Saturday, February 20, 2010

On the Temptation of Christ in the desert

As the 40 days of Lent commemorate the 40 day fast of Christ in the desert, the gospel of this 1st Sunday of Lent begins with the words: “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert for 40 days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and when they were over, he was very hungry.” His physical weakness would have made the opportunity ripe for the devil to tempt the Lord for we have always presumed that an empty stomach would fall for anything. Isn’t this the basis of a present day pastoral strategy that we must first fill the stomach before we can fill the spirit? Thus, many pastoral programs today first concern themselves with the satisfaction of man’s material needs before we can even attempt to address the spiritual ones.

Actually, this is the strategy of the devil in tempting Jesus. First, he addresses the Lord’s immediate need, namely, his hunger: “Command this stone to become bread.” Then, he addresses human ambition: “I shall give you all this power and glory…if you worship me.” Then, he addresses our inclination towards vainglory: “Throw yourself down from (the parapet of the temple) for…He will command his angels …to guard you.” The presumption is that human need draws us away from God. To draw man closer to the Lord, we must first satisfy these needs.

But the Lord has responded to the temptation in an unexpected way: for his hunger may have weakened his body but it has strengthened his spirit. St. John Chrysostom says: “He fasts so that you may learn how efficacious fasting is, and what a weapon it is against the devil; and that after our baptism we should give ourselves, not to pleasures, not to drunkenness, not to the delights of the table, but to fasting. For this reason He fasted; not because He had need to fast, but to teach us. For before we were purified through baptism, the pleasures of the stomach led us to sin…For it was the intemperance of the stomach that drove Adam from paradise, and provoked the flood in the days of Noah, and sent thunderbolts against Sodom…Ezechias tells us: 'Behold this is the iniquity of Sodom thy sister, fullness of bread, and abundance, and they were lifted up, and committed abominations' (Ezechias xvi. 40). And the Jews also; it was when they were filled with the delights of food that they then fell into and committed their greatest sins.”

Isn’t this the movement of the modern world? Our inclination is to lower standards. Fasting is difficult? Then, reduce it to its barest minimum. Students have poor comprehension? Lower the passing average! We can’t keep people from gambling? Legalize it! Can’t keep people from being sexually promiscuous? Give them condoms! Giving too much credit to the overriding power of the human needs, we have reduced ourselves to the level of beasts who immediately subject themselves to instinct. St. John Chrysostom says, “There are those so foolish and dull that they long only for the things of the present; saying such senseless things as: ‘Let me enjoy now what I have, later I shall think about what is not certain. Let me indulge my appetite. I want to enjoy myself. Give me today, and you may keep tomorrow.’ What folly! They who say such things, in what way do they differ from goats and swine?”

We have forgotten that baptism has elevated our humanity for on account of it, we have become temples of the Holy Spirit. Though our Lord was weakened by hunger, he triumphed over the devil by the same Spirit who led Him to the desert to be tempted. We should not forget what our Lord told St. Paul who complained of the weakness of his flesh: “My grace is enough for you. It is in weakness that I am powerful.” That same Holy Spirit will help us in our temptations if we cooperate with him through the discipline of our bodies. “Christ fasts for 40 days,” says St. John Chrysostom, “pointing out to us the remedy for our salvation.”


  1. Father Zerrudo,

    Ave Maria!

    I was asking Professor Sugon for a group who are attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass and he reffered me to you. I wish to join a stable group of 'Traditionalist' to help me in my spiritual growth, and for a deeper appreciation of the Traditional Latin Mass. I cannot rely on my own, i would be standing on a shaky foundation. I hope you can help me. I am from the province of Batangas and might go to Sikatuna to attend a Latin Mass during my summer vacation.

    May the Lady of Lipa intercede for you and for your parish.

  2. We will be happy to have you during the summer vacation. We have the TLM at 2:00 pm on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and at 8:30 am of Ferials.