“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and 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 hungry…” It was at the moment when the Lord was hungry due to fasting that the devil decided to approach and tempt him. Perhaps, he thought that the hunger would make the Lord physically weak and so, it would be easier for him to fall into temptation. However, the devil was badly mistaken. He misunderstood the dynamics between flesh and spirit which are opposed to each other. The flesh struggles against the spirit and the spirit struggles against the flesh. That is why, the weaker the flesh is, the stronger the spirit and the stronger the flesh, the weaker the spirit. It was easy to tempt Adam and Eve. After all, they were in the midst of so much comfort in the garden of Eden. Their bodies were pampered. There was so much food to eat. The will of the soul weakens when the body is very comfortable. But the Lord was in the desert and he ate nothing for 40 days. He deliberately ate nothing…is that not training in self-mastery? He could eat but he did not – and the Lord sustained this resolution for 40 days. The devil should have seen it as a sign of a very firm and resolute will. It was a will that would withstand temptations.
It would not come as a surprise that the Lord would triumph. It is not just because he is God, but his human will was firm and resolute to do the Father’s will. He has so decided to be concerned with his Father’s affairs, as he declared in the temple when he was but a boy of 12. The firmness of his will is the manifestation of self-mastery. And means to this were prayer and fasting. “Why is there so much evil in the world today? Because people have thrown away their most reliable weapon, the all-victorious weapon with which every evil, every sin, and every demon are assuredly vanquished on all battlefields. And this weapon is fasting and prayer.” (St. Justin Popovich) The Lord went into the desert to fight the devil. And he came with his weapons: the Holy Spirit, prayer, and fasting. Against such weapons, the devil did not stand a chance.
And true enough, we know why we are constantly defeated in the spiritual warfare: we have been feasting and playing instead of fasting and praying! Feasting and playing around make us vulnerable targets of the devil. He dangles before us bread, power and glory. And we easily fall for these temptations. Not setting our hearts on higher and sublime things, we settle for bread that does not satisfy, power that flees, and glory that fades. We easily forget that we are meant for greater things to which the Holy Spirit dwelling is us testifies.
We should strive to win the spiritual battle for we are soldiers of Christ. And in this struggle against sin, the first battlefield is found in ourselves. We must master ourselves. We must dominate ourselves by learning to say “no” to what we want. And the weapons we need are but within our reach: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart – that is, the word of faith…” Prayer and fasting are means offered to us. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. Let us arise in battle, for “no one who puts his belief in him will be put to shame.”
Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!