My greatest temptation: a Lenten reflection
I got baptized when I was three weeks old; I went to Mass and CCD every week as a kid; I had a pretty serious conversion experience when I was 16 years old; I have a master’s degree in theology; and I have been working for the Church for over 35 years. With all these credentials it would be tempting to think I have it all figured out. The problem is, temptation is my biggest temptation.
It’s probably not an accident that every year, early in Lent, we hear the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by the devil. We have just made a bunch of promises of what we are fasting from and doing extra for the same 40 days that Jesus was fasting. If you are like me, I usually don’t make it a full week before all the promises I made are in danger of being broken.
Year after year my Lenten journey shines a light on the reality of my life as a whole. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, exercise regimens, or healthy eating plans, things start out well and end spectacularly (not in a good way). For me, the root of this is giving in to temptation.
Yet even though I often fail at my Lenten promises, I still aim high every year. The Epistle of James sheds important light on why: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).
I have yet to find the joy when I am in the middle of a rough situation or when I am falling into temptation. But I do see the wisdom in the idea that testing our faith makes us stronger. One of the great purposes of our Lenten promises is for us to put our faith to the test. Even if we are not 100 percent successful, we still gain from the effort we put in. We get stronger just by trying. If we consistently get back up when we fall, we get even stronger. Then after numerous attempts we can look back at the progress we made, and this is when the joy that is promised comes.
Jesus taught us to ask the Father to lead us not into temptation. I’ve always found this phrase a little confusing. God would never lead us to temptation, so why do we pray for Him to not do this? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: “It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek [lead] means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation” (CCC 2846).
So, every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking for God to keep us out of temptation, but even if we end up being tempted, we are also asking that we won’t surrender to that temptation. It’s really a catch-all prayer for temptation.
But of course, we all get tempted and fall to this temptation. This is another great aspect of Lent. Our 40-day preparation for Easter offers us time to not only test our faith by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but also to reflect on our sinfulness and repent for the times we turn from God. This is why most parishes have penance services during Lent.
Our attempts to test our faith often reveal the ways we have failed to live our faith, and even fallen into sin. Jesus came, suffered, died, and rose again so we could have our sins forgiven and our relationship with God restored.
It might be tempting to skip going to Confession this Lent but don’t give into that temptation; rather, give in to the gentle call of Jesus to enter into His mercy and forgiveness. Now, that sounds tempting!