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41. The Temptation in the Desert

1. Temptation is a test or trial. In special, it is aninvitation or an allurement to sin which tests or manifests themoral fiber of one who experiences it. Temptation is either: (a)external only, and then it is an invitation or suggestionfrom without, with no tendency whatever, in the person tempted, torespond to it; or (b) internal, and then it is a weakness,passion, or tendency in the person tempted. Now the temptation ofChrist in the desert (Matt., chap. 4) was entirelyexternal. Our Lord's human nature was perfect andwithout unruly tendencies, and his Person is divine. The temptationof Christ was a test or experiment on the part of the devil. Thedevil wished to know for sure whether this man Christ was GodIncarnate; for the divinity of Christ had been manifested to thedemons only in so far as Christ willed it to be made known to them.Satan suspected; he wished to be sure. In making his proposals ortemptations, Satan twice employed the phrase, "If thou be theSon of God . . ." It is interesting to note that our Lord, inrebuffing the tempter, did not tell him what he was so eager toknow. Now, our Lord endured what may be called the indignity of thetemptation in the desert, for good reasons: (a) to bear, at leastoutwardly, all that his followers have to endure; (b) to show us,and warn us, that not even perfect sanctity is immune from theassaults of the devil; (c) to set us an example of prompt andunhesitating rejection of temptation; (d) to show up, forourbenefit, the devil's method of assault, namely, firstsuggesting something apparently good or at least harmless("make these stones bread"), and moving quickly on towhat is most vile, even to devil-worship; (e) to assure us that alltemptation can be successfully resisted, and to make us turn to himwith confidence in our own temptations.

2. Christ's temptation in the desert shows us anotherof the devil's wiles, namely, his preferring to tempt a manwhen the man is alone, that is, away from where his ready helplies. Thus a man forgetful of God or negligent of prayer putshimself into a desert place where temptation lurks. Seen fromSatan's angle, the world of virtue and grace-inspired works isa desert where he has nothing; he is envious of those who dwell inabundance there; he envies that abundance which cannot ever be his;he strives to tempt pious souls, therefore, and to make their livesa real desert.

3. We need penance to make us strong against temptations.Our Lord permitted Satan to approach him only after his hardpenance of fasting forty days. Herein is a plain lesson for us.

4. The order of the three temptations proposed by Satanshows us his strategy and teaches us to avoid his snares. No onefalls suddenly into the deepest evildoing; Satan is too shrewd tosuggest to a decent person the indecency of the viler sins, untilhe has prepared the way for that suggestion by lesser matters.Satanic wiles begin with something of which one may say, "Whynot? What harm is there in it?" Having won a first concession,the devil cleverly pursues his advantage until the grossest evilsare possible.

"A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."
R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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