THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
First Sunday in Lent
5 March 2017
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After the baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist, Jesus began His forty days' fast in the desert. The Gospel tells us that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Temptations are necessary for us, in that they give us the opportunity to test the merits and graces that we have received; when successfully resisted, they humble the devils and give greater honor and glory to God; and lastly, they give us the opportunity to advance in the life of grace.
In the spiritual life, beginners are often shocked to experience trials or temptations so soon after having received the graces of the Sacraments. We often assume that with these fresh graces in our souls we will be protected or sheltered from such attacks. Quite the opposite is frequently the reality. We are no sooner strengthened with the graces of the Sacraments when we find ourselves assaulted by stronger or even baser temptations than we had before. We then are tempted to question the value of the Sacraments or the graces that we have received. Sometimes, we are led to stay away from the Sacraments for a time. These thoughts and practices are just what the devils desire. In staying away from the sources of grace, the life of our souls gradually dies away.
The idea of the sacraments protecting us from ever being tried or tested seems very strange compared to the way we act in the material realm of our lives. Those who are involved in weight lifting or exercise of any kind, no sooner build up their strength to a certain level and then they press their bodies on to even greater weights or lengths. If we purchase a product, we often put it to the test and make sure it holds up before the warranty expires. Everything seems to be put to the test and we think nothing of it we even expect it. Why should our spiritual lives be different?
We are given graces, principally to strengthen us for the fight. We are not to take these treasures and bury them in the ground. We must employ them, put them to the test, strengthen them, and make them grow. The only way to do this is to enter into the combat with the graces that we have received.
In the Lord's Prayer, we ask: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We must not go out searching for temptations and, as it were, flirting with them. As soon as we think ourselves up to the fight against this or that temptation, we set ourselves up to fail. In leaning on or trusting in ourselves, God shows us just how weak we truly are. It is a very humbling experience, but a necessary one to teach us a valuable lesson. We cannot rely upon ourselves, but must trust only in God. In the humble understanding of our weakness, we are made strong. This is what God instructed St. Paul in. (2 Corinthians 12, 9) Our strength is in our weakness. We are strong as long as we distrust ourselves and place all our hope and trust in God.
We are not instructed to go in search of the spiritual fight, but we can be certain that God will bring it to us or us to it. Jesus was led by The Spirit into the desert to be tempted. The temptations and the combat will ensue; we need not presumptuously go searching for them. Our duty is to always be prepared. We must keep a constant watch, lest we be taken by surprise. Part of that constant watch is to be always well armed, and fortified with the graces of the Sacraments. A soldier is not ready or prepared if his weapon is damaged or lost, or if he has no ammunition for his weapon. In the spiritual life, we must keep our souls nourished and fortified. We must also maintain a healthy dis-trust in our own efforts, and thus constantly remain humble, putting our hope in Jesus Christ. When He lives and fights the battle within us, we are sure to win; when we enter the battle without Him, we are sure to lose.
We are at the beginning of the season of Lent, and our fasting, penance, and mortifications are all aimed at preparing, testing, and strengthening our souls for the daily battles we must face for the rest of our lives here on earth. Each and every day we are called upon to take up our cross and follow Jesus. (Luke 9, 23) We can trust Him to give us what we need to do this, but we must take up all the weapons (graces) that He has put in our disposal. Only in this manner can we succeed.
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