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Pastor's Letter 20200301 - 01 March 2020 - Temptation and Sin

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March 1, 2020

First Sunday of Lent

A Message from Father Michael


Today’s Theme: “Temptation and Sin”

 To most people, reality is that which we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste; it is the world around us.  For the Christian, however, the reality extends beyond the physical environment and encompasses a whole spiritual realm, as well—both the glory of heaven and the darkness of evil—that ephemeral entity we call “the Devil.”  Whether your appreciation of Satan is that of an actual persona, or simply the presence of temptation, the effect of succumbing to it is the same.  It is a reality we human beings face every day, as an aspect of our freedom to make choices.  

Temptation works in our lives in three key ways:  1) A sense of persuasion to use spiritual power or authority to benefit ourselves.  For instance, people serving as leaders may be tempted to use their positions of trust to compel people to serve them.  Parents, or others, may be similarly tempted to do the same regarding those in their care; 2) We may feel an impulse to “bargain with God,” perhaps attempting to entice God to act in a certain way in exchange for our prayers or service; 3) We may be tempted to worship idols, instead of God—such as money, fame, possessions or status.  Our Liturgy today concerns itself with each of these aspects of temptation.

 Paradise Lost…and Found Again

Our First Reading today recounts the story of the “fall” of Adam (Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7.)  Before the fall, Adam and Eve had no choices.  It was if they were "programmed" to do the will of God.  They had no sense of being responsible for their actions and choices—they knew no such thing as remorse or regret; no sense of well being at doing the “right” thing, for that matter.  One could say they were no better than the “lower” animals, who live not by choice, but by instinct.  But then, we read that God gave them the freedom to choose. In doing so, He made it possible for them to be "moral"—to freely choose to do what is "right."  Then they had the opportunity to live by choice—to live “consciously.”  They had the freedom to say, “yes,” or “no,” to God.  Unfortunately, they abused their freedom, and chose to disobey God—from which we have the earliest definition of “evil" in the Old Testament.  

 All our achievements…all our discoveries…all our wars…all the heights to which human beings have risen…and the depths to which we have sunk…have been about using or abusing our freedom of choice.  In today’s Gospel, we read that Jesus was faced with the same choice as that which faced Adam and Eve: to do His own will, or that of His Father (Matthew 4:1-11.)  Unlike Adam and Eve, He made the irrevocable decision to do God’s will, rather than His own.  

 That may lead some to say, “Oh, but it was easy for Jesus!  He was, after all, divine.”  But we know that He was also wholly human.  (This fact is amply demonstrated in the way Jesus reacted to the various situations in which we find Him: i.e. showing compassion for the downtrodden and outcast; and, even His expressions of disappointment and anger.)  The fact that He was “without sin,” didn’t imply He lacked the ability to choose sin, or any lack of humanity.  Sin is not an intrinsic ingredient in our nature. Christ, too, had to struggle to do the will of God.  

 Every day all of us are faced with choices—to do good, or to do evil—choosing to be “for,” or “against” the goodness of God.  It’s clear that we possess strains of rebelliousness, of self-centeredness; of shortsightedness, which occasion us to make wrong choices, and lead to self-destructive behavior.  The fact that Jesus won an important victory in the desert didn’t mean the war with evil was over.  From that time to the present, humanity would have many other instances, in which to make (and remake) choices.  However, every “right choice” in life makes the next right choice easier.  If we do the right thing often enough, eventually it becomes second nature to us.  It is said the real punishment for sin is that it makes it more likely that we commit the same sin the next time we are tempted.  

 Adam and Eve lost their original innocence.  So have we—when we lost our childhood innocence.  However, we can regain it.  But this recovered innocence is different from the first.  Our first innocence was immature, not responsible; unacquainted with sorrow and evil; the second innocence is transfigured through responsibility for and acquaintance with sorrow and evil.  The first does not know how to sin; the second rises above sin.  The first is harmless through weakness; the second is innocent through virtue.  The first is incapable of committing sin; the second is unwilling to commit sin. 

 There exists in every human heart a longing for the lost Eden and the lost Paradise.  Jesus recalls us to our lost childhood.  He recalls us to the source of our beginning.  No matter how old we may be , He makes it possible for us to be reborn in innocence of character. 

Effective Penance

We have just begun the season of Lent.  For most people, the first thing that comes to mind is “giving up something for Lent.”  This rather simplistic thought comes from our youth, when we were introduced to the concept of penance.  Most people who observe Lent undertake some penance, a good and worthwhile practice; but it is not an end in and of itself.  When we undertake to do penance, we first acknowledge that we are “sinners.”  The second thing we do is to express a desire to affect change in our lives.  The whole object becomes one of reforming a sinful way of life.  Penance is an exercise in saying “no,” to our desires.  It is intended to show we are capable of better things, and that we sincerely want them.  We want to reform our lives, but we know we cannot do that without the gift of God’s grace.  Its purpose is to acquaint us with our better side—“I’m not a bad person; I can do better!”  It means taking a step in the right direction—making a sincere effort to change our lives.

 Lent provides us with a window of opportunity to look at ourselves to see how we can become better followers of Christ.  Those who easily "give in" to temptation know little about the struggle involved.  Those who struggle to overcome temptation know it best.  If you want to know what victory over temptation costs, ask a sinner, not a saint.  Think of those you know who have overcome behaviors involving smoking, or drug abuse—they can testify to the difficulty encountered to change their habits.  These are people who have tried and succeeded, (perhaps only after numerous failed attempts, along the way.)  Jesus' battling with Satan acts as a “spur” to us.  Because Jesus struggled with temptation and was victorious, He can help us in our struggles.  The Victorious One will help us to be victorious in our struggles with sin and evil. 

 Temptation meant the same thing for Jesus as it did for our allegorical “first parents,” Adam and Eve.  It meant choosing between good and evil, between obedience to established precepts and doing one’s “own thing.”  Jesus' resistance to temptation wasn’t a “one-off” thing, either.  He was tempted right through His life.  His victory in the desert was not the winning of the war, but merely the battle.  

 Since Jesus and the saints were all tempted, we can’t hope to escape it.  The struggles between the passions of the flesh and the longings of the spirit—with their almost inevitable failures—is not something of which we should be ashamed. Ours is not, never to fall...but to fall, to rise and to go on in spite of everything.   Therefore, temptation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Forcing us to choose goodness over evil makes us stronger.  Every time we are tempted and overcome it—each instance of suffering and doubt that we rise above—makes us even more capable of doing it again.  

 Furthermore, how could we prove our fidelity if there were no temptation?  If so, here wouldn’t be any particular credit in remaining virtuous.  Virtue becomes meaningless without evil, because it involves sometimes making a very difficult choice.  That choice may even seem thankless, as often there is no definitive victory.  The battle against evil continues as long as we live.  The good news is that we possess, within us, the strength of the Holy Spirit—just like Jesus did.  This is meant to give us great consolation, and a source for reinforcement of will. God is, therefore, not, as the song says, “somewhere out there,” or “at a distance, watching us,” but within us, during our entire lives.

Reflection: Pruning Time

Pruning time is painful for a fruit tree.

The pruner rids it of all those suckers, which use a lot of energy, but produce no fruit. 

However, the aim of pruning is not to inflict pain, but to help the tree produce more and better fruit.

Lent is a kind of spiritual pruning time.

There is much that is useless and perhaps, harmful in our lives, which saps our energy and diminishes our spiritual fruitfulness.

Of what shall we prune ourselves this Lent, so that we may become more fruitful branches of Christ…the True Vine? 

 May God Richly Bless You!


 Temptation may even be a blessing to a man when it reveals to him his weakness and drives him to the almighty Savior. Do not be surprised, then, dear child of God, if you are tempted at every step of your earthly journey, and almost beyond endurance; but you will not be tempted beyond what you are able to bear, and with every temptation there will be a way of escape.
- F.B. Meyer


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