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On Temptations

Clearly, we cannot overcome temptations without the help of the One who already triumphed against it

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Lent (Cycle A)

St. Pio of Pietrelcina once exhorted, “Doesn’t the Holy Spirit tell us that when the soul approaches God, it must prepare itself for temptations? Courage, therefore, courage … Fight valiantly and you will receive the prize of strong souls.”

Temptations may be best described as mischievous plays upon our consciences, creating internal dilemmas between acting for ourselves in spite of external influences directing us otherwise; or acting under the guidance of the same external influences such as God, the Church or the State. The Spirit has always been admonishing us to follow the more inconvenient pathways towards justice and peace for all; temptations are enticements towards more comfortable and more satisfying – though often, more fleeting – experiences only for one’s self.

Human frailties impel us to seek happiness and meaning amid the sorrows of our existence, bewilderment and doubt about our long-held values and beliefs, and anger over unjust and corrupt social structures. Temptations are always asking: Is there anything wrong with wanting to enjoy the “tree of Life” and gain “Knowledge of Good and Evil”? If I cannot change the world causing my unhappiness, then can I at least take pleasure in it? Can’t happiness exist for everyone, for as long as I leave everybody else alone? Isn’t God unfairly denying me the ‘real fun in life’? To whom would you rather be faithful: to the God demanding responsibility for others who may not be as faithful, at the expense of your own happiness; or to yourself, for whom you will always owe a sufficient degree of happiness and fulfillment? 

However, the genuine fulfillment of our lives is so closely intertwined upon our interdependence with others, that one’s happiness can only be made complete through another’s commitment of joyful responsibility for it. It becomes inappropriate for us therefore, to ‘taste the sweetness of the fruit’ without ‘acknowledging the bitterness needed to make it happen.’ Temptations are always deceptions intended to make us think about the opposite, that we can properly separate the former from the latter, and that ‘charity is merely an option.’

We can be sure that we are always being tempted, but we can also be sure that we are always being given a choice. We have been given because of the love of our Father, the intellect and the free will to choose either to safely escape inhumane realities; or to more maturely address and effectively transform the very same realities which we have actually caused to happen in the first place.  We have been given because of his love, the intellect and the free will to choose either to indulge, become indifferent, and continue experiencing unsatiated emptiness; or to control oneself, become compassionate and involved, and experience the fullness of his mercy and companionship.

Must we not choose to struggle and “fight valiantly”?

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But the saints have always advised we need not be too worried about our struggle – and at times, futile efforts – against temptations, because the struggle itself is an indication of a formed conscience. It may not be yet as well-formed as we or God would wish it to be, but it may already have acquired the notion that ‘the sweetness of happiness’ and ‘the bitterness of responsibility’ must come together in a sacred fusion blessed by Grace.

Even our Lord the Christ was tempted. His response to the struggle must be the model of our responses to our own daily struggles:  we must pray constantly.  The ‘prayer habit’ is so important in fortifying ourselves with the understanding of our Father’s will for his kingdom of justice and peace “be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and with the realization that charity is not and has never been an option. 

Clearly, we cannot overcome temptations without the help of the One who already triumphed against it. For this season of Lent, may we pray: Master, you are our hope!  Strengthen us to partake of the bitterness of charity and responsibility for one another so that we may all one day, taste the sweetness of happiness through a sustainable justice and stable peace inspired by and achieved with your eternal reign.  Amen.

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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