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How to Beat the Devil Like Jesus

The disciplines of Lent are there to help us resist temptation, and Jesus' example leads the way

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, 2022

Brothers and sisters:
What does Scripture say?
The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart
—that is, the word of faith that we preach—,
for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.
For one believes with the heart and so is justified,
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
For the Scripture says,
No one who believes in him will be put to shame.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek;
the same Lord is Lord of all,
enriching all who call upon him.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

-Romans 10:8-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

-Luke 4:1-13

Well Lent is upon us once again! And we all know what that means: increased prayer, penance, and works of mercy. Each year, Lent comes and goes, and if you are like me, you usually reach Easter without having prayed and fasted and served as much as you could have. Even so, each year the risen Lord and the angels of his resurrection welcome us, and tell us to rejoice, even if we have not been good at keeping Lent.

Mercy is the theme of the Lord’s resurrection; indeed the forgiveness of sins is the first fruit of his rising, given to his apostles Easter Sunday evening. And the apostles had prepared even more unevenly than we, cowering in the cenacle. So, let us just say that the Lord wants to pardon us our shortcomings more than we want to be pardoned, and indeed beyond our expectations!

And after all the very goal of our Lenten observance is not the observance itself, however complete. Rather the purpose of prayer, bodily self-denial, and goodness others, at least in terms of Lent, is something much deeper, and more crucially necessary.

Well, what is that? It is nothing less arming ourselves with habitual loving peace of soul that will enable us to conquer in our struggle against our spiritual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Temptation is the main theme of Lent as a season of trial and self-denial. How do we overcome temptation?  Better still, how can we avoid it in the first place? The Savior has taught us to ask him always to deliver us from temptation. This is an intention he has very close to his Sacred Heart, and which he has every intention of fulfilling for us if we follow his example set in today’s Gospel.

The first Sunday of Lent always carries with it the Gospel of Our Lord’s temptation in the desert. What example does he offer us in confronting temptation?

He kept watch over his inner senses: that is, his imagination, memory, and his feelings.

Now, the Savior was able to be tempted only from the outside—by persons and experiences. His inner life was in perfect order, and always obeyed the command of his reason. He was utterly without sin and the moral effects of sin seen in our unruly imagination, memory, and feelings.

Even so, since he could be tempted just like us from the outside, the means he offers us to counter temptation are a sure, supreme, and effective example for us. What are they?

Look at how he responds to the Evil One’s suggestions. Not with new arguments, but with the authoritative words of Sacred Scripture. In this way he actually avoids arguing with the devil, but uses powerful words already well known.

The holy monastic Fathers of the desert developed the technique used by Our Lord in dealing with the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil and of our imagination, memory, and emotions. When any of these suggest something that is wrong, we simply contradict them with the inspired word of God, not with any reasonings or arguments that might be used to justify our sinning.

“O God come to my assistance.” “O Lord make haste to help me.” “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” “Lord, you know that I love you.” Most importantly, these ancient teachers came to include the Holy Name of Jesus in these short responses to temptation, repeated over and over as they went about their tasks, as well as at the time of prayer. This is what is sometimes called “the Prayer of Jesus,” or “the Jesus Prayer.”

Our Lord tells us to pray constantly that we may be ready to stand before him. All of us can develop the habit of short invocations in the midst of our days and (sometimes sleepless) nights. By these, we can not only answer but also avoid temptations. Think of how many fewer would be our temptations if we were at all times, or at least more frequently filling our imagination, memory, and feelings with Jesus, Mary, and the holy aspirations of the saints! We could have true peace of soul. As the apostle has told us today, himself quoting the prophet Joel, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” Saved, that is, now from temptation, and after from the world, flesh, and the devil, from sin, death, and hell.

Not only this, but the Church gives a partial indulgence for any short prayer as we go about our day and our usual business. If we apply this to the souls of the departed, then every day we can hasten on their way to the eternal Easter those who are undergoing the ultimate, last Lent called purgatory. They will intercede for us and make our Easter joy brighter.

This is what we undertake each Lent and celebrate at Easter.

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