Week of 2/11/2018
This week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. A day of fast and abstinence means no meat, as well as only one primary meal and two minor meals with no snacking in between. Lent comes from an old English word meaning spring; it is the liturgical season where we seriously prepare for the death and resurrection of the Godman Jesus Christ. It is forty days based on the fasting for forty days of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Lent is tailored for our fallen nature;
it is meant to be a physical, mental, and supernatural journey to facilitate our intimacy with God and expiate our sins. When we sin, we cause damage to the mystical body of Christ, as well as to our personal being. By doing penance and mortification, we expiate or “makeup” for our sins. While there are many jokes about temptation, it remains a gravely serious phenomenon in our lives. The early Fathers of the Church help us to understand them better.
The great bishop and father of the Church St. John Chrysostom (died 407AD) preached: “God does not impede temptations, first, so that you may be convinced of your strength; secondly, that you may be humble, not proud; thirdly, that the devil, who may doubt whether you have really abandoned him, will be certain of that fact; fourthly, so that you may become as strong as iron, understanding the value of the treasures which have been granted to you.”
Temptation can only be fought off with God’s grace and a will that is formed by self denial. The many dangers of the modern world include the billions of ways we can self indulge without it being a sin. We buy and become dependent on many different electronic gadgets and we allow them to absorb much time in simply stimulating our senses towards a pleasure or distraction.
We also live in a culture that dramatically indulges the ego by affirming us in our sinfulness, making a countless jokes of all seven deadly sins, especially envy, lust (pornography), gluttony, which only harm and destroy persons and families. Society should rather exhort us like a great coach towards excellence in virtue, especially chastity and the need for confession. We thus become the devil’s easy victim through temptations that tantalize the senses and affirm our ego rather than demand our self sacrifice.
As St. John writes above, temptation if rejected can serve a great purpose. That is, if we choose self denial, even with non sinful things, such as praying instead of video games, going to daily mass, fasting for the love of God, we grow closer to Our Lord and with His grace we then enable ourselves greater strength in temptation. Temptation must make us humble, remind us that we are fragile; we can fall, we can lose heaven. Rejecting temptation, while sometimes causing suffering, may encourage harsher attacks from the devil, but this means growing only in greater holiness if we hold firm. Interestingly, Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. We remember that the fast for Ash Wednesday is not dispensed; to celebrate Valentine’s Day it would actually have far better spirit on Fat Tuesday! It becomes a great gift to children when we show them
God comes first.
In the end, through temptation the body, mind and soul grow stronger, more courageous and more perceptive regarding temptation, and thus create a great warrior for God. But serious prayer and confession are crucial. Only with Christ can we truly reject temptation, but with Christ we only grow to the heights of true happiness; that in the midst of suffering we find heaven: the joy of deeper unity with Christ on earth, and eternal glory in paradise.
God love you,
Fr. Brian Gannon