Saturday, February 20, 2016

Satan's Three Temptations

The devil wants to take the things of God, the holy things, the things we love and he wants to twist them to his own desires. Satan wants to do is to take something that is good and true and twist it. The devil can’t do anything of himself. He can’t create anything of his own accord. He can only take what God has created and try to twist it to his own ends. We need to recognize satan’s plans for what they are.

Consider the temptation of Jesus in the desert. It mirrors the problems that we face right from the moment of our conversion. Jesus is tempted in the desert, a place that is the antithesis of the Garden of Eden. The opposite. The garden was a place which God prepared for man. Everything was there. Adam and Eve had everything they needed. They wanted for nothing. They had no hunger. They had no need of anything else in the world. They themselves were the king and queen of their castle. The Lord gave dominion of all things in the world to them. They had it all.

Contrast that with Jesus in the desert. Jesus goes into the desert, into the place where there is nothing. He goes into the place where there is no food. There is no water. There is the very privatization of all of those things. He goes into the very heart of human need. His experience is ultimately the punishment that was due to sin—the lacking of all the blessings that God wanted to give us. There, in the desert, he took on satan, not in the midst of having everything, but rather in the deprivation. 

So often that is how the devil comes to us. The devil comes to us when we are weak. This beautiful line of the Gospel, “He had nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry,” makes us realize that God was hungry. God felt the needs that we feel. It always gives me such great help to know that our Lord was hungry. Why? Because it means that God knows what we are going through. He knows our sufferings. He experienced them.

The way the devil tempted Adam and Eve is the same way that he tempted Jesus. What was it that drew Eve to the tree? It was the apple, wasn’t it? “Oh, it looks good. Look at this apple.” The temptation to food, that temptation to a carnal desire, our basic desires for food, for rest, for sensuality--those basic desires, those things that we have in common even with the irrational animals of the world--those very basic desires are where the devil first will tempt us. Getting us to sin in a carnal desire offers a toehold to satan. Satan goes after those carnal desires first. Why? Because it can get his foot in the door.

Once he gets your attention, what’s next? He tempts with pride. Satan tells Adam and Eve, “You can become like God. You can decide what’s right and wrong.” Isn’t that what he did when he tempted Jesus in the desert? Make the stones bread. That was a carnal desire. Then he showed Jesus all the cities of the world. “I give them to you. You can be the master of the things in the world,” satan said to Christ.  After a test of hunger, after a temptation to our great carnal desires, satan tempts with pride. 

Lastly he throws at us our faith itself. Wasn’t that the temptation that Adam and Eve faced? They were tempted to believe satan instead of God who told them not to eat of the fruit of that tree or they would die. Satan told them God was mistaken. “You won’t die.” They believed the lie because their faith in God had wavered. The devil told Jesus, “Worship me. Make me your God.” He was tempting Jesus to give up faith in the Father and put his faith in satan.

Jesus said that there are some demons they can’t be cast out except by prayer and fasting. Fasting must be part of our lives, because if we don’t conquer our very basic carnal desires, then we will never be able to resist the temptations of satan. Jesus showed us that fasting is the way to do battle with our carnal nature. Those carnal desires for food, rest, and sensuality are where the devil gets himself in the door. We need to shut the door strongly. 

This is why we need to fast more. We need to make a place for fasting in our lives. Although penitents in the Confraternity of Penitents fast frequently because it is part of their Rule of Life, the Catholic Church mandates only two days where we have to fast--Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If that is all you are fasting, I challenge you to fast more this Lent. Maybe even once a week.
Pick a fast day. I’m not talking about starving yourself. One big meal, two smaller meals that, together, don’t equal the big one. No starving. But we do need to fast. 

We need to feel that hunger. We need to feel the hunger that Jesus felt in the desert because we need to rely more on God. Until we feel that hunger and we say, “I choose the love of God, over my own base desires,” until we choose the love of God over our own wants and needs, we are never going to be able to expel the devil and his temptations from our lives. 

We need fasting because we all have demons in our lives that can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. We will never be able to resist the temptations to pride and to lack of faith if we don’t first control our appetites. The saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” isn’t just for men. The way to damage your heart is, indeed, through your stomach, through your carnal desires. The way to have Christ reign over you is to first control the carnal desires. 

I invite you to one day of fasting per week during Lent. One day a week and watch the graces flow into your life. 

--Father Jacob Meyer, CFP Visitor

Christian Debate: Proclaiming the Truth in Love

One of my favorite retreats was given by Bishop Olmstead, the Bishop of Phoenix, Arizona. Bishop Olmstead is probably one of the most gentle human beings on the face of the planet. He even looks gentle. And he is a very small man, short, thin, and giant glasses. He’s everybody’s grandpa. Everybody loves him. Everybody wants to be around him. It doesn’t matter who you are. Why? Because he radiates his love for everyone. Everyone who meets him knows that he loves them, regardless of who they are. He naturally has an amazing ability to show love for everyone. 

The most amazing part of this retreat was when this little itty bitty man climbed into the giant pulpit at the seminary. He was so small that we could hardly see him over the pulpit. We could see where he was because he was like a bouncing hat. He pulled the microphone down and he said, “Gentlemen, never be nice!” 

What? You are the nicest man on the face of the earth. This is like Santa Claus telling us not to be nice. He explained the meaning of the word nice. The word nice means “fake.” You’re allowed to be charitable. You are allowed to be kind. Always be those two things. However, we are never allowed to be fake.
Bishop Olmstead
The Lord says we must speak the truth in love. The art of debate has been lost in our society. Debate was valued in the early Church. Argument was something that was part and parcel of being a Christian. And arguing is not necessarily not being nice. In our day and age, we see an argument and we think, “Oh, that’s not polite. We don’t argue in public. Oh, dear,” and we get very uncomfortable with arguments, don’t we? 

The most important part of the Christian debate is that it has nothing to do with being right. If you are arguing in a Christian debate, and you are only arguing for being right, you are missing the entire point. A debate in the Christian sense is a matter of truth. If is about truth, then it is ultimately about love. You cannot separate the truth from love. 

The Church fathers had debates constantly. These are great minds, great bishops of the church. They were writing to one another, and if you read their writings, they are hysterical. They always begin something like this. “My most worthy, humble servant of God, to Bishop so-and-so in an esteemed place, surrounded by the loving faithful of your diocese, may you always be loved and praised for the goodness which you exude . . . “ yada yada yada okay. 

But the very next paragraph begins, “But this is where your most grievous error has led you into stupidity.” What is this all about? It’s about my desire to esteem your dignity and your goodness. However, I believe that you are in error which means that, as your brother, I will never, ever allow you to remain in error because I love you, and error is not of God. Falsity is not of God. Anything that is not true is not of God. 

God told the prophets to take heart and take courage because he was sending them on a mission to proclaim the truth and to proclaim it in love. Speak to the people the truth even though they don’t want to accept it. You will be hated because of the message that I send you to preach. But that message is, indeed, about love. The message, even though the people do not want to receive it, is about heaven and about how God wishes them to be there. They need to receive this message and repent. Does that make the prophet a popular person? Not a chance. That makes him the least popular person. And yet God speaks a word of assurance to the prophet, “Be not afraid. Go and preach anyway, although you will be hated. I love you, and my love should be what motivates you, not the love of the masses, not the love of the world. My love will never leave you. Go and preach my truth.”

We remember the reading of St. Paul which makes us feel like we are at a wedding. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is this, love is that. This is a beautiful reading about love. But the truth about love is that love is not ultimately a feeling. You cannot separate love from truth. 

What is love in the Christian sense? It is not making the other person happy. That is not love. That is fakeness. That is niceness. That is the exact thing that Bishop Olmstead warns us against. Because if we want anyone to be happy, then we not doing them any good. It’s like having a child and only giving them what makes them happy. Is that loving that child? No! It’s making that child a spoiled brat. It’s not going to help them. 

True love is wishing heaven for them. And delivering that message in such a way that the person who hears it knows that they are loved, that we put them even before ourselves, that we put them in the center of our concern. The only reason we are talking to them is because we wish heaven for them. It’s not because we want to be right. 

The word of God will not always make everyone happy. Look at Jesus. Jesus is really good at ticking people off. We see in the Gospels constantly that he is making people angry, but you notice it’s not by the way in which he says it. He doesn’t insult the people. He doesn’t call them stupid. He doesn’t say, “Oh, you ignorant fools.” He doesn’t act pompously. He speaks the word of God to the people, and they like that. Then he challenges them and they get angry. What do we need to learn from this? 

When we hear the word of God and it doesn’t settle well with us, do we blame Jesus or do we allow ourselves to be confronted and say, “We have to change.”? Are we allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable? The Gospel is supposed to make us uncomfortable. It supposed to convict us. It is supposed to point out our deepest faults and call us to change out of love for Jesus. 

Are we like the Jewish people who want to toss Jesus out of our town? We do that when we, as Christians, deny the Gospel. We toss Jesus out when we deny his word and say, “I want to live by my truth rather than by what the Gospel teaches us. I know what the Church teaches, but I want to reject that and follow my own opinion.” We throw Jesus headlong off a cliff. “Jesus, I don’t want you in my town because you don’t think like me.” Instead we should say, “Jesus, I don’t understand your word. Help me to understand it better. I know there’s something there for me.” 

People were angry because Jesus pointed out that God loves their enemies. God loves everyone. That was ultimately a news splash to the people of Jesus’s day. What were the Israelites always saying? “This is the God of Israel. This is my God, the God who marches with my armies, and the God who favors Israel above all things, the God who loves me and not you.” That was the problem. Jesus said that, in all these hard times, God showed mercy and pity on people who are not like you. God showed mercy to and loved people who were outside of our midst. That should not make us angry. That should make us marvel at the love of God. 

So whenever we enter into a debate, what is our fundamental premise? That the person with whom we are debating is loved by God just as much as we are. We need to remember that Jesus never shied away from proclaiming the truth even when it made someone else angry. But that never stopped Jesus from loving the person with whom he got in a debate. Jesus died for every single person on that hill who wanted to throw him off. It would be a grave error for us to look at the Gospel and say “Oh, those stupid people of Jesus’s time.” We do the exact same thing. 

We need to be motivated like Jesus was and keep proclaiming the truth. Even though people hate us, we need to keep proclaiming the truth. Why? Not so that we are right, and we proclaim ourselves to be right. This truth is not ours. It is meant for the world. If we truly loved people, we should want them to have this truth. 

Secondly we, we need to recognize that truth will not make people happy. If you are making people happy all the time you’re probably not proclaiming the truth. Truth is wishing everybody to go to heaven and proclaiming the message in a way that is not rude but kind and loving. Remember that whoever is on the other side of that debate is also loved by God and should also be loved by us. Truth in charity. Truth in love. Let us all desire to debate with purpose, not to be right, but that the truth may be proclaimed in love.

Father Jacob Meyer, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Happy Lent!

On this Ash Wednesday, the Confraternity of Penitents wishes you Happy Lent!

We share with you a few thoughts expressed today by Father David Engo of the Franciscan Friars Minor, good thoughts to keep in mind during this joyful (yes, joyful) season of Lent.

Why should penance be joyful? Because, while we do penance to make reparation for our sins and those of others, we also do it to show that ourselves that God has first place in our lives. Penance needs to be done in love. It isn’t enough to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must love God more than we love ourselves. Penance shows that we love God more than we love anything else. And why do we love God? Because God loved us so much that He created us and then died for us when we turned from Him. One immortal soul is worth more to God than all the things of this world. And that includes YOUR soul, too, dear reader.

In Lent, we focus on avoiding sin and attachments to the things of this world. But we also need to focus on love-- love of God, love of neighbor, love of myself for God made me and God does not make junk. Our penances need to be rooted in love or else they will be rooted in pride. Jesus told us to keep our penances private so that we can’t become proud of them.

Even Satan can do penance, St. Francis said, but Satan cannot love.

May all your penances, whatever they may be, be rooted in love this Lent.

Happy Lent!

Learn about the symbols of Lent and their meanings by daily checking the home page of the Confraternity of Penitents at in the bottom right hand corner under “Daily Thought.” May these reflections bless you!