We are too weak to gain heaven on our own

Tom Bartolomeo
1st Sunday Lent C 2013b
Deuteronomy 26: 4-10; Psalm 91;
Romans 10: 8-13; Luke 4: 1-13
Reproduced with Permission

While we were singing "Glory to God in the Highest" in the Christmas liturgy less than two months ago, Satan was lurking in the darkness of a silent night at the original Christmas, waiting for his time to come. Jesus came to take back from Satan the world he had won from Adam and Eve, and Satan had been harvesting souls for millennia and would not give up his stolen goods without a fight. As prince of this world Satan also hoped he could conquer the Son of God in the weakness of the flesh of a Son of Man. He had known our weakness for thousands of years and relished the opportunity to test Jesus when he would come of age. He was ready for a "War of the Worlds". The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity had prepared for this contest. All Satan had to do was move Jesus ever so slightly to his will, and he would have secured forever this world all to himself.

How else can we explain Jesus being "led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil" immediately following his baptism in the Jordan River after the Father announced to the world, "This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased"?

(Matt 3, 16-17). Satan heard, and for him this it was a call to arms, a fight to the death. Until then death, "the wages of sin", described by Saint Paul had barred man's entry into Paradise after Adam had fallen from grace. He sent him out of the garden of Eden [we read in the Book of Genesis] . . . drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3, 23-24).

Only an absolutely sinless man could, in justice, break through the flames of death. Death can not coexist with life. Jesus, we know, won that battle with Satan but not the war. Jesus had entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples and his Church, and they were at risk. In a rage of fury Satan was determined more than ever to enslave other men and women in sin, to close and lock the gates of heaven to them, one man and one woman at a time. It would take legions of his compatriots to do the work. He had them ready.

If he could not have the Son of Man, the new Adam, he'd have his brothers and sisters. The fact is that Satan had won over many in his world, those who accused Jesus of being possessed by Devil and those who would say and do anything to distract Jesus' from his mission and our salvation. Near the end Satan had won over Judas and then had tried to bring down Peter. "Simon, Simon", Jesus told Peter, "Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren". (Luke 22, 31). Jesus knew that Peter to whom he had given the keys of the kingdom of heaven for his Church would sin, deny Him and actually curse that he knew "the man".

So how can we be so naive? Today Satan would sift us like wheat through his fingers. Isn't that evident in Satan's converts in government, particularly with Catholic lawmakers who support same sex marriage, the perversion of nature and God's law even reaching into our children's schools? Who has been complicit, stood aside, and not joined in opposition, not called out their state and federal representatives?

Yes, Jesus had escaped from the clutches of Satan then, but Satan would try one last time during Jesus' most vulnerable ordeal in a remote garden outside Jerusalem on the night of his arrest while he prayed and sweat blood - he was so severely tempted. Jesus first prayed for his disciples and then he prayed for himself:

Father, he said, 'if you will, remove this cup from me, not my will but your will be done'. An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Rising from his prayer, he went back to the disciples and found them asleep, worn out with grief [and said] pray that you may not fall into temptation. (Luke 22, 40-46).

Jesus the Son of Man endured what we endure but never sinned. Had Jesus sinned, in justice, death would still rule this world never to regain everlasting life for us lost by our first parents. Jesus was not obliged to die but choose to die, to taste death while innocent of any sin and rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. God's relationship with us and our relationship with God has always been about life, our openness to life from one generation to another. Satan would, however, deny God his children through contraception and sterilization and make us murderers in abortion. If he could not enslave the Son of Man then he would have as many of Christ's brothers and sisters in hell with him forever.

At both the beginning and at the end of his work of salvation Jesus was severely tempted, first in a desert and then in a garden. In both places Jesus was comforted by a guardian angel, much as we can be as we seek God's assistance. (Do you pray enough to your guardian angel in times of trial? He is your sole advocate before the throne of God.)

We are told that Jesus "emptied himself" to become man, had no more human advantage than us. All his miraculous works were accomplished for our sake, not his. Who among us has ever sweat blood fighting temptation? Our greatest temptation is presumption, an insidious sin. Judas had it. I don't think he wanted to harm Jesus, just get him to establish a worldly kingdom contrary to God's plan. What despair he must have felt in his failure as he took his own life. The sin of presumption.

I know that this sin afflicts many of us who think we can change God's law to suit our circumstances, that the Church doesn't understand. We presume or "feel" that God approves of our conduct and personal beliefs. Feel? What did Jesus 'feel' in the Garden of Gethsemane? What lasting good have our 'feelings' or presumptions had in society and in our persons and families fearful of having and raising children? How have we compromised our marital relationships and relationships with God? Even after menopause have we admitted in the confessional our denial of new life for the renewal of our own lives with his grace in the Sacrament of Penance? Lent is a time of conversion.

When Jesus was tempted he pledged his life to God when he confessed,
One does not live by bread along.
You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.

Whatever is required, listen to the Apostle Paul who knew that he could not live up to God's commandments, alone, without accepting his dependance on God. "I willingly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me . . . with difficulties for the sake of Christ", (2 Cor. 12, 9-10). "Call upon him", the Apostle also told us in today's reading. "For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'."