As I have been reflecting on the gospel for this First Sunday of Lent—this year, from the Gospel according to Saint Luke—a sequence of questions came to mind. Was the devil “waiting for Jesus” upon Jesus’ arriving in the wilderness? Did God “assign” Satan to tempt Jesus? How does Lucifer operate on a day-to-day basis?
We would rightly be appalled at the thought of someone inviting Satan into his or her life, as though to tap his power in opposition to the power of Almighty God. Yet, it strikes me that the devil does not wait for an express invitation to appear and taunt us, lure us, and deceive us. Consequently, without moving through life in a state of paralyzing fear—for we have the help of God available whenever we call upon His name—Lent provides us with a great opportunity to review our “spiritual evacuation plan.”
What do I mean? On the one hand, when we are in the midst of temptation (more varieties of which unfortunately exist than flavors at Baskin Robbins) we can certainly command: “Satan, be gone.” However, no more than the Enemy “got lost” after the first of his temptations to Christ can we presume he will necessarily let up upon our first attempt to resist. So, similar to a school or other organization going through a drill, in the event that a fire DOES invade the building, we need to be ready to flee the scene of temptation. And if one exit appears to be blocked, we need to know where another exit is (think of the pre-flight instructions given to airline passengers).
Perhaps a couple of examples will assist here. An individual pledges not to cheat on this year’s tax return. Marvelous! Still, there will be next year’s return to file. What if there are further revisions in the tax law that strike me as unfair? I will need to choose again not to cheat. A young man and a young woman are striving to be chaste in their dating relationship. It would be wonderful, if overcoming the temptation to violate the sacredness of their bodies outside of Marriage one time was enough to remove the vulnerability. Realistically, that couple may face strong temptation on every date. They may have to consider making an alteration in the configuration of their time together.
The experience of Jesus in the desert suggests, I believe, that repeated resistance to sin does build us up, even if we are never immune. May we “work the program” of Lent, relying on the Heavenly Father as Jesus does, so that our individual resistance to temptation benefits, not only the self but also one another.