Photopost: Laetare in Quadragesima
Holy Mother Church grants us Laetare Sunday in the heart of Lent as a consoling oasis in the midst of our strictness and penance.
We hope our readers will enjoy a photopost of rose vestments from various FSSP apostolates in North America and elsewhere.
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you that love her; rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow!”
St. Aloysius, Niagara, ON
St. Joan of Arc, Post Falls, ID
Holy Cross, Fresno, CA
Nuestra Señora de el Pilar, Guadalajara, Mexico
FSSP Vietnam – Huynh Đoàn Linh Mục Thánh Phêrô
March 15, 2021
Astronomical odds of success may provide great story plots for movies or books, but for the most part have no place in reality. When faced with a one-in-a-billion chance of something working out according to hopes, prudence and sanity would dictate that we adjust our outlook. Because a mathematical odd may be calculable, being really close to zero is, well, zero.
Granted, sometimes in the most extreme situations, that chance has to be taken because that is all that is left. While there are a few instances scattered throughout history where it paid off, failure usually happens, and thinking otherwise is a lesson in futility. In fact, when confronted with futility, the general question that gets raised is What does it all really mean anyway? A risk gets taken because some purpose is acknowledged as being worth the risk; but there’s a fine line between determining when risk trumps the purpose, versus when purpose trumps the risk.
In our enlightened modern age, many souls wander without any real sense of ultimate purpose. The prevailing darkness of popular cinema and music reflect that. Many youth are adversely impacted, angered over being sold a bill of goods about the meaning of life. Having been led to believe holy religion as inept and stupid, they don’t know where to look. So they align themselves with party lines with no understanding of history, all the while drowning in virtual worlds to distract themselves from being one day closer to death and soften the ever-lurking sentiment of discouragement and futility. Sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, in whatever form they take, become a way of life.
Tell a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth. “Almighty Science” has infallibly declared and repeated ad nauseum that humanity is a product of evolutionary chance. While there are pockets of rightful and most necessary challenge to this, it’s the running narrative now and is at the fundamental core of humanity’s demise.
In being a product of chance, the atheism of such a destructive premise is evident. We are here today, gone tomorrow, and most are forgotten soon afterwards. Why should there be rules, and laws, and order then? Why behave, unless to only secure some sense of freedom while we are here? What’s the point of suffering? Why labor for justice? Ultimately, what does life mean if I am just a chance occurrence that could have easily not occurred?
Utter poison to the mind and the human psyche. Frank Sheed explains it quite well:
[T]he universe would have been an accident that happened to happen, and man a byproduct of the accident – with no meaning and no purpose. All would have to exist in a context of meaninglessness, and meaninglessness would have the last word – the last word on men, certainly, billions of them emerging unmeant from an unmeant universe and doomed in their billions to sink back into it. It is hard to see what value such a being could have; we might still tell ourselves that all men are equal, but we should have to admit that if so, they are all equal to nothing much (Christ in Eclipse, ch. 4).
But much to the contrary, what happens if we are products of intentionality? In other words, my existence was actually willed, where chance plays no part. The impossible human odds of where, when, and how I came to be (should someone care to work the math) are trumped by an eternal divine intention. Instead of chance, there is a precision beyond measure.
What if that would again become the more universally realized basis upon which to find the meaning of life? Sheed continues in the same breath:
To the whole human race and not only its religious section, it is of measureless importance to have been “meant” and not merely to have happened. Nothing could do more for human relations than to take for a fact of life that every man is made by God in His own image and so is of value simply as a man. It is not easy for us to see this, because of the mess we have all made of ourselves by our sins and the mess other men have made of us by their injustices. But if we had the basic fact built into our awareness, every instinct would make us want to heal the mess – in ourselves, in others – rather than to enjoy it in ourselves and exploit it in others. (ibid.)
We all carry a sentiment of isolation and inadequacy within that mess we suffer; after all, humanity attempted to orphan itself by sin, to kill God and subsequently the whole meaning for its existence. But God was not prepared to let things end that way.
He went searching for man despite impossible odds. Before I formed thee in the womb of thy mother, I knew thee (Jer. 1:5). Lots of meaning there. He loved us first and so sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:10). Even more meaning.
Then humanity made a second and even bolder attempt to orphan itself with the Crucifixion, and find meaning without God. But even that did not stop Him from returning again by His Resurrection. What are the odds of that? And now it tries again by committing everything to chance; and while God’s Presence continues to abide in His Church, He will come again at the end of time.
But by that point, we would have run out of chances.
God evidently takes meaning quite seriously, so there is no such thing really as a “chance occurrence.” It is hard to argue that life – and each individual life – has no meaning and purpose after having been created, sought after, and died for by God Himself.
It requires the response Sheed suggests.
Let us therefore love God, for God has first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).
March 12, 2021
We present a selection from a sermon of John Henry Cardinal Newman on our Lord’s agony in Gethsemane. Stick with it to the end. –ed. (Discourses for Mixed Congregations: Mental Sufferings of Our Lord).
Are these the hands of the Immaculate Lamb of God, once innocent, but now red with ten thousand barbarous deeds of blood? Are these His lips, not uttering prayer, and praise, and holy blessings, but as defiled with oaths, and blasphemies, and doctrines of devils? Or His eyes, profaned as they are by all the evil visions and idolatrous fascinations for which men have abandoned their adorable Creator?
And His ears, they ring with sounds of revelry and strife; and His Heart is frozen with avarice, and cruelty, and unbelief; and His very memory is laden with every sin which has been committed since the fall, in all the regions of the earth, with the pride of the old giants, and the lusts of the five cities, and the obduracy of Egypt, and the ambition of Babel, and the ingratitude and scorn of Israel.
Who does not know the misery of a haunting thought which comes again and again, in spite of rejection, to annoy, if it cannot seduce? Or of some odious and sickening imagination in no sense one’s own, but forced upon the mind from without? Or of evil knowledge, gained with or without a man’s fault; but which he would give a great price to be rid of once and forever?
And adversaries such as these gather around our Blessed Lord in millions now; they come in troops more numerous than the locust and palmer-worm, or the plagues of hail, and flies, and frogs which were sent against Pharoah. Of the living and of the dead, and of the as yet unborn, of the lost and of the saved, of His people or of strangers, of sinners and of saints, all sins are there.
[…] It is the long history of a world, and God alone can bear the load of it. Hopes blighted, vows broken, lights quenched, warnings scorned, opportunities lost, the innocent betrayed, the young hardened, the penitent relapsing, the just overcome, the aged failing; the sophistry of misbelief, the willfulness of passion, the obduracy of pride, the tyranny of habit, the canker of remorse, the wasting fever of care, the anguish of shame, the pining of disappointment, the sickness of despair, such cruel, such pitiable spectacles, such heart-rending, revolting, detestable, maddening scenes.
Nay, the haggard faces, the convulsed lips, the flushed cheek, the hard brow of the willing slaves of evil, they are all before Him now; they are upon Him and in Him. They are with Him instead of the ineffable peace which has inhabited His soul since the moment of His conception. They are upon Him, they are all His own; He cries to His Father as if He were the criminal, not the Victim; His agony takes the form of guilt and compunction.
He is doing penance, He is making confession, He is exercising contrition, with a reality and a virtue infinitely greater than that of all the saints and penitents together. For He is the one Victim for us all, the sole Satisfaction, the real Penitent.
All but the real sinner.
March 10, 2021
St. Thomas and Character
by Fr. William Rock, FSSP
St. Thomas Aquinas states that “in a Sacramental Character Christ’s faithful have a share in His Priesthood” (S.T. III, q. 63, a. 5, c). These “Sacramental Characters” give a share in Christ’s Priesthood by deputing their possessors for Christian Divine Worship and enables them to do so, St. Thomas explains, by giving those possessors new powers, new abilities, which they did not have before.
Each of these powers is either, as St. Thomas designates, an “active” power or a “passive” power.
The Character of Orders, as St. Thomas explains, gives an active power. That is, it gives its possessor the power to perform sacramental ceremonies and thus allows participation in them. This is why only Priests and Bishops are able, for example, to absolve sins in the Sacrament of Penance. Their Characters give them the power to perform the ceremony of Penance so that the one confessing can enter into it and receive absolution. If one without the proper Character were to attempt to perform a Sacramental ceremony like Penance, the ceremony would cause no effect and, in fact, would not be Sacramental at all.
The Baptismal Character, according to St. Thomas, is a passive power. It is given so that one may receive, or participate in, the other Sacraments when they are brought about by those who have an active power (excepting Matrimony in which the couple brings about the Sacrament, and Baptism in which the one conferring the Sacrament can validly do so without any Character whatsoever).
This is why Baptism is called the “Door of the Sacraments.” Without the Baptismal Character, one does not have the power, the ability, to receive the other Sacraments (including Matrimony). The Baptismal Character is also necessary to fully participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is a sacramental action brought about by one with an active Sacramental power (a Bishop or a Priest), and, as it is sacramental, the participants must have the Baptismal Character to fully participate in it.
But St. Thomas seems to indicate that the influence of these two Characters, Baptism and Orders, goes beyond just the celebration of the Sacraments.
The quote given at the beginning can be expanded to read:
“in a Sacramental Character Christ’s faithful have a share in His Priesthood; in the sense that as Christ has the full power of a spiritual priesthood, so His faithful are likened to Him by sharing a certain spiritual power with regard to the Sacraments and to things pertaining to the Divine worship.” (S.T. III, q. 63, a. 5, c).
Note that here St. Thomas claims that the Faithful received spiritual powers not just in regard to the Sacraments but also in regard “to things pertaining to the Divine worship,” such as the readings at Mass.
This understanding of what the Characters confer is expressed in the Church’s Liturgy, in particular the traditional Ordination Rites. While the Ordination Rites have, like the other Sacraments, a specific part of the ceremony which brings about the intended sacramental effects, this core ceremony is surrounded by other liturgical acts so that the totality of what has been conferred is expressed.
This is why, for example, after the Imposition of the Bishop’s hand in the Diaconal Ordination, each newly ordained Deacon is presented with a Book of the Gospels. As the new Deacon touches the Book, the Bishop says: “Receive the power of reading the Gospel in the Church of God, both for the living and for the dead. In the Name of the Lord.”
Notice how the Bishop specifically uses the term “power” — not “right” or “duty,” but “power” — the same term St. Thomas uses when discussing what is bestowed with the Sacramental Characters.
As was said at the beginning, Sacramental Characters not only enable their possessors to participate in Christian Divine Worship by conferring certain powers, but they also depute them to do so.
There is an inherent correspondence between what powers are given to a person, and what that person is deputed to do. One with an active power is deputed to perform the sacramental ceremonies, while one with a passive power is deputed to receive these ceremonies.
As this is true for the sacramental ceremonies, it seems it would also be true for the other non-sacramental aspects of Divine Worship, as both depend on Sacramental Characters.
It can be argued, therefore, that just as those who have the active Character are divinely deputed to perform the Sacramental ceremonies, they are also deputed to perform the non-sacramental ceremonies (such as the Readings at Mass), while those with the passive Character are divinely deputed to participate in them, but not perform them.
This being the case, any discussion concerning what roles those with only the Baptismal Character are to have at Mass and the other ceremonies which constitute Christian Divine Worship must include a proper understanding of how their Character deputes them in each regard.
Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently in residence at Regina Caeli parish in Houston, TX.
March 8, 2021
When Judas Could be Found
The description of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is both a very touching and encouraging one (cf. Lk. 15:11-32).
The fact that we find him waiting for his lost son’s return is not some extraneous detail. The man was keeping constant vigil, keeping his eyes and heart focused on the one and only road that led back to his own house: the road of repentance.
And as our Lord describes, no sooner had he caught glimpse of the boy still a long way off, the father could wait no longer for his son to reach him; he anxiously runs out to get him. Knowing his son’s heart, the father ignores the apology that had been compulsively rehearsed since “coming to himself,” and a grand celebration ensues, for indeed there is much joy in heaven upon one sinner that does penance (Lk. 15:7).
But since no one knows the Father except the Son (Mt. 11:27), these revelations about the very character of our heavenly Father apply equally to our Lord, for there can be no division among the three Divine Persons. This long-suffering vigil on behalf of sinful men, waiting for their return upon the road of repentance, threads its way through the entire life of our Savior, culminating with Christ’s cry of I thirst from the Cross, verifying the tremendous lengths God will go through in His search for souls He created. While we are only given so much time, as long as we have it, we can take solace in the fact that Someone is watching and stands ready to receive us at any moment.
This reality – clearly divine in its formulation – is lived out in our Lord’s treatment of Judas.
Even a momentary reflection of what Christ had to endure from this Apostle should give us pause as we ponder what we sometimes must endure from our neighbors. Normal human sentiment usually wishes to reduce in our lives the presence of those whom we find disagreeable; how much more so when someone is known to be our enemy.
While we find Christ doing the same out of prudence at times, like with the Pharisees, it never seems to be the case when it comes to Judas.
Perhaps we all have some feel for Judas’ shoes. Uncomfortably so, as we are quite aware of the rebellion within that threatens I will not serve. While nothing escapes our Lord’s attention about how we truly are, this never stops Him from receiving us. Christ sees how and where our hearts may betray our words, and it bothers us that we cannot hide such sentiments from Him. He knows when we perhaps have had to force ourselves to our knees and would rather be watching a movie.
He sees where our faith may have been severely challenged by something and now find ourselves holding out on Him, the piety of our youth proving itself to be a weak and shaky foundation, all the solid reasons for believing suddenly becoming like straw, giving way to a bewilderment of what our Faith really means, perhaps setting ourselves on a destructive path of poor decisions and coping mechanisms.
There may be even anger directed towards Him (albeit misplaced in hindsight), but that is too dangerous to bring up and ask for light on, and so we pretend it is not there while we talk about superficial things. We maintain a bad friendship with another, or persist in some unmortified passion, while we thumb our Rosary beads, hoping He is not going to call us out on it.
It can be lots of different things where we sense our personal betrayals. But like with Judas, our Lord may not call it out for a time, even a long time, enduring it all the while, waiting for us to respond to the grace He sends to come to terms with it – to “come to ourselves” like the prodigal – and then make the necessary change in partnership with Him.
That is really important to remember: when we “come to ourselves,” our Lord does not wish that we scurry off somewhere and return to Him when we perceive the problem is fixed. Such would be impossible. He stands most willing and ready to walk with us through it all, with all the bumps and bruises that will come, because without Him we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).
Recall then that Judas lived almost two full years in the intimacy of the Apostolic college. He was a chosen Apostle: You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you (Jn. 15:16). While it can be inferred that his motives for following Christ were not the highest, seasoned with a fair measure of ambition, similar claims can be made of the other Apostles. After all, they were intent on Christ establishing an earthly kingdom and giving them reign over the twelve tribes of Israel. How often are they found arguing about who was the greatest among them, even at the Last Supper, completely unaware of what was about to happen!
The key difference between Judas and the other eleven was that malice would begin to take hold of his heart; so instead of simply resigning his post when things got too much for him, content to think our Lord and his band as fools and happy to be finally finished with them, Judas instead became intent to destroy Christ – and turn a profit on it to boot. But it did not start out that way for Judas, as our Savior would never have picked an already-sworn enemy as one of His Apostles.
While Judas is labeled as “the betrayer” almost every time his name is mentioned, because that tragically became his defining moment, he was not thinking about betrayal from the instant he became an Apostle.
There was good in Judas, good that our Lord continued to hold on to while trying to get Judas to confront the bad. Could not the same be said for any of us? But on account of Judas’ particular internal struggle, special attention would be required, and so our Lord would embark on the most crucifying of vigils on Judas’ behalf.
None of the Apostles knew; they were equally suspicious of themselves when Christ stated that He would be betrayed by one of them (cf. Mt. 26.21). Everything the Evangelists express about Judas as a thief and traitor is after the fact.
Christ was not going to change His mind about Judas, any more than He changes His mind about the creation of any soul. Not once is regret expressed about His choice; never is a threat voiced about expulsion.
As the chasm between Judas and Him widened, our Lord relieves His concerns on no one. And the one time Christ does express sorrow, it is about the consequence of such an evil act, not about who was the perpetrator: It were better for him if that man had not been born (Mk. 14:21). Until then, His warning hints to Judas are private and personal, an inside conversation almost. Perhaps the most prayers were offered for Judas than any of the other Apostles, as parents tend to do for their most wayward child.
Christ maintained His silent vigil for Judas to come to himself through it all, giving Judas equal treatment and access to Himself as the others.
Even after Judas had decided on treachery, Christ would ordain Judas a bishop, give him Holy Communion, wash his feet, and grant him leave to depart the Supper without any of the Apostles knowing what was transpiring. Our Savior then delivers His entire priestly discourse to His Apostles – words of the profoundest love that have ever emanated from His Sacred Heart – amidst the gathering storm front of betrayal from one of His own. And when Judas finally encounters Christ with his entourage of bandits outside Gethsemane, coming up a road that could have easily been for the return of the prodigal, our Savior also goes out to meet him and calls Judas Friend, a title of familiarity and affection that provided Judas with an out, if he would just take it.
Indeed Judas does “come to himself” in the wake of the betrayal, but tragically repents unto himself. He runs and hides, unable to travel the one road that led to Calvary, where Christ still continued His vigil, ready to forgive.
Perhaps when Christ left the gates of Jerusalem carrying His Cross, He caught sight of the far-off silhouette of Judas slowly twisting in the wind. That is the last time Christ found Judas – but was left with nothing to do.
And it never had to be that way.
Our Lord’s treatment of Judas should give us hope of how He will go through the same lengths for any soul. Although we can and do betray Christ by our sins and failings, it does not mean we will persist in them. His grace is all-powerful when we cooperate.
Christ wanted Judas in heaven just as much as He wants any of us. But unlike Judas who hid himself more and more even while in Christ’s presence, forging his final betrayal, it means having the humility to “come to ourselves” daily and be found by Someone with eyes constantly focused on us in a loving and divine vigil, and ready to meet us at every step.
March 5, 2021
Day of Giving for the FSSP Missions
March 3rd marks the birthday into eternal life of St. Katherine Drexel, who was born into a wealthy Philadelphia family but gave up millions to enter the convent.
In January of 1887, she appeared before Pope Leo XIII as an aspiring religious, begging for him to send missionaries to America. But the Pope responded in a statement that would forever change her life:
“Why not become a missionary yourself, my child?”
It may be tempting to let ourselves off the hook by thinking that we, as we go about our daily routines among our families or at our jobs, can admire this holy missionary but not really emulate her.
We would do well, however, to remember St. Katharine as not merely a traveling missionary and foundress, but someone who sustained dozens of missions through the mail.
She kept up a continual correspondence with various missions she took an interest in, usually including a check with her letters. St. Katharine’s charity flowed from her intense contemplative spirituality and love for the Blessed Sacrament. She was famously frugal with her own needs, knowing that by living more simply herself, she could make more of her wealth available for others.
Today is our Day of Giving for the FSSP missions, where each of us can in our own little way emulate St. Katharine Drexel by finding ways to live more simply, being better stewards of the gifts that God has given us, and then extending our blessings to those souls and apostolates who most need it.
And among the latter are the FSSP’s three main missions in Mexico, Colombia, and Nigeria, which we’ve highlighted in this brand-new video as wonderful examples of the positive impact that Catholic tradition is having around the world.
If you are blessed with the means to give alms this Lent, please consider supporting our Day of Giving for the FSSP missions. Donations can be made online at our Mission Tradition website, where you can also find out how to follow the missions and get news and beautiful photos of the mission people and priests.
May God richly bless you this March 3rd. St. Katharine Drexel, ora pro nobis!
March 3, 2021
When Judas Lost It
Judas is one of the most tragic figures in the Gospel. It is downright difficult to figure out how someone so closely associated to Christ, who witnessed everything first-hand and at close range, could take the direction he did. Together with the other Apostles, he enjoyed those quiet times with our Lord, those evenings when He would expound upon His parables in ways not given to the common folk, when He would express the desires of His Heart as He formed them for the mission He intended.
Evidently, something drew Judas to Christ early on, and likely with its share of enthusiasm, although perhaps reserved. Any man with a genuine priestly vocation knows what this means; there is an internal attraction to the life that does not have its source with the individual, and this does not go away in spite of (perhaps intentional) efforts to ignore it or do other things.
As our Lord does not make mistakes, His choice of Judas was just as valid as any of the other Apostles. In fact, worthy commentaries indicate that Judas was, from a human standpoint, the most gifted and resourceful of the college. We observe Judas trusted with the common purse, even though Matthew had the financial background (cf. Jn. 13:29). But like any man, he had his predominant fault to deal with. For Judas, it was ambition, but it was not supposed to be the fatal flaw; it was to be mortified and properly directed for God’s glory. Nonetheless, it was eventually given freer reign and would smother any supernatural faith he may have started out with.
So teaming up with Christ to start a kingdom would have been quite the opportunity for a man of Judas’ talent. He would be given power to cast out demons and heal sicknesses in our Lord’s name, something which evidently drew attention to the great work he was involved with (Mk. 3:15). But as our Savior’s popularity began to wane and things started to go sideways with the authorities, Judas would notice that his association with the motley crew may not be so much to his advantage. He began skimming from the purse (Jn. 12:6), something only our Lord would know but never reveal. (As it was, Christ kept Judas’ growing discontent so quiet that none of the Apostles had even the slightest premonition of Judas’ treacherous plan when he left the Last Supper early; they all may have reasonably thought Christ just gave him leave to get more supplies for the Pasch.)
Our Lord became more adamant that His Kingdom was not of this world, and its visible representation on earth – the Church militant – would suffer much persecution through the ages to come. Even at that, the mission was a spiritual one, the redemption from sin. Despite Christ’s promise of heavenly thrones for the Apostles to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, who really believed that and how was this about getting ahead here and now? (Mt. 19:28)
Doubt and frustration began to swell up; turning stones into bread or throwing oneself off pinnacles for angels to catch you would have better results.
Judas’ first break with Christ would be shortly after our Lord spoke of the need to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in order to have life within (Jn. 6:48 ff.). Judas looked out at the incredulous faces, some who had been a long time with Christ and witnessed His miracles, and watched many of them walk away. It was a bridge too far for him as well. Christ revealed as much when He told the Apostles soon afterwards: Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil (Jn. 6:71). From that point on – rejection of the Holy Eucharist, the very food needed for eternal life – the exit strategy began for this Apostle.
This need to depart from Christ’s company would be fortified and confirmed after a woman poured most expensive ointment over our Lord in sorrow for her sins, earning a gentle rebuke from Christ when Judas protested such “extravagant waste” (Jn. 12:1-7).
Ven. Fulton Sheen comments that Judas knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Having rejected the Living Bread that has come down from heaven, and now the need of repentance and forgiveness of sin as commended by the woman’s gestures, Judas excluded himself from the very mission of the Church, of Christ’s Kingdom. There was no point to it, or to anything Christ said or did, if he did not believe. He knew many others did not believe either, so it would be better that such a kingdom never happens. He could regain his status in the world by colluding with Christ’s enemies, who had long lost any supernatural faith of their own.
Christ was an inconvenient force that needed to be marginalized, made an example of, and buried for good.
And so goes the demise of Judas, the prototype of any priest or prelate who loses supernatural faith, for what is the life of the priest about if not to offer the Holy Sacrifice and forgive sin? The priest without faith has lost his purpose, and Christ’s message will forever be inconvenient and outdated to the faithless. Nonetheless, the consolation the faithful have is that Christ would have readily forgiven Judas had he only asked, and welcomed him back as easily as He did Peter.
How that should motivate us to pray for all our bishops and priests: some who heroically carry their crosses, others who have lost their way. That should serve well to squelch the Judas in us all.
March 1, 2021
It Will be Tempting for Sure, Part 3
Any temptation God permits is ordered in some way to our spiritual advantage. He clearly sees the value of what these extract from us, although we usually do not sense the profit amidst the heat of the battle, especially if we succumb. But even if that happens, our struggles can all work together for the good.
We should always be grateful that God has taken notice and visited us with an occasion to prove ourselves – which often comes by way of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and drawing inspiration from the Man on the Cross so as to merit reward from God.
The devil wants us off the path to sanctity, he wants us in hell, and he is relentless in his pursuit.
But he cannot stand humility either, and so for those who prove themselves more resilient against his attacks, he adjusts his strategies so that temptation either emboldens or discourages us: “I am too good to be tempted in such a shameful way, especially after having fought for so long,” we may say on one hand. Or “I can never overcome this, I always end up falling even after a few victories, so what use is there in trying?” on the other.
Our Lord willed to undergo temptation – to subject Himself to suggestions of evil – so we can learn that valuable lesson in perseverance.
Since the servant cannot be greater than the master, the temptations Christ endured cover the entire spectrum of whatever can get thrown our way. True, we meet with these internally also, but that makes no difference.
The first temptation – turning stones into bread – involves all the material comforts of the body. The second – throwing Himself off the cliff – involves whatever entices us to vainglory. The third – bowing down before him – involves whatever entices us to abandon the Faith, which tend to be the most painful of temptations because they are of a higher order, involving darkness of mind and coldness of heart; it is obvious why the devil would prize these victories the most.
As Christ dismisses these suggestions, He gives us the truth and reality needed to assert (again and again) against the tempting so as to prove ourselves, by the grace of God.
We don’t live by bread alone: the needs of the body, though important, are subordinate to the needs of the soul.
We shall not tempt God: all our talents, however few or many we have, are gifts from God, to be put in service either directly or indirectly for His glory, and for that reason none of us are indispensable
We shall only serve the Lord our God: it is God who determines truth and falsity, good and evil, not us.
At the end of the day, assuming we are not walking into them or persisting in sin, if we are encountering temptations, then it is usually a sign of progress, as God tries those whom He loves. If there was a better way to get the results He wants, He would use it. But as He desires that we take responsibility in our salvation, and cooperate with Him, so He then expects that we employ well the Sacraments He provides, together with humble prayer and penance in order to share the joy of His final victory over sin and the devil.
So be sure to thank Him for every victory gained, for it is His work, through His grace, in us.
If temptations annoy us, let them serve to make us humble rather than proud; may they make us confide more in God than in ourselves; may they make us more sympathetic towards the mistakes and weakness of others; and may they spur us on towards heaven. Count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith works patience…. Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he has been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God has promised to them that love Him (Jas. 1:2, 12).
Sweet victory first requires the bitter battle. But do we not have a guarantee of victory if we would only trust that God is eternally qualified for the job He has, and that He is absolutely competent to give us a test we are capable of passing?
February 26, 2021
It Will Be Tempting for Sure: Part 2
God never permits us to be tempted beyond our strength, and the devil’s power is infinitesimal compared to the slightest grace from God that goes responded to.
We may recall how God permitted Satan to tempt Job, but only to a certain point – and that is as far as the devil went (cf. Job 1:12; 2:6).
Furthermore, we may be familiar with certain passages in the Old Testament where God is said to have tempted someone. But in saying this, it is not to be understood that God is the source or agent of evil, or that God did not know the state of their soul. Rather, He visits someone with a calamity in order to manifest the good that is there and honor them, and set them up as an example of virtue. Abraham would become a singular example of obedience and patience to all succeeding generations by almost carrying out God’s seemingly cruel command to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1).
Temptation in the true sense, then, is defined as any enticement to evil, any suggestion to deflect us from the path of good.
This definition is important, because it indicates that temptation has to do with the suggestion, not the possibility of whether or not it is heeded, and so temptation in itself is not a sin. It can be compared with buying a house, in that one can throw a lot of offers out there that will not be accepted; it still is an offer and may shed some light on where the seller actually stands, assuming they are listening. This is why we can say that the temptations of Christ are truly temptations – He was met with suggestions from the devil to act contrary to good (Mt. 4:1-11).
But unlike the temptations we regularly encounter, the temptations our Lord experienced from Satan were purely external, they were from the outside looking in.
Since there is nothing disordered within our Lord, no interior conflict or frailty for the devil to arouse, that was the only direction he could work, and our Lord would actually be visited by these things throughout His life from various agents, culminating with the final temptation to get down from the Cross if He wanted everyone to believe (Mk. 15:32).
For us, though, temptations are both external and internal, so much so that, as Job says: The life of man upon earth is a warfare, a sentiment that is echoed frequently by St. Paul (Job 7:1).
The devil and the world assault us from the outside, our concupiscence rises up from within, sometimes with the devil’s help, other times not. Ven. Fulton Sheen observes, however, that modern man lives in a state of denial about such warfare, manifested by the prolific denial of guilt and sin. If that is the case, the necessary consequence is that the reality of temptation must also be denied. The inclination to evil, the quality of our fallen condition, is considered to be merely natural, and so deserves free reign and expression; it is the frustration of the inclination that is considered the evil.
Obviously, this view tends to give the devil the day off, as indulgence leads to a greater and greater moral blindness and a profound lack of any valuable spiritual discernment, save a tremendous grace from God.
Jesus Christ reminds us that The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41). So the war goes on, the spirit against the flesh, reason against the passions, faith against the senses, ourselves against ourselves, and so there is plenty of fodder for the devil to work with. But remember that the devil has no direct power unless we give it to him; he only has power of suggestion.
While some temptations can be of our own making through willful association with dangerous persons, sinful friendships, places, or objects – and if we choose to persist in those – there is little God can do for us. He is then forced to sit by and take the blame for why one’s life is so miserable. Examples need not be given here. But aside from that, there are temptations that seem almost impossible to escape: there may be persons we cannot avoid (one’s spouse should not be included here!), unavoidable objects to see or hear. We may meet with bad examples or perverse moral standards looking for us to validate them; at one moment we encounter mockery, at another flattery, or at another persecution to entice us to sin.
As long as we seek the straight and narrow, the intensity of these things will vary at times, but will never completely cease.
We should be concerned if they do.
To be continued…
February 24, 2021
It Will Be Tempting for Sure: Part 1
Ever wonder how some people get the jobs they have?
Like those on the food networks who are paid to travel all over the world just to eat – and we sit there and watch them eat. Or stunt-doubles; makes you wonder what kind of waiver they have to sign upon hiring.
Another is for those who are tasked with doing those stress tests on cars, airplanes, appliances or the like, where things are put through a myriad of trials to see how durable they are.
Sometimes things have to be pushed beyond the breaking point in order to determine what their limits and breaking points are – this is actually quite important when it comes to tests of safety. Standards of performance are formulated over years of study, so when things are put through the grind, they get graded on how they meet, exceed, or fall short of the expectation.
All in all, such tests are proving ground for a product’s worth. Does it adequately meet a use or need?
Certain types or conditions of employment require their own stress tests, and rightfully so: be it physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, or in some kind of combination. Indeed these are for the good of the person who has the job as well as those affected by the performance; no one wants a sub-standard pilot flying the plane he is on. So tests are constructed to determine if someone has what it takes to have the job and do it well. And such tests are hardly unfair: the job is what it is, and to compromise that can bring about a tremendous amount of harm. It is a most necessary proving ground.
It is a fact of life, then, that not everybody can do everything – it is one of nature’s most basic inequalities.
But although not everybody can do everything, everybody can do something, and one something everybody can do is save their souls.
This is because, first, it is the will of God that we go to heaven, and second, that the spiritual means are made available for us to do this, means that we are supposed to cooperate in any state of life we may be, and at any age we may be. The means are the Sacraments, prayer, and penance. No one is exempt and everyone is invited all the time, from youngest to oldest. Our redemption is at hand! (cf. Lk. 21:28)
As the parable of the wedding feast indicates, the table is prepared and ready: that is, it was set by the Crucifixion and Resurrection (cf. Mt. 22:1-14).
All that remains is that the journey be made to come to the feast, and that such a journey is resolutely undertaken.
But as this is a spiritual journey, parts of the straight and narrow path our Lord wishes us to walk are often unclear and uncertain. We may think at times we are making progress when we really are not, or we may think we are not making progress when we really are. Short fences may be perceived as insurmountable walls, trials may give way to discouragement and hopelessness, and we can misinterpret good for evil or evil for good. Nonetheless, the path must be walked if we desire the salvation our Savior wishes to give.
And if His Cross is the instrument of our salvation and is set up as the standard – Take up thy cross and follow Me – there must be tests that surround it, proving grounds shall we say, which come in the form of temptations. (Mk. 8:34)
When we discuss temptations, we must keep in mind that they are very useful for us – they humble us, expose our weaknesses, prove our resoluteness, and help us determine where we may be seeking our own glory instead of God’s. Evidently these are not the most comfortable things to deal with, but they are most necessary.
If we are to make the progress God desires, temptations serve to light up the path we are walking.
February 22, 2021