of the Church were able to endure their martyrdom. God will give us the grace to endure and to persevere. Are we not willing to give up one desire of the flesh at a time? The desires of the flesh are burdens that keep us from up the “ladder of Ascent.” The more burdens we relieve ourselves of, the higher and faster we will be able to ascend.
--Tommy Turner

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