Meditations On The Life Of The Blessed Virgin For Every Day Of the Month, Suitable for all seasons and especially the month of May.
JESUS IN THE DESERT—THE TEMPTATION.
"Our Father ........ lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" — St. Matt. vi. 13.
Yesterday we considered the wonderful mystery of an Almighty God humbling Himself before a man; of a God who is holiness itself submitting to the rigours of penance. To-day our wonder will be increased, for we shall see this same God submitting to the greatest of our sufferings, namely, temptation. " Then Jesus," says the holy Gospel, "was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He was hungry. And the tempter, coming, said to Him: If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. And He answered, and said: It is written, Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, and set Him upon the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him: If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written* that He hath given His angels charge over Thee, and in their hands shall they bear Thee up, lest, perhaps, Thou dash Thy foot against a stone* Jesus said to him: It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil took Him up into a very high mountain, and shewed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said to Him : All these will I give. Thee, if, falling down, Thou wilt adore me. Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan, for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve* Then the devil left Him, and Angels came and ministered to Him." (St. Matt. iv.)
Who, then, is this evil one, who thus dares to attack the Incarnate Son of God, Him Whom the Angels acknowledge as their Master, and Whom they vie with one another in serving ? We know him but too well, he is our ancient enemy; lie is truly as he is called the evil one !
"When God created the pure spirits," says the great Bishop Bossuet, " He gave them as large a share in His power as in His intelligence. And, though creating them subject to Himself, it was His will that the inferior nature of man should be subject to them. Thus God in His wisdom had created beings superior to men, who were to be the ministers of His will, the bearers of His messages, and of His commandments. And, to maintain the universe in the wonderful order in which He had created it, He gave to the Angels, subject to His own almighty will, a certain power over material nature. But God, who has given liberty to all creatures, that they may have the merit of free obedience, met with ingratitude and rebellion amongst these pure spirits. Some of those whom His wisdom had raised so high, wished in their pride to rise still higher, and to make themselves equal to Him who had brought them out of nothing. We know the history of their shameful fall; we know that the bright archangel, who was called before his fall Lucifer, the bearer of light, now buried into the depths of hell with the companions of his sin, far from God, in the fury of despair, is become our eternal enemy, Satan, the evil one !"
Bossuet tells us farther, that God " left to the rebel angels, for their punishment, the wonderful gifts with which He had enriched them for their happiness and ours. Their crime has disfigured all, and God, in His justice, has changed all their graces into evil; their natural nobility is changed into pride, their intelligence into cunning and artifice, their will into injustice and jealousy; they are become proud, false, and envious, and are reduced by their misery to the wretched and dark occupation of tempting men, for there now remains to them, instead of the happiness which they enjoyed in the beginning, only the gloomy and malicious pleasure which the guilty find in making accomplices, and the wretched in giving themselves companions in disgrace." (Bossuet, Elev. sur les Myst: V. Elevation, 23rd semaine.)
God, whose will it was to give men, as well as the faithful angels, the merit of free obedience, allowed Satan to tempt our first parents. We know the sad history of the first temptation. The wicked one, to deceive them, used the means which had caused his own fall. "You shall be as gods," he said, and Eve yielded, and Adam yielded with her.
Since that time a fatal inclination to evil, the consequence and punishment of our fall, has doubled the power of the fallen angel over our souls; we can only be delivered by one more powerful than he, by our dear Saviour, through His merits and His truth. He said to those Jews who believed in Him: " If you continue in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (St. John viii. 31, 32.)
But if we increase by sin the power which the accursed one has over us, then, alas! we shall become, according to the awful words of our Saviour, the children of the devil, and we shall do the desires of our father, (St. John viii. 44.) May God preserve us from such misery!
But let us return to the desert, where the work of our salvation was begun. Whilst the wild beasts kept aloof from? the Incarnate God, or crouched with reverence at His feet, Satan prowled about these dry places like a lion seeking his prey. By the terror with which he was filled, in spite of himself, he felt that this Solitary, wrapped in prayer, in no way resembled his ordinary victims, and that in Him there was nothing akin to evil. He knew that the time was accomplished, and that the promised Deliverer was soon to come into the world. But he also knew that the contest was to be rude, and that before becoming a conqueror, the Saviour of the world was to be a victim. Could this mysterious Being be the Saviour who had been expected for so many years ? Satan wished to know, but he did not dare approach, for fasting and prayer are a powerful defence against him. But when Jesus had finished praying, when, according to the words of the Gospel, He was hungry, and human weakness shewed itself, the tempter came and said to Him: "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."
Never once do we find in the whole course of the life of our Saviour, that He worked a miracle to save Himself a suffering or a trouble. He bore human necessities as a burden which He had sought of His own will. The human nature suffered ; but the Divine nature commanded suffering, and refused to alleviate it. Let us listen to His answer to the tempter, and let us seek the lesson which He teaches us. " It is written : Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." Let us well understand that the first temptation which the devil offers to the Christian at his entrance into life, as well as to our Saviour at the beginning of His public ministry, is the rebellion of the body against the spirit, Happy is the man who answers as our Lord did: " not in bread alone doth man live," He is not created to find all his pleasure in the tastes and satisfactions of this perishable body. His true food is the word of God, which elevates and strengthens his soul, the holy law to which all ought to yield obedience.
The devil, thus defeated, had recourse to still stronger weapons. "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down from the pinnacle of the temple; for it is written, that He hath given His angels charge over Thee, and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest, perhaps, Thou dash Thy foot against a stone." What is this temptation, if not presumption, which makes us fall head foremost into occasions of sin, with such confidence in our own strength that we cannot even suppose it possible that we should fall ? These occasions are a real precipice from which, like madmen, we throw ourselves down, " with a rash hope of some extraordinary and miraculous help. This is what happens to all sinners, when they despise those precautions which would make them avoid the dangers .under which they have so often given way. This is a most daring tempting of God." (Bossuet, Elevations sur les Mysteres.)
"Jesus said to him: It is written again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Satan, in fury at this second defeat, and trembling more and more as he became convinced that Jesus was the expected Messias, tried the last and most terrible of his temptations, pride. He shewed Him from a high mountain all the kingdoms of the world, and all the glory of them, and he dared to say to Him, " All these will I give Thee, if, falling down, Thou wilt adore me"
Have not we, miserable though we be, felt this temptation within us ? The devil so excites our pride that we see all worldly goods before us as if from a high mountain. To our eyes nothing appears better than ourselves; if God has not placed us in the first ranks, we consider it a kind of injustice done to us. Why should this or that person be placed above us ? Are we not of more worth than he ? We do not ask through what trouble and labour he or his fathers have, reached that position, nor whether God had some end in placing him in it, nor whether this end is fulfilled. All we know is that we ought to be in his place, for Satan has brought us on to the mountain of pride, and We can see nothing above ourselves. Then the devil begins to speak, and say, " All these things, which thou covetest, shall be thine: nothing is easier, only serve me, and I will give them to thee. Abandon all these obsolete laws, which thy fathers observed; abandon the God who shewed Himself in poverty and patience. I am honour, wealth, conquest, and vengeance. I will give thee all." liar that he is, he well knows that he can give us nothing ; but lie is ever seeking to deceive us. Whilst we are praying to God in our peaceful land, whole countries are being devastated through the instigation of the evil one, and God knows how much blood has been shed, and how many tears have been caused by his worshippers, for, according to the words of Scripture, " he was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth, because .truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father thereof." (St John viii. 44.) Let us therefore answer him boldly with our Lord, " Begone, Satan, for it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve." (St. Matt. iv.10.) Then the devil will leave us, and angels will come to us. They will not minister to us as to Jesus their Sovereign Master, but they will bear us in their arms, and will keep us in the path of life, lest, perhaps, we dash our foot against the stone of sin. And as our. Divine Lord came forth from the desert a. conqueror, to begin His public life in this world, so we, when we have conquered the three great temptations of sensuality, presumption, and pride, shall enter truly into a Christian life, and shall serve God like free and faithful servants. Let us not, however, flatter ourselves that we have obtained a permanent victory, for the Evangelist St. Luke tells us that, after having tempted Jesus in all these ways, "the devil departed from Him for a time." Now if we can believe from these words that the devil dared to begin again this hopeless strife against our Saviour, only to harass Him, what will prevent his coming to us, who are so weak, and who bear the mark of the wound he gave our first parents, and whom he hopes to strike again in the same place, if we separate ourselves an instant from our Saviour, Who has cured, and Who protects us? " Be sober and watch," says the Apostle St. Peter, "because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour." The Apostle addresses this warning to us all; this roaring lion is always present, watching the favourable moment to surprise us. We leave our dwellings without thinking of him; woe be to us if a heartfelt prayer said at waking does not drive him away, for he is present. Yesterday, perhaps, we did some good action, and there is our enemy, poisoning the recollection, and tarnishing the merit, by exciting thoughts of pride. Or we have done some evil, and the repose of the night has calmed us; grace speaks, and repentance begins. Then comes the enemy, and shuts our hearts to the inspirations of God, which tell us to go and humbly confess our fault. We meet a friend or neighbour poorer than ourselves; charity moves us towards him, an affectionate word is on our lips, who is it then that holds back our hands, and checks this good impulse, which was just about to be converted into a good action ? Who is it that transforms charity into hardness of heart, and changes into an excessive love of the money we have saved, the gratitude we owe to God who has blessed our labour ?
If we are poor, we can, by accepting our holy privations, resemble our Saviour, and obtain heaven. Who, then, is it that can make the poorest amongst us avaricious by giving him the desire of goods which he has not ? And who, from this avaricious desire of riches, or of happiness, can produce a feeling of jealous hatred against those who possess them, or of envy, that poison which ceaselessly torments the poor soul which admits it? When we find ourselves alone in the fields and woods, let us think of God, Who sees us, and Who is our companion and defender, in solitude as elsewhere. For the enemy is there; he will show us our neighbour's possession, which we envy; he says to us, You are •alone, take it; who will be the wiser ? Why is it his, and not yours? Or he will try us by shameful temptations, and will surprise us by dangerous occasions. Let us watch ; let us drive away the enemy; and beware lest we have to answer for our own loss, and for that of another soul, which will cry against us at the day of judgment. The tempter will come in the hour of rest, and on holidays, and, leading the father from his home, and his lawful recreation, he will make him eat and drink like a mere animal, whilst the children have only dry bread at home. And as he has degraded his innocent joy, which is so pleasing to God, into license, so will he change his noble intelligence into something so hideous and degraded that could he see himself in this state, he would blush for shame. Then comes the devil of anger; and with him uproar, oaths, and blows; and in the madness of rage and wine, knives are drawn, and between an honest man and a murderer there is only the chance of a blow more or less well directed. This chance is Providence, Who has pity on man, and spares him the remorse of the morrow. God alone protects us from all these temptations, and from the fatal sins which follow them. The catechism calls them the deadly sins, because they are the root and beginning of all other sins; but perhaps we have never reflected that they are daily in our path, that pride, covetousness, envy, lust, gluttony, and anger, are the weapons of which our spiritual enemy makes use to wound us, and at the same time the seductions which he, the father of lies, uses to blind us.
What, then, is to be done ? We must be sober and watch. We must have our arms always ready, like good soldiers, to drive away the enemy with shame. We must also be good servants, ever occupied with the work of God our Master. This work of God is, first of all, our own salvation; and our daily duties, and the labour by which we gain bread for our families, are part of this work of God, and are the best means of driving away the enemy. The last of the deadly sins is, perhaps, that which gives the greatest advantage to the devil; it is sloth, which refuses all work, which leads us to lay aside all our duties to God, and the most necessary duties of our state of life. Sloth, which reduces our souls to the state of a besieged town, the garrison of which is asleep, and all the gates wide open. Then the enemy enters, with all his train, without striking a blow. The slothful man is sometimes called a coward, and justly so # because he who has not the courage to work for his soul, by fulfilling his religious duties, or for his body, by supporting his family, has not the courage to resist temptation, and becomes capable of all evil, because he has been incapable of all good. Let us take courage then, Is not heaven well worth labouring to gain ? It is related that the Jews, having returned from the captivity of Babylon, and desiring to rebuild the walls of the holy city, worked with the trowel in one hand, and in the other the sword, to defend themselves from their enemies, who assailed them at all hours, and that Nehemias, their chief, standing in the midst of them directed at once the work and the fight. This is the image of the true Christian; to work and fight from sunrise till sunset, from the age of reason until the hour of death. The enemy will attack us unless he finds us on the watch, valiant, and armed alike for defence and for labour. And if he dares to attack us, let us still take courage; our fear will give him too much advantage over us, and there is no harm in temptation, since Jesus was tempted; but temptation is a danger, and it is then that we should assemble round Jesus, our chief and our defender, and attach ourselves to Him without delay and without hesitation, and say to the enemy, " Begone, Satan : for it is written, Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and Him only thou shalt serve."
Let us, then, never trifle with the evil one. If a thing is forbidden, never ask if the law is too severe, nor whether the thing is agreeable, nor whether others, who are accounted respectable people, do it. The first remedy against temptation is flight, and obedience to God. Let us believe that our pastors are right in all that they forbid us; if the enemy sees in us any hesitation or regret we are lost. As soon as he speaks, let us say without delay, " Begone, Satan."
Let us never trifle with the evil one. Some country folk have superstitions which are ridiculous and sometimes dangerous. Mortals like ourselves, and subject to the same evils as ourselves, wish to make us believe that they have the power to cast a spell upon us, or upon our cattle, or to protect us from these same evils, which they have power to inflict on us at their pleasure. From whence could they obtain such a power? They are not saints; and God has only very rarely, and to great saints, given the power of working the miracles which these people pretend to work for a few pieces of money. Now, if the power does not come from God, from whom does it come ? If these pretended miracles are not absurd tricks to gain money, they must be the work of the great deceiver, who is never at a loss for means to deceive us, or lead us astray; and the Church, in her wisdom, has forbidden in the severest way the detestable practices of pretended sorcerers; and she has likewise forbidden the weak-minded, who might believe in them, to have recourse to such means of cure. God alone can drive away illness from men or from cattle. The Church does not refuse us her blessing; she does not refuse it even to the humble companions of man's labour. Let us believe in these blessings, and seek them, but no others. Let us never trifle with the evil one.
A charming passage in the great St. Bonaventure relates, that when Satan had retired in shame, and the Angels had surrounded Jesus, prostrating themselves at His feet, and hailing Him as their God and Sovereign Master, they said to Him* " Lord, what wilt Thou that we present to Thee after so long a fast ?" Then Jesus ordered them to go and find His beloved Mother, and to ask her if she had anything for her Son, as no food was so pleasing to Him as that which was prepared by her hands. " Then two angels," says the holy doctor, " went quickly through space and in a moment were with Mary. They comforted her in her solitude, by speaking to her of Jesus, and the humble food which her maternal hands prepared was taken into the desert to nourish the Lord of the world. Let us, like the Angels, go to Mary. Let us rejoice with her at our Saviour's victory over Satan, a victory which gives to us the hope of overcoming our spiritual enemy. Let us ask her to obtain for us all the graces of which we stand in need, for this contest, which is so continual and so severe. Let us ask her help, for she is the new Eve, who has repaired all the evil which came to us through the first Eve, and who has crushed the head of the serpent, the tempter. Through her prayers, and by her help, we shall obtain the salvation of our souls, for which especially our deal? Saviour hungered in the desert, where He had prayed so much for us. This will be the food which His holy Mother will prepare for Him, and which He will prefer to all earthly food,
Holy Virgin Mary, help of sinners, we will fly to thy powerful protection when the enemy attacks us. He has never found entrance into the unassailable fortress of thy soul. There was no spot in thee which could give him any right over thee. But we, alas! were conceived in sin, and needed to be purified from the original stain in the waters of baptism. Save us, through thy powerful intercession, from whatever weakness the original sin washed away in the Blood of thy Divine Son has left in us. Strengthen us, O victorious Virgin, against the never-dying enemy whom thou hast overthrown. Help us always, like our Divine Model, to oppose to his perfidious suggestions the word of God. And when we have served God for our appointed time by a courageous and faithful life, help us at the hour of our death, and be for thy children the gate of heaven. Amen.
To reject temptation as soon as it comes, without fear or discouragement. If the devil is near to tempt us, God is also near to defend us.