Tag Archives: temptation

Friday Thoughts: Angels

Jan Gossaert Agony in the Garden detail..

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:

‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship

and him alone shall you serve.’”

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.

—Matthew 4:8-11


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Angels.

What if we could see them?

They exist. They don’t have bodies. They are purely spiritual beings.

What if we focused on them?

What if we focused on them helping God’s people?

Perhaps then we’d better see?

Perhaps then we’d realize how conscious God is of our frailty?

Perhaps then we’d have more compassion toward those whom we are tempted to criticize and condemn?

Perhaps then we’d be more like God’s holy angels— “ministering to” and “strengthening” those whose turn it is to undergo great strain?


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Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

—Luke 22:39-46


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—Howard Hain

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Jan_Gossaert_-_Agony_in_the_Garden_-_WGA9761

Jan Gossaert, “Agony in the Garden”, ca. 1510 

 

Ist Sunday of Lent: The Human Jesus

 

To listen to today’s homily please play the audio selection below:

Mark’s gospel gives a short, straightforward account of Jesus facing temptation after his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. In just four lines he says that

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,

and he remained in the desert for forty days,

tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts,
and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1, 12-13)

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 4,1-11) gives a more extensive account of the temptations Jesus faced, as does Luke who follows Matthew rather closely. (Luke 4,1-13)

In John’s gospel we have no account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, but in chapter 1, 10-11 he says “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” A strong indication of the opposition that Jesus, the Word of God, received when he came into this world.

He was opposed. He did not come among us as a kind of superman, immune from human hurt or human frailty. He was tempted, the gospels say, opposed by “Satan” by “the world” and even by “his own.” So strong was the opposition that it eventually put him to death.

It’s so important to see the human Jesus, his vulnerability, how like us he was. Yes, he was God’s Son, but the Word became flesh, St. John says. Equal to God, he emptied himself, St. Paul says, and took the form of a slave, and became obedient even to death on the cross.

When we look at Jesus in his humanity, we wonder, first of all, at God’s love coming to a world of weakness and frailty, our world. We can also see ourselves in his humanity, in the temptations and opposition he faces as a human being in his lifetime, and particularly as he enters his Passion.

Of all the gospels, Mark’s gospel gives us the most realistic picture of the human Jesus. Mark doesn’t describe the temptations Jesus faces in the desert at the beginning of his gospel because he will describe them as Jesus makes his way through the towns of Galilee where he gathers disciples and meets opposition from the scribes and Pharisees. The growing opposition he meets there leads to Jerusalem, where he’s put to death.

Mark’s account of the Passion of Jesus shows us Jesus fearful in the garden and crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

When we see Jesus we see ourselves. We live in a world where we face temptation. When we look to him, however, we see where our wisdom and strength and courageous patience can come from. Following Jesus, we will live.

The Pope’s Decision

We’re learning things all the time. One thing most of us may have learned for the first time from Pope Benedict last Monday was that popes could resign.  But I think there are two other things we learned from the pope that may be far more important, namely we should make decisions conscientiously and we need to accept reality as we go through life.

I’d like to reflect on those two lessons from the pope’s statement of resignation:

“ After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.

“However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

First, notice that a lot of the reasons people usually give for a decision like that are absent from the pope’s statement. He doesn’t say the doctors told him to step down, or his friends advised him, or he’s just sick and tired of it all, or for political reasons someone else is needed at this time.

No. He says simply that he has stood repeatedly before God as his ultimate judge; he’s looked honestly at himself and his situation and come to a decision. He’s brought himself as he is to God and asked God to judge his action. He’s trying to live conscientiously, following his conscience in its best sense. Conscience doesn’t mean  where I stand, but where I stand before God.

To me the pope’s decision looks like a good example of living conscientiously.  That’s what we’re all called to do too. We all called to decide on things by standing before God and looking honestly at ourselves and our situation.

Of course, facing  reality and our own situation isn’t easy. Last year I read Pope Benedict’s book “Jesus of Nazareth” in which he comments on the Temptation of Jesus in the desert, which we read on the 1st Sunday of Lent. I went back to that book recently and I think it can put some perspective on the difficulty we have in facing reality.

After his baptism in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted for 40 days. The pope calls that command a surprise. After his baptism we would expect a celebration, but instead of celebrating, Jesus is led into the desert to confront Satan.

The 40 day experience Jesus has there is a mirror of what he will experience the rest of his life.  “He descends into the perils besetting humanity, for there is no other way  to lift fallen humanity. Jesus has to enter the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission. He has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths, in order to find the lost sheep, to bear it on his shoulders and bring it home.” (Jesus of Nazareth, from the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, New York 2007,   p 26)

Jesus is the Messiah whom God sends to save his people. But in the desert–and all through his life– he’s tempted by Satan to be a Messiah of another kind. Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan… an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.”

Luke’s gospel describes the temptations of Jesus in interesting detail.  Jesus is hungry; “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. “You’re above the ordinary laws of life.”  From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power.”

The temptations Jesus faced are those we face.  We’re tempted to want to control things: our health, our wealth, other people, the world we live in. These are messianic temptations.  We’d like the world to be on our side, to be liked, to be respected, to fit in; we like to control God. In the Our Father we say “ your will be done, your kingdom come.” Our temptation is to say “my will, my kingdom come.”

I may be mistaken but did the pope experience this mystery in making his great decision? We all experience it, that’s why this gospel is the first gospel we read in Lent, the first lesson we learn in this season. Like Jesus we experience temptation. Like Jesus we’ll have angels to come and support us. We pray they support the pope.  “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Temptations are Teachers

There are two wonderful posts in the blogs from Commonweal Magazine for March 22,

One by  Fr. Joseph Komonchak, “Finding  out who you are,” the other by J.Peter Nixon “Spiritual Excercises.”

The first is a quote from St. Augustine on temptation. I hope Fr. Komonchak wont mind if  I give in to the temptation to steal from him:

“Is God so ignorant of things, does he know so little about the human heart, that he can find what a man is only by testing him? Of course not, the testing is so that the man can find himself….

“You should recognize that God does not need to test in order to learn something he did not know before; it’s so that by his testing, by his investigating, what is hidden in someone might come out. A person is not as well known to himself as he is to his Creator, an ill person doesn’t know himself as well as his doctor. Someone becomes ill, and he’s the one suffering, not the doctor, but it’s from the one not suffering that the sufferer expects to hear what’s wrong.

“The Psalmist cries out: “Cleanse me, Lord, from my hidden things” (Ps 18:13). In any person there are things hidden to the very one in whom they exist. They don’t come out, aren’t laid open, aren’t discovered, except by his being tested. If God ceases to test, the teacher ceases to teach….

“Why do I say this? Because a person is ignorant of himself until he learns who he is by being tested. But once he has learned who he is, let him not be careless about himself. If he was careless when he lay hidden from himself, let him not be careless now that he knows himself.” (Augustine, Sermon 2, 2-3; PL 38-28-29)

St. Paul of the Cross has a similar view of temptation, as far as my reading of him teaches me. He tells people not to be afraid of temptations, or be ashamed of them; they’re teachers of humility and messengers to remind us who we are.  They lead us to God, our teacher, our doctor, the One who makes us whole.

J.Peter Nixon’s blog is about taking care of your body. See what he says for yourself.

 

St. Anthony of Egypt

Today’s the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt, the 3th century hermit who, through his biography written by St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, became one of the most important sources of spirituality in the Christian churches of the east and west.

He played a role in the conversion of St. Augustine, who was deeply moved by reading his life. He’s called the father of monasticism because of his influence on the monastic movement in the church after his death.

If you look at his life, you see a simple, ordinary man who took the gospel seriously. Artists love to dramatize Anthony fighting temptations, which he did. But his temptations, when you look at them, are remarkably like our own–if we look at them.

They were constant and varied, sometimes to pride, to crippling anxiety, to lust, to pleasure. They were complex, shifting and troublesome.

For him temptation meant, not only confronting some sudden evil choice, but struggling through life with recurring doubts and deeply held illusions that weigh down the human heart. Temptation for Anthony was a part of human experience, and he showed it was also part of the experience of a saint.

He found, too, that temptation, far from being a time when God abandons someone, is a time when God is near. Beyond increasing self-knowledge, which it does, the experience of temptation reveals to the human heart the power of God’s grace. As he got older, he got increasingly optimistic. His constant message to others was:”Don’t be afraid.”

That’s one of the reasons people were attracted to this ordinary man: he was real, and he shared that experience with others. Speaking to him, they saw themselves as they were and as they could be.

St. Athanasius writes: “Seeing him, the villagers and those who knew him called him a friend of God, and they loved him as a son and as a brother.”