What causes us to lose focus in the first place? How, at certain times, do we find ourselves acting so differently from the people we aspire to be? How often do we leave an interaction wishing that we were more attentive, more loving, less angry or full of gossip?
A spiritual battle as old as mankind is being waged all around us. It has been said that the devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. What a brilliant tactic!
If Satan doesn’t exist, then why be on our guard? If there is no tempter, is there really any temptation or even sin? If there is no sin, why bother with the Church’s redemptive sacrament of reconciliation or Eucharistic abandonment to God’s will? We may live as we please because the Church is really just holding up repressive human constructs as God’s law.
Satan has been practicing this line of attack since he approached our first parents in the Garden of Eden. He worked to convince Adam and Eve that sin did not exist, and attempted to argue that God was not the supreme lawgiver and creator of all things. Instead, with forked tongue and malice in his heart, he portrayed God as arbitrary, a being striving to keep man from reaching full potential.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Satan works constantly against us, and did so even with our Lord. In the Pope’s Angelus remarks from February 17, he takes us through Satan’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.
Sts. Matthew and Luke present us with nearly identical accounts (Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13). Satan tries to tempt Jesus, who had fasted for forty days, to turn stones into bread. Satan then takes Jesus to the top of the temple and says he should throw himself down, because scripture says the angels will support him and keep him from harm. Finally, Satan shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, indicating that these are his to give, if Jesus will only worship him.
Satan clearly knows and quotes scripture to his own ends, but Jesus, himself, is the Word. Each of Jesus’ responses stifles the attack of the enemy in dramatic fashion. Yet, Jesus does not directly refute the claim about Satan’s power in this world. God surely didn’t hand over this power, but we, in our free will, often give Satan the dominion over our souls that he seeks.
Pope Benedict continues: “Yet these temptations are also false images of man that threaten to ensnare our conscience, in the guise of suitable, effective and even good proposals. . . .The tempter is cunning. He does not directly impel us towards evil but rather towards a false good, making us believe that the true realities are power and everything that satisfies our primary needs. In this way God becomes secondary, he is reduced to a means; in short, he becomes unreal, he no longer counts, he disappears. Ultimately, in temptation faith is at stake because God is at stake.”
We often view sin as a bold and active rejection of God. In some rare cases, people reject God outright. For most of us, though, we habituate ourselves into elevating lower created goods above the very thing for which we were created – God. We listen to the voice of Satan that echoed in the ears of Adam and Eve so long ago, a voice whispering that God’s law is unimportant and that we have nothing to worry about if we violate it in small ways. The ruinous effect is evident in the evil man has committed on the Earth throughout human history.
This Lent, then, let us mind the entire house of our soul. The front door may be guarded, but have we left a window open for Satan to enter? Where does the tempter’s voice reach us? Satan, a student of human nature, knows where to apply pressure against us. Together, let us examine our lives in a quiet, prayerful way to see where we must be on guard.
Even though we must be watchful, take comfort that God is with us. Pope Benedict puts it beautifully, “let us not be afraid either of facing the battle against the spirit of evil: the important thing is to fight it with him, with Christ, the Conqueror. And to be with him let us turn to his Mother, Mary; let us call on her with filial trust in the hour of trial and she will make us feel the powerful presence of her divine Son, so that we can reject temptations with Christ’s word and thus put God back at the center of our life.”
*This article by Mark Rohlena, Esq., first appeared in The Colorado Catholic Herald on March 1,2013.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. He is a monthly columnist with the Colorado Catholic Herald and His blog, The Charity of Christ has received national acclaim.