Thursday, March 17, 2011

On the Struggle against the Devil

Having emerged from Ash Wednesday, the fragility of our mortal nature is still fresh in our minds. “Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – the old formula for the imposition of ashes confronts us with the reality of our mortality. Although mere clay of the earth, man received the breath of life and was placed in the middle of the garden of Eden. The dignity which he received from the Lord was more than what he could ever ask for, considering the fact of his humble origins. The devil envied this and so he enticed man to seek what was beyond him: “you will be like gods.” The devil lied his way into man’s heart: he promised to give the divinity which he neither had nor could deliver. Deceived by the wiles of the devil, he lost everything: “Through one man, sin entered the world and through sin, death.” From living in a garden which yielded in abundance, man now tills the soil that yielded nothing but thorns and thistles. It was a great shift from the garden to the desert. How far we have fallen from grace!

God made man and placed him in the garden. God became man and went into the desert. It was in the garden that man lost what he had to the devil. Now, in the desert, Jesus will take back from the devil what he stole from man. The devil dragged us from the garden to the desert. Jesus went to the desert to bring us back to the garden. In the garden, man had so much to eat. In the desert, Jesus chose to fast. In both cases, the devil came. He came to confront the well-fed man. He came to confront the hungry Jesus. The irony is that the spirit slackens when the flesh is satisfied and the spirit is strong when the flesh is weak. The well-fed man turned out frail. The hungry Jesus came out victorious.

The word of God teaches us today that our Christian life is a warfare against an enemy who is real. The devil is not a symbol of collective negativity. The devil is a real person, a fallen angel who desires nothing but the destruction of man who was created in the image and likeness of God. He knows that he cannot destroy God and so he vents his hatred towards man who bears God’s image. He destroys the Divine likeness in man by enticing us to spoil the flesh (You are hungry? Turn stone into bread!). He entices us with vainglory (Jump from the pinnacle of the temple to make a spectacle of yourself.) He entices us with possessions (All these kingdom I will give to you.) In tempting us, he hides under the guise of concern for us. He pretends that he wants us to be gods. But in the end, he shows his true face. He reveals his true intentions – he wants us to bow to him and worship him. He wants to be treated like God.

Knowing that our spiritual enemy is powerful, our Lord Jesus comes to our aid. He goes into the desert and leads us in our combat against the devil. He submits to the devil’s triple temptation and in doing so he arms us with very reliable weapons: fasting and prayer. Fasting empties us of our self-assurance which always proves futile as it is always prone to the manipulations of the devil. Having been emptied of ourselves, we are opened by prayer to the Holy Spirit who helps us struggle and win over the devil. It is when we are weak, it is then that God manifests the strength of his power in us.

In his Lenten message for this year, our Holy Father wrote: “The First Sunday of the Lenten journey reveals our condition as human beings here on earth. The victorious battle against temptation, the starting point of Jesus' mission, is an invitation to become aware of our own fragility in order to accept the Grace that frees from sin and infuses new strength in Christ – the way, the truth and the life (cf. Ordo Initiationis Christianae Adultorum, n. 25). It is a powerful reminder that Christian faith implies, following the example of Jesus and in union with him, a battle "against the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world" (Eph 6: 12), in which the devil is at work and never tires – even today – of tempting whoever wishes to draw close to the Lord: Christ emerges victorious to open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil.”

No comments:

Post a Comment