Vade Retro, Satana!
Gospel Reflection for February 26, 2023, the first Sunday of Lent - Mt 4:1-11
And now Jesus was led by the Spirit away into the wilderness, to be tempted there by the devil.
Forty days and forty nights he spent fasting, and at the end of them was hungry.
Then the tempter approached, and said to him, If thou art the Son of God, bid these stones turn into loaves of bread.
He answered, It is written, Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words which proceed from the mouth of God.
Next, the devil took him into the holy city, and there set him down on the pinnacle of the temple,
saying to him, If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down to earth; for it is written, He has given charge to his angels concerning thee, and they will hold thee up with their hands, lest thou shouldst chance to trip on a stone.
Jesus said to him, But it is further written, Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the proof.
Once more, the devil took him to the top of an exceedingly high mountain, from which he shewed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,
and said, I will give thee all these if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
Then Jesus said to him, Away with thee, Satan; it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and serve none but him.
Then the devil left him alone; and thereupon angels came and ministered to him. (Mt 4:1-11 Ronald Knox Translation)
For this first Sunday of the holy season of Lent, the Church offers us a lesson from Our Lord in how best to combat temptation. This is the true heart and purpose of Lent: to be cleansed of sin, of all those concupiscible desires and vicious habits which disorder our affections, loving worldly goods above God and seeking to be perfect apart from Him, just as Lucifer proudly sought to be divinized through his own power. Christ, who could not sin, nevertheless as the new Adam faced the same temptations as the first man and as every person throughout history, but defeated them through divine wisdom, humility and courage.
One practical example from the temptation of Christ in the desert is one which may be missed but was applied by Him throughout His earthly life: the power of Sacred Scripture. Instead of destroying Satan for his blasphemy or demonstrating His divine power with miracles, which would only have accommodated Satan’s wishes, Christ, as the Word of God, used His own words: “The false Scripture darts of the Devil He brands with the true shield of Scripture.” (St. Jerome, Catena Aurea) Like many enemies of the Church, Satan sought to use Scripture itself against God, yet Christ did not become afraid of Scripture, as though it could lead to error or sin on its own, but instead taught us to know the words of God in accordance with the Word of God. As St. Gregory the Great taught, “So the Lord when tempted by the Devil answered only with precepts of Holy Writ, and He who could have drowned His tempter in the abyss, displayed not the might of His power; giving us an example, that when we suffer any thing at the hands of evil men, we should be stirred up to learning rather than to revenge.” (Catena Aurea)
For many Catholics today, living in a culture of hedonism and relativism, the label of “Catholic guilt” and the desire to avoid anything inconvenient or “depressing” can make Lent seem like a burden, something to dread, even with the greatly reduced fasts of the Church today. But this betrays the true meaning of Lent and of the salvation of Christ. This fallen world is not Heaven; no matter how many worldly distractions we amass, we can never escape its tragedies and temptations. Without Christ, this abyss would be hopeless, but through the Cross, the original sin of Adam becomes the very means by which God rescues us and divinizes us through His sacrificial love, as St. Paul taught in the Epistle. Like Christ in the desert, this Lent, let us seek to grow in wisdom through the faithful study of Sacred Scripture, to examine ourselves and every choice we make throughout the day with humility and an eagerness to grow in charity and obedience, and to share the joy of the Gospel in generosity and patience with everyone we meet, both by word and example.
St. John Chrysostom provides a succinct list of reasons why God permits the Church Militant to undergo trials in this life, and his list can guide and inspire us throughout this season of Lent:
Whoever thou art then that after thy baptism sufferest grievous trials, be not troubled thereat; for this thou receivedst arms, to fight, not to sit idle. God does not hold all trial from us; first, that we may feel that we are become stronger; secondly, that we may not be puffed up by the greatness of the gifts we have received; thirdly, that the Devil may have experience that we have entirely renounced him; fourthly, that by it we may be made stronger; fifthly, that we may receive a sign of the treasure entrusted to us; for the Devil would not come upon us to tempt us, did he not see us advanced to greater honours. (Catena Aurea)
Thank you for inspiring and encouraging us to read, study and meditate on Scripture!!! There is a wonderful wealth of great Catholic material out there to aid us. Material that is inspiring and even enjoyable not dry! St Paul Center for Bible Theology (Scott Hahn), Augustine Institute, Franciscan University of Steubanville, Word on Fire and writers and speakers such as Brant Pitrie, Scott Hahn, John Bergsma, Bishop Barron, Father Pavonka and so very many more. Give them a try!!!