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Tempted in Him,Victorious in Him

by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.

 

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.”

Psalm 90/91 provides the text for all of the Gregorian chant for this First Sunday of Lent, and we’ll pray that same Psalm 90 again during Compline. It’s something of a warmup for the choir, like a little spring training, to prepare for the all singing and long liturgy that comes in Holy Week. It is a stark contrast between what we are singing these days up here on this hilltop as we process in and out of Vespers, and what our friends are listening to down at the bottom of the hill there at Cook’s Corner.

That institution [Cook’s Corner] has been here in the canyon even longer than ours has, and it’s kind of remarkable how we’ve learned to get along as neighbors. Once in a while, in addition to the songs we hear from their very loud outside sound system down there, occasionally we hear that unmistakable sound of a hog speeding up our driveway, when one of those bikers comes to confess his sins or to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.

This recalls a conversation with one of our dear Rosarian Dominican Sisters. Sister said, “Down there at the Cook’s, there are almost no tempting demons. They have nothing more to do there. Over the monastery gate there is one demon, discouraging anyone from turning into the driveway. Over the abbey church there are hundreds of demons trying to distract and discourage the good people who are praying there. And over the novitiate, there are thousands of demons, trying to lead those future priests astray.”

Temptation. We all know what it means to wrestle with temptation, and we hear of our Savior’s threefold temptation after His forty-day fast in the wilderness. Both of these things seem quite strange at first glance. How is it that those who strive to advance on the path of holiness often find themselves very sorely tempted—tempted to sin, tempted to discouragement, tempted to wonder if they’re pleasing God at all when they find themselves so sorely tried? And stranger still, how is that our Lord Himself, God-made-man, can be tempted at all? Commenting on this Gospel, St. Augustine discusses both of these strange things—the increased temptations that good Christians endure, and our Lord’s mysterious temptation in the desert. Regarding the temptations that we ourselves face, St. Augustine writes, “Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We make progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory.”

So we make progress by means of trial, and we have that very familiar image from the Scriptures of the gold that is tested in the furnace, purified, refined. So too, my friends, are our souls made fit for heaven when we endure all the many trials that our Lord permits as we strive to serve Him here below. But what about that second strange fact about temptation, the fact that even our Lord Himself, He who was wholly free from sin, endured temptation? Whatever can that mean? St. Augustine tells us that Christ was tempted because He chose to be tempted, so that we might learn how to be victorious in temptation like He was. Saint Augustine writes, “He made us one with Him when He chose to be tempted by Satan. Certainly Christ was tempted by the devil. In Christ you were tempted, for Christ received His flesh from your nature, but by His own power gained salvation for you; therefore, He suffered temptation in your nature, but by His own power gained victory for you.”

So, my friends, when we look at how our blessed Lord was tempted in the desert, we can and should see how He is victorious in the very same temptations that we ourselves face day in and day out. First, the devil says to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Certainly each of us can recognize here all the gluttony, and carnality, and pull of the flesh that this temptation represents. Or, second, gazing upon all the kingdoms of the world: “I shall give You all this power and glory.” St. Ambrose sees in this second test that common vice of bragging, and certainly each of us here has felt the pull of that desire to boast of the glory of his own virtue. And thirdly: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.” This last temptation shows us that ambition that infects and destroys even the best of our works.

Carnality, bragging, and ambition; my friends, if we are honest with ourselves (and this Lenten season invites us to be honest with ourselves) then we should recognize ourselves in our Lord’s temptations. But our identification with Him must not stop there. St. Augustine continues to ask, “Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of His victory? See yourself as tempted in Him, and see yourself as victorious in Him.”

Once in a while one of those bikers from Cook’s finds his way up our monastery driveway. What is he looking for when he drives his hog up to the abbey church? I think that he knows deep down inside his Christian soul that no matter how far away he might stray, no matter how much he has given in to whatever temptations assail him, he can still call upon our Lord, however our Lord inspires him to do that—and precisely because our Lord knows what it means to endure temptation. The Apostle tells us in today’s second reading, “The same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon Him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

My friends, whether we are finding our way back to Christ from a life of great sin, or simply wrestling with great and many temptations that He permits for His closest friends to try and purify and refine them like fire-tested gold, wherever we find ourselves here at the beginning of Lent, we can call upon Him here, right now. For upon the altar, He will renew for us His one eternal sacrifice of Himself. He wants nothing more from us than that we come to Him, with all those trials and temptations that we bear with us today; that we call upon Him for salvation; and that we receive Him in His very own body and blood, wherein we can already find ourselves victorious, sharing in His victory. Amen.

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