Our Three Temptations

User's Guide to Sunday, Feb. 14

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Sunday, Feb. 14, is the First Sunday of Lent (Year C).

Mass Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2, 10-15; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Lent is a time to transform our Christian lives, and the temptations of Jesus show us how. Think of them as the three temptations of every Christian: the temptation to change Christianity into philanthropy and political activism or to reduce it to spiritual pride.

In his first temptation, the devil challenges Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answers, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone.”

The same drama plays out in our lives when we want to reduce the Gospel to just its social dimension. We can think that if we do more good deeds or give more money to charity, we will impress God, who will reward our great goodness. We forget that the help people need most is to have an encounter with Jesus Christ. Real love shows concern for body and soul.

Pope Francis addressed this tendency in his first homily as pope in 2013, saying, “We can walk as much [as] we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.”

In the second temptation, the devil “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant” and offered to give him “all this power and glory … if you worship me.” Jesus answers, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”

This temptation plays out in our lives when we want to reduce our faith to a set of political proscriptions. We start to let our support for the right presidential candidate, or our position on a certain set of issues, define us. Soon, our faith is about political, not spiritual, power.

Of course, all of those things are important. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. … Yet at the same time, she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

Our hope is not in politicians or causes, but in Christ. Loving him should propel us to address injustices on earth, but always with him — and not political victory — as the goal.

In the third temptation, the devil takes Jesus to “the parapet of the temple” and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,” suggesting Scripture promises he will be saved. Jesus answers, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

This is the temptation to spiritual pride that we all face at times. We want to be seen as wise and holy, filled with special Catholic “wonderfulness.” But the moment we start to feel like a VIP of God, we risk the sin of presumption and fall into the devil’s trap.

We become the opposite of the philanthropist Christian and the political Christian. As Pope Francis said in Philadelphia: “A Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced.”

Lent is the Church’s plan to restore balance. Whatever temptation we have a problem with, the remedy is the same: prayer, fasting and almsgiving — all three.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.