Think about the Lenten resolutions that you have made. We are all called as a church to focus on three aspects. To increase our prayer, to fast and to alms give. We are called to do all three.
Notice there are three different things that the devil counters against today. A lot of times as Catholics we only tend to focus on one: giving something up. I encourage you to do the other two as well. We are supposed to increase our prayer, and we are also supposed to give alms. Give to the poor, or give to the needy. All three are essential aspects of Lent.
Here is the difficulty: when you make these Lenten resolutions, it is not going to be easy because the devil is prowling. He is just waiting to devour us, waiting to get us off course, waiting to get us to give up the original resolutions that we may have made.
The important thing is that we remain fast and remain strong when we encounter Satan’s temptations. The temptations are all different variations of “get out of jail free” cards. The devil tempts us in a way that says, “Just take this temptation, and it is going to be very easy.”
We see this with Jesus. He is in the desert and has fasted for forty days and forty nights. At the end of it, he is hungry. He is physically hungry at the end of the forty days. Notice the temptation that comes from Satan. He says to him, “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into bread.” He does two really manipulative things at the same moment right there.
First of all, he gets him to question his identity. “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into bread.” Satan is trying to get to the core of our identity. He is going to try to get us to believe that we are not a beloved son or a beloved daughter and that God is not providing for us. What do we have to do? We must take matters in our own hands.
So, Satan comes and says, “If you are the Son of God, change these stones into bread.” Satan coerces us into deciding to be fed this instant. Satan wants us to know we do not have to wait any longer. Jesus, after forty days and forty nights, says, “It is written one does not live on bread alone.” He not only counters Satan, but he waits even longer. He has fasted for forty days and forty nights. It is time to eat, right? But he says, “No, man does not live by bread alone.” He gives even more. He waits even longer.
Satan tries to tempt him again. Satan says to Jesus, “I shall give to all this power and glory, for it is handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish, if you worship me.” Satan tempts us to worship him. He tempts us to give our trust to him. So, during Lent, these forty days, we are going to be tempted not to trust God but to trust Satan. He is going to tempt us, and that is going to hit the core of our identity. The core of our identity is that we are a beloved son or a beloved daughter. God provides for us.
So, what does Satan try to do? He is going to try to make us think that God is not going to provide for us. Satan wants us to believe that he can provide for us. Not only that, but that he can do it in an instant. Right now, we can have what we want. Think about our sins. Think about any compulsions that we might have. Most often, it is in an instant that we give in to them. And, really, all it takes is just a little bit more waiting. We just need a little bit more patience for God to provide because he does provide for us.
In the third and final temptation Satan says, “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 and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” He is again tempting Jesus to get immediate relief. Immediate satisfaction. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down and the angels shall come to you,” and Jesus does not. He refuses and says, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Then, what happens? The devil flees, and the angels come and minister to him. God does come. He does send his angels to minister to us, too, but it is not until after the testing has passed. So much of this is just to be willing to endure. Being willing to be patient. Being willing to trust as opposed to immediately having our needs fulfilled. Immediately be fed. Immediately find relief. A lot of it is waiting, and then the angels come.
In our prayer, as we increase our prayer during Lent, there are going to be some times that are just going to be waiting. The enemy will be attacking us with many difficult thoughts. That is why we sometimes do not spend time in silence. We do not want to go through that battle. If we do increase our prayer, there will be some of that. If we wait long enough, the angels will minister to us. God will come to us.
In our fasting, there will be times where we are tempted to give up whatever the resolution is. Or, we try to just do a little bit, and we find ourselves going down that slippery slope. Again, it is just denying the temptation and saying, I am not going to give in. I am just going to be for the rest of this time. I am not going to believe that I need to have this pleasure right now or this need right now. I can wait through the temptation and then the angels will come to minister me.
Third, and finally, with almsgiving, there is also the temptation not to give alms because we have this false identity again that we need to provide for ourselves. If we give to someone who is poor, we might not have what we need. Who are we leaving out of the picture? Our Father. Our Father who wants to provide for us. Often times it does take some suffering, some poverty and some waiting.
So, brothers and sisters, we are in for a tough time over these next forty days. It is going to be tough. Satan is going to attack us like crazy, but the important thing is not to give into the compulsion. Not to think that we need to immediately be fed. Not to think that we need to immediately be relieved right away. Simply to endure. When we do endure and remain faithful to God, the angels will come to minister us. Satan will leave for a time, and then the angels will come back.