In today’s Gospel, when Jesus was tempted in the desert, He was not simply in a sandy waste desert of the Sahara. Jesus was in the Palestinian desert that is dangerous, uncharted and inhabited by wild beasts and murderous bandits, and haunted by devils. Even as Jesus was alone, the Gospel tells us that He was filled with the Holy Spirit to protect Him from harm and empower Him to face all the challenges and temptations that were assaulting Him.
The three basic types of temptations that Jesus faced in the Gospel were three of many other temptations He faced over a period of forty days. These temptations are similar to the basic temptations that all of us as human beings face. According to St Ignatius of Loyola he speaks of the basic temptation of first, to material riches, then to honour and then finally to pride.
Thus, the harsh temptations and trials of the “Palestinian desert” that Jesus faced remind us too of the pattern of the basic temptations that we face dailly in our secular world.
Nigel Marsh, a well know author and entrepreneur concludes that, “There are thousands and thousands of people out there living lives of quiet, /screaming desperation /who work long, hard hours, at jobs they hate,/ to enable them to buy things they don’t need, /to impress people they don’t like.” How then do we cope and manage all these temptations in life and overcome them?
There is a story of a little chapel on the boarder of Venezuela and Columbia in South America. One Sunday morning, when Mass was about to begin a group of guerrillas fully armed with machine guns, rushed from their hideouts in the jungle and stormed into the chapel.
Some of the soldiers ran up to the altar, grabbed the priest, and dragged him outside and shot him. A hefty-looking guerrilla, who was obviously the leader, challenged the congregation in a booming voice, “Those of you who are deeply convinced of your Christian creed, stand up.”
There was a long pause. The people were frozen with fear. No one stirred. Finally, a man stood up, turned to the guerrilla chief and said, “I love and follow Jesus.” Immediately, the soldiers pounced on him and dragged him out to execute him. Slowly, one by one, several others took courage, stood up and expressed their faith in God and the Church. They were each driven out and also executed.
When there we no more people who dared to identify themselves as Christians, the guerrilla commander then ordered the remaining congregation to leave the chapel. As the people began to file out of the chapel, they were astonished to see that their priest and all the others whom they thought were executed for their faith outside and alive. The Commander then instructed the priest to lead his congregation back into the chapel to continue the Mass.
The commander then turned to those who did not dare to stand up for their faith and shouted, “Stay out of this chapel until you have the courage to stand up for your faith.” He then turned and rushed back into the jungle, with his men.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to overcome the trials and temptations of life, as Christians, then, we need to have the depth of faith and commitment to face them with courage like those who dared to stand up and be counted when challenged by the guerrilla commander. But, if we are so self-protective of our needs and if our love for God is so conditional that we easily pushed GOD to the background of our lives, then the trials and temptations that Jesus speak of in today’s Gospel will devour us, without even us knowing it because the devils’ strategy would simply be to give us a lot of lee-way and make us feel good about our faith, but at the same time allow us to compromise our faith easily when we are being challenged.
In the struggles of his life, Fr Henri Nouwen, a renowned Dutch spiritual writer who has authored many book, shares, “we are constantly facing choices. The question is whether our choice is for God or for our own doubting self. We all know what our right choices should be, but our emotions, passions and feelings keep urging us to choose the self-rejecting way.”
Fr Nouwen adds, “At the root of our choices is to trust God at all times and believe that He is with us and will give us the best of what we need most. However, our sceptical emotions may convince us into thinking that our trust in God is on shaky grounds . . . “that it isn’t going to work . . . that I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago . . . that I will probably fall back into my old depressive patterns of acting and reacting . . . that I haven’t really changed and so on an so forth” . . . and on and on like a sub-conscious broken record that replays itself. It is hard to listen to these voices. More so when we know that these are not voices of the Good Spirits.
On the contrary, if we open our hearts wide enough, we will be able to sense the Good Spirits, and the Will of God more clearly saying to us, “I love you and I am with you. I want you to come closer to me and experience the peace and joy of My Presence. In your trials, I want to give you a new heart and a new Spirit. I want you to speak with My mouth, see with My eyes, hear with My ears, touch with My hands. All that is Mine is yours. Just trust Me and let me be your God.”
This is the voice to listen to. And sincere listening requires real choice, not just once in a while, but every moment of each day and night. It is us who can think, say and do. We can think ourselves into depression, low self-esteem or can act in a self-rejecting way. But, we always have a choice to think, speak and act in the name of God and so move towards the Light, the Truth, and the Life of God.
So, in conclusion, let us remind ourselves that as we are in the Lenten season, we can choose to see this season either as a time of spiritual renewal when God would begin new things in us that need to be brought to its completion or allow the opportunities that God wants to give us to slip by.
If we keep choosing God, our emotions will one day give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in us. So, we should never be afraid in life when our faith is being tested, like those who stood up for their faith in Venezuala, because we are never alone. God will always be there for us; we are each loved and protected by Him at all times regardless of the trials and temptations we face in our daily living.
(Ref: Story adapted from: Happiness Manufacturers, by Hedwig Lewis, S.J.; Pub: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; Anand, Press: 2001: pp177-178).
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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