1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
you'll listen carefully, I'm going to reveal to you – tonight only!
– the Guaranteed to Work Every Time Father Philip Neri Secret to
Resisting Temptation. But you have to listen 'cause you might miss
it. That's what our 1st Sunday of Lent Gospel
reading is all about. . .resisting temptation, or rather not
resisting temptation b/c there's nothing there to resist. There! Were
you listening? Did you catch the secret? If not, don't worry, we'll
come back to it. Our Mother, the Church, knows us well. She knows
that just a few days into Lent and we are all already regretting our
freely chosen penances. I think Lent must be the Devil's favorite
liturgical season b/c he gets to prance around dangling forbidden
goodies in our faces, trying to catch us out like carps on a hook.
BUT if we listen carefully to Luke's telling our Lord's desert
adventure with the Devil, we learn the secret of how to beat the King
of Hell at his own game. Here's the secret again: nothing belongs to
the Devil. . .he has no power to give us anything or to take anything
away. Anything he can tempt us with already belongs to God, and as
God's heirs, to us. The secret to resisting temptation is: don't.
Don't resist. Don't play the Devil's Game of spiritual tug-of-war.
Christ defeated Satan on the cross for us. Lent is our time to act
like the spiritual winners we are!
any of you ever played tug-of-war with a dog? The dog fetches a
stick. You take one end and pull as hard as you can while the dog
growls and snorts and tugs in the opposite direction. Let's say, the
dog wins, pulling the stick away from you. Then what happens? He
trots over to you and offers you the stick again. If you are playing
this game with a bulldog or a Labrador Retriever, the game can go on
all afternoon. But what's the game. . .for the dog? The game is not
Get the Stick and Win. For the dog, the game is Get the Human to Tug
on the Stick. As long as you're picking up your end of the stick and
pulling, the dog wins. The only way you win this game of Get the
Human to Tug on the Stick is by not playing. Whether your efforts in
the game are half-hearted and weak or manly and majestic, if you pick
up the stick and pull. . .from the dog's perspective, you lose. Just
to be clear: in this analogy, your dog is the Devil. The stick is the
temptation the Devil uses to get you to play with him. And you. .
.well, you're you. The moral of the analogy: if you never play with
the Devil, you can never lose.
pretty much lays it all out for us during his forty days in the
desert. At first it might appear that the Devil is tempting Christ
with food, power and wealth, and pride. Not so. The Devil is using
food, power and wealth, and pride as the stick, trying to get Jesus
to play a devilish version of tug-of-war. Jesus doesn't pick up the
stick. Why? Because he knows that everything the Devil is offering
him already belongs to his Father. The Devil has nothing to give. The
Devil tips his hand when he says to Jesus, “I shall give to you all
this power and glory; for
it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
And there's the trap. The Devil is a liar. Nothing has been handed
over to him. . .except what we ourselves have freely handed over to
him in exchange for . . .well, in exchange for nothing. When we
choose to play the Devil's tug-of-war, we lose. What does he win? He
keeps us occupied with playing his games, so we aren't praying,
fasting, giving alms. We aren't preaching and teaching the Good News.
We aren't bearing witness to the Father's infinite mercy. What are we
doing instead? It would appear that we are mightily resisting
temptation, growing in holiness. In fact, the Devil has us hooked
like a carp.
know all this sounds odd. Almost exactly the opposite of what we've
always been told about how to confront the temptation to sin. But
look at our example in the desert, Christ. He's not writhing around
on the ground, trying to fend off the smell of freshly baked bread.
He's not drooling at the prospect of ruling all the nations on earth.
He's not puffed up with pride, knowing that he has an army of angels
ready to defend his life. Christ doesn't resist these temptations b/c
he knows that there is nothing there to resist. The Devil is a liar
and thief. And he exposes his own lies when he offers Jesus the world
in exchange for his worship. What the Devil wants is for us to play
his games and turn our inheritance to his service. He cannot make
bread. But he can tempt us to turn food, water, shelter, etc. to
serve his diabolical ends. He has no wealth or power, but he can
tempt us to turn our wealth and power to his ends, using them both to
undermine the Father's kingdom. The Devil has his own army of angels,
but they serve him out of fear and self-loathing. They chose at the
moment of the creation to worship him instead of their Creator. What
did they get in return? Nothing. That's what we get when we play the
what do you do when the Devil comes around making promises in
exchange for your time and energy as his minion? Remember what Paul
writes to the Romans: “The
word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in
your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
You have the Word on your tongue. Speak it! Jesus
is Lord! What
does the Lord do when the Devil presents his non-existent
temptations? He quotes Scripture. Why? Not b/c Scripture is some sort
of magical spell that repels the Devil, but b/c Scripture speaks the
Truth, the Word. And the believer is made bold and strong in the
Word. As heirs to the Father's kingdom, his sons and daughter by
adoption through Christ, we have everything we need to come to our
perfection. We have the victory of the Cross over sin and death. We
don't have to sin; we don't have to die. We have the sanctifying
presence of the Holy Spirit sent to us at Pentecost. We have the
guarantees of the sacraments. We have Christ's promise that his
Church will never be defeated. We have all that need. There is
literally nothing no-thing in the created universe that the Devil can
offer us in exchange for our allegiance. Nothing. Because nothing is
all he has.
how does the story of Christ's forty days in the desert end? Luke
writes, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he
departed from [Jesus] for a time.” For
He'll be back. He always comes back. If and when he visits you,
remind him that he has nothing, that he is nothing. Lay claim to
Christ's victory on the Cross. And do not play his game.
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