Overcome temptation first, then comes holiness

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Feb. 26.

Temptation is an attraction to sin, but it is also an invitation to holiness. No one becomes holy without first facing and overcoming temptation. This is true for Jesus in today’s Gospel, as well as for all the saints. Temptation is simply part of the human condition, and overcoming it is the path to holiness.

Temptations come either from inside us (the flesh) or from outside us (the world). Jesus was starving after 40 days in the desert — weak from fasting, lonely and had lots of time on his hands — he was vulnerable, which is when the devil most often tempts us.

Underlying these sins from within are legitimate hungers which we are tempted to satisfy in illegitimate ways.

First, he tempts Jesus to satisfy the desires of the flesh: Turn these stones into bread.

And then, failing this, the devil tempts him with the lure of the world: Amaze the people by “throwing yourself down from the parapet of the Temple” only to escape unharmed. You’ll be famous.

Serve me, and I’ll make you rich and powerful — give you “all the kingdoms of the world with all their splendor.”

The devil doesn’t offer us such big incentives because we are not such a big catch, but our temptations are much the same.

The temptations of the flesh come from within us. By sins of the flesh, we usually mean sexual sins, which certainly do have a strong pull on us but lust — the sexual appetite — is not the only hunger we have. Gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, pride, envy and vengeance are also sins of the flesh.

Underlying these sins from within are legitimate hungers which we are tempted to satisfy in illegitimate ways. After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry, but he refused to satisfy this need of the flesh in ways that were wrong.

The temptations of the world come from the outside. God has made us stewards of creation, which we are supposed to administer according to his purposes, but we are tempted to use the things of this world for our own selfish purposes instead, specifically the disordered pursuit of power, possessions, pleasure and prestige. The worldly powers-that-be promote false values very distant from the simple, detached way of life taught by Jesus, for instance, in the Beatitudes.

Underlying these sins from without is a legitimate need for material and emotional well-being, which we are tempted to satisfy in illegitimate ways: false promises of a kind of happiness the world cannot deliver, apparent shortcuts to legitimate goals that, in fact, lead in the opposite direction.

Jesus will one day be famous and will one day acquire all the kingdoms of the world, but he knew that there was no avoiding the cross, so he refused Satan’s false shortcuts and refused to pursue his objectives in ways that were wrong.

How about you and me? We face the same temptations. Jesus spent 40 days in prayer and fasting — a kind of spiritual boot camp — time praying in the desert, which gave him the strength he needed to resist Satan when his time of temptation came. And then, when tempted, he drew on Scripture, God’s truth, to avoid getting snared by Satan’s lies.

Lent is for us a similar 40-day spiritual boot camp, a time of prayer, fasting and works of charity in order to:

  • master the desires of the flesh,
  • open our eyes to the false illusions of this world and
  • strengthen us internally for our times of temptation.

A time for us to deepen our knowledge of God’s truth and thereby be better equipped ourselves to avoid getting snared by Satan’s lies.

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