Lent 1 Sunday - Homilies

Opening Story:
Some people fall into temptation, but a great many make plans for disaster ahead of time. "Son," ordered a father, "Don't swim in that canal." 
"OK, Dad," he answered. But he came home carrying a wet bathing suit that evening. 
"Where have you been?" demanded the father. 
"Swimming in the canal," answered the boy. "Didn't I tell you not to swim there?" asked the father. 
"Yes, Sir," answered the boy. 
"Why did you?" he asked. 
"Well, Dad," he explained, "I had my bathing suit with me and I couldn't resist the temptation." 
"Why did you take your bathing suit with you?" he questioned. 
"So I'd be prepared to swim, in case I was tempted," he replied. 
Too many of us expect to sin and excite sin. The remedy for such dangerous action is found in Romans 13:14, "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." Whenever we play with temptation, it is easy to drift into great danger. A woman was bathing in the Gulf of Mexico. She was enjoying the comfort of relaxing on an inflated cushion that kept her afloat. When she realized that she had been swept about a half mile out from the beach, she began to scream, but no one heard her. A coast guard craft found her five miles from the place where she first entered the water. She did not see her danger until she was beyond her own strength and ability.
C. Swindoll, One Step Forward, p. 85.


For More Illustrations, see the separate post on Lent: Stories and Illustrations - TK
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Fr. Bill Grimm:



Introduction to the Celebration

We are the people who have been baptised into Christ and share in his new life. But we are also a people still in need of repentance and renewal. Today we begin a season that leads us through Christ’s death to his resurrection and onwards to our celebration of the Spirit dwelling within us at Pentecost. Today we begin a season of renewal in that new life, we start to take stock of the state of our discipleship as individuals and as a people. During the coming weeks we will focus on the core of our faith and our dedication to building the new kingdom announced by Jesus.
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Thomas O’Loughlin

Note
For many people, today, rather than Ash Wednesday, is their first encounter with the season of Lent. It is therefore worthwhile presenting today as the introduction to the whole season. However, the difficulty is that ‘Lent’ must not be presented as a season on its own, possibly with Easter as sequel; rather it has to be seen as a stage in the annual season of renewal, the celebration of death of the old person — resurrection to new life, that is central to the whole time between Lent’s beginning and Pentecost.

Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments

Like all who see their lives as a grateful response to God’s call, Jesus must make the basic choice to trust God, whatever the circumstances he finds himself in. In this story, under very great pressure, Jesus makes his choice. Who does he remind you of at this moment of decision?

The story is told as a journey in three stages:

Verse 1: Identify the wilderness into which you – or someone you know, or your community – have been led by the Spirit. Note that it is the Spirit – God’s love – who leads him there. What does that say about true love? Deuteronomy 8:1-5 will help you to answer this question. Ask yourself also, do we sometimes go into the wilderness but not led there by the Spirit? What happens then?

Verses 3 – 10: The three temptations are three aspects of the one temptation not to trust God, or (stated in positive terms) to follow the way of achievement rather than that of trust. Repeat Jesus’ three responses to yourself many times until you can identify with them. From that perspective you will understand the temptations. Thank God for the great people who continue to respond like Jesus. How is Satan tempting them? How is Satan tempting the Church?

Verse 11:  This is the moment when an individual (or a community) who has remained faithful through a long temptation experiences the love and care of God for that person (or cause) to whom he or she has been faithful. Who are the angels God sends to look after his faithful ones? 

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Homily Notes

1. We speak much about ‘discipleship’ and about ‘being disciples’; we also speak about the’ discipline of Lent: but rarely do we link discipleship with discipline, fixed training regimes, and building up skills through practice. In our cult­ure discipline belongs to dieting, skills training belongs to sporting activities, and warm feelings belong to religious dis­cipleship. Earlier Christians took a far more practical ap­proach to living a Christian life and discipleship: it required disciplined training, skills acquisition, mentoring by more experienced members of the community (surviving vestigially in ‘God parents’), regular practice, and periodic renewal and servicing. Here lies one of the origins of Lent and it became linked to preparing for baptism since the prospective mem­bers of the community had to have learned the basic skills.

2. From the outset, three skills were seen as essential. First, the ability to pray: both alone and in a willingness to take part in the liturgy. One cannot be a Christian without prayer, nor call yourself one unless you gather with the Christians for prayer.

3. Second, a Christian must have the ability to fast. Fasting is a private and a public act. Private in that it touches one person­ally and makes one conscious of what one is about, literally in the pit of the stomach. This is felt religion, not an engage­ment with warm abstractions. Fasting is also communal in that it is done at fixed times of the week and year, and when one fasts as a part of a group, one identifies with them by sharing their practice. Then one is not acting alone, but it is the whole group that is imploring heaven collectively for their needs by fasting. Fasting without the dimension of prayer is simply dieting; prayer without fasting (or some other collective activity that ‘touches’ us), may be little more than repetitive sounds.

4. Third, giving to the poor (almsgiving) is a basic Christian act­ivity, and any notion that Christian belief can be separated from care for justice and:development would involve imag­ining Christianity as a philosophical system and divorce it from its roots – although this is a way of viewing Christian belief that is today quite common. Early Christians assumed that it was no use thanking God for his gifts and asking for his mercy, unless they were prepared to divert their gifts, re­sources, and mercy to the poor. To acknowledge God as our creator implies a care fOJ: all in need. And to acknowledge need and not do something about it is hypocrisy. Now that we have a global consciousness (just turn on the radio and listen to the news: details from every place on the planet where something bad, good, or interesting has happened over the last 12 hours), our almsgiving must have a global reach, hence the importance during Lent of thinking about world poverty, supporting development agencies, and taking some action to remove injustice: this is not a parallel activity to Lent, but part of its core. But remember, prayer and fasting without care for the poor turns faith into a private affair or a ‘holy huddle’, but almsgiving without prayer and fasting while noble, also fails to acknowledge the larger mystery that envelops all creation.

5. Lent is a time for polishing up basic Christian skills:
    Prayer: on one’s own and with the group;
    Fasting: practising simplicity of lifestyle with the group;
    Almsgiving: making with other Christians a real contribution to making the world a better place for  all God’s children.

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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

Being Christians, we are part of the covenant people. We belong to the people whom God has chosen as his own people and with whom he established a covenant relationship.

A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. It is an alliance or partnership between them and it involves a commitment from each of the participating parties to be faithful to the agreement that they made when beginning their special relationship. In the Old Testament, the Chosen People were the Jews.

Later,  Jesus — himself a Jew — developed the covenant relationship by establishing a new means of conducting our relationship with God through the Church which, according to the paragraph 877 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is ‘the new Israel’.

Therefore, as people in the covenant relationship with God, we are unique. Not only in the sense of being privileged due to our membership of the Church, but also in the sense of having serious obligations. In that relationship, God promises to be our God and we, in turn, promise to be his people. These promises are binding forever and faithfulness is necessary.

The covenant relationship requires obedience from us. In return, God will reward us with great graces and, ultimately, with heaven. There is an example of this in the account of Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (see Mt 4:1-11). Even after fasting for forty days, Jesus resisted the devil’s temptations and succeeded in sending him away. By remaining faithful to his Father’s will, Jesus taught that if we resist temptation we will not become slaves to sin.

As with Jesus during his temptations in the wilderness, God the Father has never been, and could not be, unfaithful to his promise to be our God at all times and in all places. God does not change and his promise is irrevocable. Throughout human history, however, God’s chosen people were often unfaithful to the covenant and it has needed renewal by them. Thus the covenant relationship was always cyclical with repeating cycles of fidelity, sin, punishment and reconciliation.

In the Hebrew scriptures we read that the covenant was renewed several times after the people had been disloyal and had abandoned living in accordance with God’s commandments. The renewal was expressed in various signs and rituals. For example, the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah was the rainbow. Similarly, the sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham (that his descendants would be as many as the stars) was male circumcision. The sign of the covenant that God made with Moses on Mount Sinai was the Ten Commandments.

Subsequently, in the New Testament we read that the new and eternal covenant between God and his Chosen People was sealed by the blood of Christ in his suffering and death. The sign of this covenant is ritualised in the sacrament of baptism. In baptism we die with Christ and rise to new life with him. Living the baptised life authentically, as evidenced by our faithfulness to God’s commandments, is the proof that we are taking the covenant seriously. Central to the covenant relationship is a continual turning towards God and turning away from sin, which is what damages and breaks the covenant.

During Lent, through prayer, fasting and charitable works, we renew our covenant relationship with God. We are called to undergo conversion through repentance for our sins so that we will be ready to appreciate the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ at Easter. The ritual sign of renewing our baptismal commitment is celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. Lent is a particularly appropriate time for us to go to confession and, in the spirit of true repentance, to be assured that our sins are forgiven.

The message of Lent is summarised in the words spoken to us on Ash Wednesday when the sign of the cross is traced on our foreheads with the blessed ashes: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. Now is the time to begin the process of conversion so that our commitment to God may become as unbreakable as his commitment to us.

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Scripture reflection     

 ”What use are victories on the battlefields if we are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”  Maximillian Kolbe

Lord, we like to remain on the banks of the river Jordan
where we busy ourselves with external activities,
organizing communities, entering into relationships, academic discussions.
We pray that during these forty days of Lent
we may allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit into the depths of ourselves,
into the wilderness, away from the world of achievements,
where we can face up to the evil tendencies that are active within us:
- our feeling that as children of God we have the right to dominate the world as we will;
- our yearning for the power and the glory of earthly kingdoms;
- the subtle ways in which we try to manipulate you.
We need not be afraid of this wilderness experience, Lord,
because even if we have to face evil in ourselves,
we will also discover, like Jesus,
that trust in your love is a law written deep within us,
and when the devil has exhausted all these ways of tempting us he will leave.
But, Lord, do not let us become complacent,
because he will return at some time you have appointed,
and we must be ready to start the struggle all over again.
 Lord, as a Church, we are inclined to remain on the banks of the Jordan,
content to baptise and preach and look after our Church affairs.
But if, like Jesus, we are filled with your Holy Spirit,
we too will leave the Jordan and let the Spirit lead us through the wilderness,
through the worlds of politics, business, industrial relations and international trade,
being tempted there by the devil as all our contemporaries are,
so that we can find even within those wildernesses
that the words of scripture are still true.
Lord, we remember today a difficult period in our lives:
• our financial situation was very precarious;
• we had a succession of failures in our work;
• our children were causing us problems.
You led us through the wilderness for those forty days;
we felt as if we had nothing to nourish ourselves and we were hungry.
We were resentful too: were we not the children of God?
Why could we not take up a stone and tell it to turn into a loaf of bread?
Then one day it suddenly came home to us
that there is much more to life than having our needs satisfied.
We had discovered that we had loyal friends, good health,
and most of all trust in you.
Jesus had reminded us how scripture says that man does not live on bread alone.
“The hope that rests on calculation has lost its innocence.”     Thomas Merton
Lord, in the world today, people like to plan things rationally
and we would like to plan our lives that way too.
We would like to go up on a height
and see in a moment of time all the kingdoms of this world,
and then find out to whom the power and the glory of these kingdoms have been   committed
so that they can be given to us.
But that, Lord, is the way of calculation,
whereas to become whole persons we must take the way of Jesus,
which is to have as our only security that we worship you,
our Lord and God, and that we serve you alone.
Lord, we thank you for great people who have touched our lives,
not world figures or those who make the headlines,
but ordinary people who have done their duty without fuss:
• parents who brought up handicapped children;
• dedicated teachers;
• business people who remained honest.
We thank you that they knew how to remain in the wilderness,
not threatening to throw themselves from the parapet of the temple
and calling on you to send angels who would guard them and hold them on their hands
so that they would not hurt their feet against a stone.
Like Jesus, they knew that you were their Lord and God,
and they did not have to put your love to the test.
Lord, Lent is a time when we have deep prayer experiences,
and we might think that in those experiences we are free from the evil one.
Remind us, Lord, that there is a temptation
special to those who stand at the parapet of your temple,
and that is to become arrogant towards you,
to insist that your angels must hold us up in case we hurt our feet against a stone.
Help us, Lord, in our prayers, to remain perfectly still and trusting,
remembering, like Jesus, how it is said
that we must not put you, our Lord and God, to the test.
 

Walk the dark ways of faith and you will attain the vision of God.” … St Augustine
  
       Lord, it is risky to let ourselves be led by the Spirit.
       So often he leads us into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

       We make an act of trust in you today,
       letting ourselves be guided by you,
       confident that the devil will eventually leave us
       and angels will appear to look after us.

       Lord, sometimes we go into the wilderness
       because we are hurt or angry or resentful of others.
       Teach us that we are only safe in the wilderness if the Spirit leads us there.

       “Understanding can follow only where experience leads.“St Bernard 

       We pray for parents and all those who guide others;
       help them to be like you:
       – not to be over-protective;
       – to let their sons and daughters be led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
       because it is only there that they will experience angels appearing
       and looking after them.

       “In prison you learn the value of self-discipline, you stand outside of  yourself and see your     weaknesses.“… Nelson Mandela    

Lord, we think of all those who are in the wilderness at this moment,
       those who have been there forty days and forty nights
       without eating and are very hungry –
       hungry for love, for security, for recognition, for ordinary food.
       The tempter has certainly come
       and said to them that they can turn the stones before them
       into loaves.
       We pray that they may reply in the words of Scripture,
       that we do not live on bread alone
       but on every word that comes from your mouth.

       We pray for the youth of today.
       They see the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;
       but to be given all these
       they must fall at the feet of the devil and worship him.
       We pray that they may repeat the words of scripture
       worshipping you, the Lord their God, and serving you alone.

       “The heart of the Christian message is that the most salvific moment in the history of the world was when one man was pinned to a cross, unable  to do anything for anyone about anything.”
       …Thomas Cullinane, Benedictine monk
       Lord, our Church community has been led by the Spirit into the wilderness,
       the wilderness of falling numbers, of failure, of uncertainty, of criticism.
       We remember that the Spirit always leads your people into the wilderness
       to be tempted by the devil.
       Help us to refuse the easy solutions,
       – to turn stones into bread,
       – to throw ourselves from the parapet of the temple in order to prove
          that you will support us on your hands in case we hurt our feet against
          a stone
       – to fall at the devil’s feet and worship him.
      
       We renew our trust in you, confident
       – that we can live on every word that comes from your mouth;
       – that we need not put you to the test;
       – that we worship you as our God and serve you alone.

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HOMILIES: 

     1. Fr. Tony Kadavil:

The gradation in temptations: The three temptations - turn stones into bread (4:3); jump off the Temple pinnacle (4:6); worship Satan (4:9) - demonstrate three kinds of control: material, spiritual and civil.  They correspond to three wrong evaluations: 1) those who have material resources are blessed by God; 2) those who have spiritual powers are blessed by God; 3) those who have national power are blessed by God.  These, in turn, correspond to three human-divine bargains: 1) I will worship You if you make me rich; 2) I will worship You if You endow me with magical powers; and 3) I will worship You if You give me political power.  These temptations of Jesus are traditionally treated as archetypes of the temptations we experience: the temptation to satisfy personal needs by material possessions, the temptation to perform miraculous deeds by spiritual power and the temptation to seek political power and social influence. But Jesus dismisses the temptations using the Word of God.  He quotes the Law from Scripture itself: “One does not live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3); “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (6:16); “Worship the Lord, your God” (6:13). 

The first temptation could not have been better timed.  Jesus had been fasting for forty days.  He was entitled to eat.  Even Israel in the Old Testament was miraculously fed with manna.  Why not the Son of God?  "Turn these stones into loaves of bread.  Use your power to satisfy your physical need.  You are entitled to food after a forty-day fast."  The temptation was that Jesus use the miraculous powers God gave Him to use for His mission to provide for himself.  This first temptation of Jesus was not merely the urge to satisfy his hunger by some miraculous deed.  It also had implications as to how Jesus would respond to the physical needs of others, especially their need for food.  Matthew tells us, for example, that Jesus miraculously fed a multitude of people (14:13-21 and 15:32-39).  Jesus would be seen as the Messiah who provided for their pressing needs. 

The very seat of religious life, namely, the sacred precincts of the Temple itself became the scene of the second temptation.  The devil was suggesting that, on the basis of Scripture, Jesus must believe in and insist on divine protection: if He were the Son of God He had the right to expect safety and protection from His heavenly Father.  Here Jesus is pressured either to identify Himself as God’s Son and Messiah, or to discredit His mission by apparently either denying His trust in God, the truth of Scripture or His own right to speak in God's Name.  An additional temptation for Jesus was to use his miraculous powers to amaze people and thereby attract followers.

In the third temptation, the devil wanted Jesus to enter the world of political power to establish his kingdom of God instead of choosing the path that might lead to suffering, humiliation and death.  It was a temptation to do the right thing using the wrong means.  Jesus was being tempted to win the world by worshipping the devil.  Why not compromise a bit?  Why not strike a deal with the evil powers.  Spirit-filled, sanctified, spiritually vibrant Christians are still subject to the same temptation.  We need companionship, acceptance, the approval of others, love and appreciation.  We are tempted to fulfill these legitimate needs using the wrong means. 

Anecdotes

1: Alluring music of the Sirens:
 
In Greek mythology the sirens are creatures with the heads of beautiful women and the bodies of attractive birds.  They lived on an island (Sirenum scopuli; three small rocky islands) and, with the irresistible charm of their song, they lured mariners to their destruction on the rocks surrounding their island (Virgil V, 846; Ovid XIV, 88).  They sang so sweetly that all who sailed near their home in the sea were fascinated and drawn to the shore only to be destroyed.  When Odysseus, the hero in the Odyssey, passed that enchanted spot he had himself tied to the mast and put wax in the ears of his comrades, so that they might not hear the luring and bewitching strains.  But King Tharsius chose a better way. He took the great Greek singer and lyrist Orpheus along with him. Orpheus took out his lyre and sang a song so clear and ringing that it drowned the sound of those lovely, fatal voices of sirens. The best way to break the charm of this world’s alluring voices during Lent is not trying to shut out the music by plugging our ears, but to have our hearts and lives filled with the sweeter music of prayer, penance, word of God, self control, and acts of charity.  Then temptations will have no power over us (RH). 

2: “On the ninth trip around the block, there it was!"
A comical, but illustrative, story shows us how adept we are at rationalizing our actions: A very overweight man decided that it was time to shed a few pounds. He went on a new diet and took it seriously. He even changed his usual driving route to the office in order to avoid his favorite bakery. One morning, however, he arrived at the office carrying a large, sugar-coated coffee cake. His office mates roundly chided him, but he only smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, "What could I do? This is a very special cake. This morning, out of my forced habit, I accidentally drove by my favorite bakery. There in the window were trays of the most delicious goodies. I felt that it was no accident that I happened to pass by, so I prayed, 'Lord, if you really want me to have one of these delicious coffee cakes, let me find a parking place in front of the bakery.' Sure enough, on the ninth trip around the block, there it was!" Temptation is strong, but we must be stronger. We should not tempt fate and we should not rationalize our actions. 

3: Temptation to keep large carnivores as pets:
Antoine Yates lived in New York City and for some inexplicable reason brought home a 2-month-old tiger cub and later an alligator.  It’s not clear where he found them.  But they were with him for two years — in his apartment.  What was a little tiger cub, became a 500 pound Bengal tiger monstrosity.  It was inevitable.  The police got a call about a “dog” bite and when they got to the 19-story public housing apartment building, they discovered Yates in the lobby with injuries to his right arm and leg.  Someone alerted them of the possibility of a “wild animal” at his apartment.  A fourth-floor resident complained that urine had seeped through her ceiling from Yates’ apartment.  When they arrived, the police peered through a hole and saw the huge cat prowling around in the apartment.  To make a long story short, it took a contingent of officers at the door, and some rappelling from the roof to use a dart gun to bring this animal under control.  When they entered the apartment, they found the big cat lying atop some newspapers.  The alligator was nearby.  Both animals were relocated to shelters.  As for Yates, he missed the tiger, demonstrating that it’s possible to be in love with the very things that can kill you.  That is what happens to those who entertain temptations in the form of evil thoughts and desires, evil habits and addictions. 

2.     From Connections:
 
THE WORD:

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ 40-day desert experience, Jesus is confronted with several choices.  All of the tempter’s offers would have Jesus sin against the great commandment of Deuteronomy:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  (Deuteronomy 6: 5)  The tempter offers comfort, wealth and power, but Jesus chooses, instead, the course of humble and prayerful servanthood that the Father has chosen for him.  All of Jesus’ responses to the devil’s challenges are found in Deuteronomy (8: 3, 6: 16, 6: 13). 

HOMILY POINTS:

The Spirit who called Jesus to the wilderness calls us, as well, to a forty-day “desert experience,” a time to peacefully and quietly renew and re-create our relationship with God, that God might become the center of our lives in every season.

This First Sunday of Lent confronts us with choices: personal profit, comfort and glory or the life of God.  The season of Lent calls us to embrace God’s Spirit of truth that we may make the choices demanded by our complicated and complex world with courage, insight and faith.

Lent is the season for meaningful fasting -- fasting not just for the sake “of giving something up” but fasting from whatever derails or hampers our relationship with God and alienates us from others, fasting from everyday distractions in order to put our time and energy into the things of God.  

Addictions

Addiction is hard word -- it conjures up horrifying images of life-threatening dependence on some narcotic or hallucinogen that robs us of our ability to control our lives.

But the fact is that every one of us has some addiction: the things we cannot imagine living without.  It may be eating, shopping, blaming, or taking care of other people.  We can be addicted to the latest, the newest, the hottest, the most fashionable.  Our addiction may be our obsession with our computer or electronic toys, our favorite band, or our golf clubs.  We are all addicted to habits, substances or surroundings that comfort us, that provide a refuge for us, that block out what scares or hurts us.

At some point in our lives, however, we find ourselves alone in some kind of desert or wilderness, deprived of our addictions.  We experience an emptiness within us that our addiction will not fill.  We are suddenly exposed, like someone addicted to painkillers whose prescriptions have just run out.  It is hard.  It is awful.  But to become fully human, it is necessary to encounter the world without our own anesthesia, to find out what life is like with no comfort but God.

That may be the simplest definition of addiction: anything we use to fill the empty place inside us that belongs to God alone.

[Adapted from “Settling for less” by Barbara Brown Taylor, in The Christian Century, February 18, 1998.] 

The season of Lent calls us to leave behind our addictions and pacifiers, our comfort food and toys, and journey to the desert, to be alone with nothing but God.  It is a time to take a hard look at the “addictions” that control us and regain control of our time and values so that we may become the man or woman God created us to be.  May our “desert time” with God over the next 40 days, leaving our addictions and obsessions behind, help us re-fill our souls and spirits with the wisdom and grace of the God who constantly seeks us out and calls us back to him.  

3.     Fr. Tommy Lane

Temptations. They come to every one of us. A temptation is a trick, a deception, a lie. It conceals the truth and presents falsehood to us as the truth. A temptation may even offer us something good but entices us to use it in a false and selfish way. Temptations lure us into doing or saying or thinking something that does not reflect who we really are as sons and daughters of God. A temptation tries to convince us with a false charm but is not there to help us pick up the pieces and deal with guilt afterwards. A temptation conceals from us the true road to peace and joy and happiness giving us instead the illusion of a quick and easy way to find what is really good and worthwhile in life. A temptation is therefore sneaky, offering us what appears to be a quick-fix, but is in reality a quick-disaster. A temptation is therefore irrational and has no sense. A temptation hopes we will not use our brains because if we do use our brains when temptation comes we will quickly notice how stupid following a temptation would be. It is no wonder that temptation succeeds best during those times when our brains are not at full potential e.g. when under the influence of alcohol or drugs or when tired or under stress. Is there anything more deceptive and sneaky and two-faced than temptations? No wonder that temptations come from the devil, whom Jesus called the father of lies (John 8:44).
When temptations come to us we have a choice; either to follow them like Adam and Eve in our first reading (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7) or to overcome them like Jesus (Matt 4:1-11). After the sin of Adam and Eve, everything was totally changed. The way humans related to each other and to God was now damaged. For the first time, Genesis tells us, they realized they were naked and had to wear clothes. In other words, lust had now crept into humanity destroying the beauty of perfect relationships.
Instead of allowing ourselves to get into this mess we have the example of Jesus in the Gospel today. He suffered real temptations. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that he was tempted in every way that we are but he did not sin (Heb 4:15). Jesus was tempted to prove that he was the Son of God by misusing his divine power: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matt 4:3); “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’…(Matt 4:6) During the third temptation Jesus was tempted to totally wreck his Father’s plan, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” just as we are sometimes tempted to totally wreck God’s plan for us as his sons and daughters. But Jesus overcame the temptations, not just in the desert, but temptations he experienced at any time, the temptation from Peter not to suffer his Passion and the temptation in Gethsemane not to face his Passion. Jesus healed the relationship between us and God which had been broken by the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus is the New Adam who put right the sin of the first Adam just as Mary is the New Eve co-operating in God’s plan to save us unlike the first Eve who wrecked God’s plan. As the second reading states,
Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:18-19)
We have begun the season of Lent. Our model during Lent is Jesus in the desert overcoming temptation. We make many sacrifices and acts of self-denial during Lent and we fast. We want to pray more during Lent and donate from our surplus to help the poor. All of these things that we do during Lent are an expression of something inside ourselves that we want to do during Lent, give up sin by overcoming temptation. In other words, what we really want to give up during Lent is sin! We want to give up sin because it destroys us and only drags us down and hurts our relationship with each other and God. We want to give up sin during Lent because we do not want to be tricked and deceived and lied to by temptation any more. We want to give up sin during Lent because temptations conceal from us the true road to wholeness and integrity giving us instead the illusion of a quick and easy way to find what is really good and worthwhile in life. We want to give up sin during Lent because temptations are sneaky, offering us what appears to be a quick-fix, but is in reality a quick-disaster. We want to give up sin during Lent because we know that following a temptation into sin is irrational and has no sense. Therefore we want to be particularly attentive when our brain power is lowered e.g. by alcohol or when we are tired or under stress.
Above all we want to give up sin during Lent because we love Jesus and when we give in to temptation and sin we hurt Jesus. Every time we sin we are the soldiers scourging Jesus at the pillar during his Passion. Every time we sin we are giving a slap to Jesus. Every time we sin we put a crown of thorns on Jesus. Every time we sin we are the soldiers driving nails into his hands to crucify him. We love Jesus and do not want to hurt him anymore than we have already done. This is why we want to give up sin. Jesus in the desert overcame temptation. Because we love Jesus we too want to overcome temptation and sin during the desert of Lent. By dying to sin during Lent may we rise to new life with Jesus at Easter.

4. Fr. John Speekman 

The Philokalia is a collection of texts written between the fourth and the fifteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition. It is available in book form and online for those of you who are interested. Right now I’d like to quote from one of the spiritual masters, who contributes to this book: Evagrios the Solitary, who was one of the early desert Fathers in Egypt about 450 AD. 

Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men. 

Isn’t it interesting that of all the vices which can afflict a human being Evagrios would choose these three? Did he just pick them out of a hat? I don't think so. 

The desert Fathers were solitary men who fasted, prayed, did penance, meditated on Scripture, kept vigil, and engaged in combat with the demons and gave glory to God by his power in them – all to the end that they might achieve purity of heart and see the face of God. They studied God and they studied themselves. They examined the origins of every sin and discovered as they ‘joined the dots’ that each sin is connected to another, a kind of ‘parent’ sin, and that all eventually lead back to gluttony, greed and the desire for esteem in the eyes of others. 

Therefore we must take them seriously when they say: Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, there are three groups who fight in the front line. 

Evagrios goes on to say: All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups ... and ... no one can fall into the power of any demon, unless he has been wounded by those of the front line. 

Gluttony leads to a raft of other sins, including particularly unchastity of one kind or another. Greed and the desire for esteem lead to division, discord and violence in thought, word and deed. 

Evagrios concludes that this is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Saviour during his forty days in the desert. First he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread (gluttony); then he promised Him the whole world (greed), if Christ would fall down and worship him: and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him. He would be glorified (the esteem of men) and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple. 

Satan knew where to begin and he began with these three temptations. These were the three doors to every other sin, and if he could not open these doors in Jesus he knew it was futile to tempt him in other ways. 

The temptations of the Lord in the desert therefore hold valuable lessons for those of us who seek to please God by struggling with the sins which beset us. This struggle can often be bewildering and overwhelming. 

If we return to their three sources as Evagrios the Solitary proposes them for us we might find a worthy place to begin our spiritual struggle this Lent, questioning ourselves about the place of gluttony, the degree of avarice, and the extent of the desire to be popular with others which might have taken hold of our lives.

If these three doors are open to the demons we can expect them to enter in and cause havoc in our lives. By rejecting the devil at the threshold Jesus drives him away. Let us pray this Lent that the Master will give us his power to do the same.
 

5.     Fr Matthew J. Albright 

Christ, our remedy for evil and example of virtue
 
Purpose: Satan tricked our First Parents into denying their identity as children made in God’s image, and lured them into grasping at the forbidden tree under the pretense that it would make them like gods.  Christ comes as the “New Adam” to cleanse humanity of the burden of disobedience, temptation, sin, and death laid upon humanity by Satan.

Humanity’s troubles in our modern world are traceable to a crisis of identity among human persons.  Many people simply do not know who they are.  If we examine the sordid escapades of celebrities and public figures, we see fundamentally inhuman behavior: abuse of power, property, and the human body, that contravenes basic respect for the dignity of others.  This is the trick of the Evil One, which we see him carry out from the beginning in the words of Genesis.  He says to the woman, as he cajoles her into eating of the tree that God had forbidden for them: “…your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”  He turns the woman and the man in on themselves, and they forget their true identity.  They could not be any more like gods than they are, created as they are in the image and likeness of the one, true God, whose own divine life he breathed into them.  They are already in Paradise, free and open to one another, and united with God in love.  God has revealed to them in the garden a variety of blessings to enjoy.  Yet, their weakness is the deadly sin of pride.  Satan convinces them that they need more, that God is withholding something from them that will enhance their life, and his rules are limiting them.  They neglect all the other beautiful trees, and selfishly grasp at the one that God said is not good for them.  They make a self-centered choice to turn from God, and serve their own desires.  This is the root of sin.  After sinning, they become ashamed and afraid.  They are no longer other-focused and loving.  The body becomes an object and, therefore, it is necessary to hide the most private parts of it.

From this moment, and throughout human history, sin abounded.  Death, pain, and concupiscence resulted from that original sin, which caused humanity to continually stray from God’s design.  Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more, as God sent his Son to be our redeemer.  This great act of love displays the Father’s heart: He will not leave us in the sin that is our fault.

Aquinas wrote that the Cross is both a “remedy and an example.”  The Cross, as the Altar on which Christ the Priest and Victim offers the one perfect sacrifice of himself, is our remedy from sin.  He was incarnate in order to take on our sin and accept the punishment that we deserve in order to make us whole.  As the New Adam, Christ overturns the Devil’s trick, and its consequences.  He is obedient where Adam was disobedient, and so brings life in place of death.  Where sin abounded in the man, Adam, now grace abounds through the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

The Cross is also an example of how God shows us who he is, and who we are to be: persons made in the image and likeness of God, who is love and, therefore, destined to live the fundamental vocation to love like God loves.  Jesus shows us what that love looks like: from the Cross, as the supreme pulpit, he proclaims forgiveness, trust, and self-offering.  He commands us to love one another in just the same way.  Christ tramples on our worst temptations—to place trust in material things, to tempt and bargain with God, to worship false idols that we perceive will bring us happiness—and shows us the example of how to resist them, and place God first in our lives.  He is the exemplar of humanity perfected.  He experienced all we experience, good and bad, without falling into sin.

Still today, we forget who we are!  We sink to the level of pathetic behavior beneath the dignity of the human person, and the image of God.  We grasp at what we want.  We fail to recognize our high calling as disciples.  We serve our base passions.  Christ can overturn that crisis of human identity, and cycle of evil in our lives.  He who died that we might live, shows us the perfect example of who we truly are.

As we approach the Eucharist, we are nourished with food from Heaven for the journey of faith we walk on earth.  Christ, who feeds us, shows us the way to love— patiently, mercifully, as an oblation for others—so that we can be our best selves, and rest forever in his sacred embrace.
 
***********
For more Illustrations, see the separate post on Lent: Stories and Illustrations:

TEMPTATION
It was F.B. Meyer, I believe, who once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances.
Stephen Brown, Christianity Today, April 5, 1993, p. 17.

A recent survey of Discipleship Journal readers ranked areas of greatest spiritual challenge to them:
1. Materialism.
2. Pride.
3. Self-centeredness.
4. Laziness.
5. (Tie) Anger/Bitterness.
5. (Tie) Sexual lust.
7. Envy.
8. Gluttony.
9. Lying.
Survey respondents noted temptations were more potent when they had neglected their time with God (81 percent) and when they were physically tired (57 percent). Resisting temptation was accomplished by prayer (84 percent), avoiding compromising situations (76 percent), Bible study (66 percent), and being accountable to someone (52 percent).
Discipleship Journal, November / December, 1992.

We can supplement our accountability to others by reading slowly through literature designed to challenge our Christian maturity. Consider, as an example, these questions related to sexual purity that I had to read carefully as I read Kent Hughes' Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome:
1. Are we being desensitized by the present evil world? Do things that once shocked us now pass us by with little notice? Have our sexual ethics slackened?
2. Where do our minds wander when we have no duties to perform?
3. What are we reading? Are there books or magazines or files in our libraries that we want no one else to see?
4. What are we renting at the local video stores? How many hours do we spend watching TV? How many adulteries did we watch last week? How many murders? How many did we watch with our children?
5. How many chapters of the Bible did we read last week?
Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way, Navpress, 1989, p. 120-121.

Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. "Captain, give me a gun!" he shouted. "This fight ain't got any rear!"
Daily Walk, July 10, 1993.

Toad baked some cookies. "These cookies smell very good," said Toad. He ate one. "And they taste even better," he said.  Toad ran to Frog's house. "Frog, Frog," cried Toad, "taste these cookies that I have made."
Frog ate one of the cookies, "These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!" said Frog.
Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another. "You know, Toad," said Frog, with his mouth full, "I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick."
"You are right," said Toad. "Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop." Frog and Toad ate one last cookie.  There were many cookies left in the bowl.
"Frog," said Toad, "let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop." Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
"We must stop eating!" cried Toad as he ate another.
"Yes," said Frog, reaching for a cookie, "we need willpower."
"What is willpower?" asked Toad.
"Willpower is trying hard not to do something you really want to do," said Frog.
"You mean like trying hard not to eat all these cookies?" asked Toad.
"Right," said Frog.
Frog put the cookies in a box. "There," he said. "Now we will not eat any more cookies."
"But we can open the box," said Toad.
"That is true," said Grog.
Frog tied some string around the box. "There," he said. "Now we will not eat any more cookies."
"But we can cut the string and open the box." said Toad.
"That is true," said Frog. Frog got a ladder. He put the box up on a high shelf.
"There," said Frog. "Now we will not eat any more cookies."
"But we can climb the ladder and take the box down from the shelf and cut the string and open the box," said Toad.
"That is true," said Frog.
Frog climbed the ladder and took the box down from the shelf. He cut the string and opened the box. Frog took the box outside. He shouted in a loud voice. "Hey, birds, here are cookies!" Birds came from everywhere. They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away.
"Now we have no more cookies to eat," said Toad sadly.
"Not even one."
"Yes," said Frog, "but we have lots and lots of willpower."
"You may keep it all, Frog," said Toad. "I am going home now to bake a cake." 
Ray & Anne Ortlund, Renewal, Navpress, 1989,  p. 73-74.

In the Australian bush country grows a little plant called the "sundew." It has a slender stem and tiny, round leaves fringed with hairs that glisten with bright drops of liquid as delicate as fine dew. Woe to the insect, however, that dares to dance on it. Although its attractive clusters of red, white, and pink blossoms are harmless, the leaves are deadly. The shiny moisture on each leaf is sticky and will imprison any bug that touches it. As an insect struggles to free itself, the vibration causes the leaves to close tightly around it. This innocent-looking plant then feeds on its victim. 
Our Daily Bread, December 11, 1992.

What is temptation? Seduction to evil, solicitation to wrong.  It stands distinguished from trial thus: trial tests, seeks to discover the man's moral qualities or character; but temptation persuades to evil, deludes, that it may ruin. The one means to undeceive, the other to deceive. The one aims at the man's good, making him conscious of his true moral self; but the other at his evil, leading him more or less unconsciously into sin. God tries; Satan tempts. 
Fairbain, quoted in The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, J.D. Pentecost, p. 99.

While my wife and I were shopping at a mall kiosk, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her.
Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, "Was it worth the trouble you're in?"
Drew Anderson (Tucson, AZ), Reader's Digest.

In China's later Han era, there lived a politician called Yang Zhen, a man known for his upright character. After Yang Zhen was made a provincial governor, one of his earlier patrons, Wang Mi, paid him an unexpected visit. As they talked over old times, Wang Mi brought out a large gold cup and presented it to Yang Zhen. Yang Zhen refused to accept it, but Wang Mi persisted, saying, "There's no one here tonight but you and me, so no one will know."
"You say that no one will know," Yang Zhen replied, "but that is not true. Heaven will know, and you and I will know too."
Wang Mi was ashamed, and backed down. Subsequently Yang Zhen's integrity won increasing recognition, and he rose to a high post in the central government.
Human nature is weak, and we tend to yield to temptation when we think nobody can see us. In fact, if there was no police force, many people would not hesitate to steal. This is not to say that when we do something bad, we feel no compunction at all, just that man is weak and prone to yield to temptation. But even if nobody witnesses our sins, and not a soul knows of them, we cannot hide the truth from the eyes of our conscience. In the end, what is important is not that other people know, but that we ourselves know. When Yang Zhen told Wang Mi that "Heaven will know," he meant that the gods would know what he had done: in other words, his own conscience.
A person who sins neither in thought nor deed, and is fair and just, gains enormous courage and strength. As a leader, you need courage born of integrity in order to be capable of powerful leadership. To achieve this courage, you must search your heart, and make sure that your conscience is clear and your behavior is beyond reproach.  
Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic in his book Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (PHP Institute, Tokyo), Bits & Pieces, June 25, 1992.

In June 1989 a 19-year-old German named Mathias Rust created quite a stir when he flew a Cessna 172 airplane more than 400 miles into Soviet airspace. Rust's five-hour trip ended when he landed his plane near the Kremlin in Moscow. Soviet officials then scrambled to find out how a teenage could slip past their air defenses. Apparently radar had picked up the craft, but it was presumed to be a Soviet plane and no attempt was made to identify it. Later, air force jets twice flew around the intruding Cessna, but air defense commanders showed "intolerable unconcern and indecision about cutting short the flight of the violator plane without resorting to combat means," the investigation concluded. 
Today in the Word, June 6, 1992.

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.
Margaret Thatcher.

There are several good protections against temptation, but the surest is cowardice. 
Mark Twain.

John Piper says that sin (lust for example) "gets its power by persuading me to believe that I will be more happy if I follow it. The power of all temptation is the prospect that it will make me happier." 
E. Lutzer, Putting Your Past Behind You, Here's Life, 1990, p.54.

Children grow up with teddy bears and often figure that since the toys are cuddly, the real things might also be so. In 1990 two boys scaled the fence at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and went into the polar bear compound. The next day they were found dead. Your pet sin can kill!
Source Unknown.

A scene from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress portrays Interpreter bringing Christian to a wall where fire is blazing from a grate.  A man is trying to douse the fire with water. Then Interpreter shows Christian the other side of the wall, where another man is secretly pouring oil on the fire to keep it ablaze. Interpreter says, "You saw the man standing behind the wall to maintain the fire, teaching you that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul." Satan tries to quench faith, but Christ keeps it alive.
Pilgrim's Progress.

As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West.  Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I'm trying to prove that the bridge won't break." In the same way, the temptations Jesus faced weren't designed to see if He would sin, but to prove that He couldn't. 
Today in the Word, March 14, 1991.

What settings are you in when you fall?  Avoid them. What props do you have that support your sin? Eliminate them.  What people are you usually with?  Avoid them.  There are two equally damning lies Satan wants us to believe: 1) Just once won't hurt. 2) Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God's use, and might as well enjoy sinning.
"Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin." 
Charles Spurgeon.

On the TV show "Hee Haw," Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places. The doc replies, "Well then, stay out of them places!"
He may have something there. We cannot regularly put ourselves in the face of temptation and not be affected. When faced with the problem of temptation, we need to take the good doctor's advice and "stay out of them places."
Source Unknown.

It is easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it. 
Benjamin Franklin

Satan will seldom come to a Christian with a gross temptation. A green log and a candle may be safely left together, but a few shavings, some small sticks and then larger, and you may bring the green log to ashes. 
John Newton.

When you flee temptation, be sure you don't leave a forwarding address.
Source Unknown.

Reports the DENVER POST: "Like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Fowler has tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and 'scare-coyotes.' She has slept with her lambs during the summer and has placed battery-operated radios near them. She has corralled them at night, herded them at day. But the southern Montana rancher has lost scores of lambs--fifty last year alone. "Then she discovered the llama--the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama...'Llamas don't appear to be afraid of anything,' she said. 'When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won't have anything to do with that... Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away.'"
Apparently llamas know the truth of what James writes: "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you" (4:7). The moment we sense his attack through temptation is the moment we should face it and deal with it for what it is.
Barry McGee.

The thing that makes men and rivers crooked is following the line of least resistance.
Source Unknown.

Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ringtailed monkey. For the Zulus of that continent, however, it's simple. They've been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can't get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him.
Source Unknown.

"Fire tries Iron, and temptation tries a just man." 
Thomas A. Kempis.

Where there is no temptation, there can be little claim to virtue.
C. Swindoll, Sanctity of Life, Word, 1990, p. 51.

The Great Wall of China is a gigantic structure which cost an immense amount of money and labor. When it was finished, it appeared impregnable. But the enemy breached it. Not by breaking it down or going around it. They did it by bribing the gatekeepers.
Source Unknown.


Ronald Meredith, in his book, Hurryin' Big for Little Reasons, describes one quiet night in early spring: Suddenly out of the night came the sound of wild geese flying. I ran to the house and breathlessly announced the excitement I felt. What is to compare with wild geese across the moon? It might have ended there except for the sight of our tame mallards on the pond. They heard the wild call they had once known. The honking out of the night sent little arrows of prompting deep into their wild yesterdays. Their wings fluttered a feeble response. The urge to fly--to take their place in the sky for which God made them-- was sounding in their feathered breasts, but they never raised from the water. The matter had been settled long ago. The corn of the barnyard was too tempting! Now their desire to fly only made them uncomfortable. Temptation is always enjoyed at the price of losing the capacity for flight. 
Jim Moss.

Iron Eyes Cody is a native American actor who once did a TV spot for the Keep America Beautiful campaign. He was an Indian drifting alone in a canoe. As he saw how our waters are being polluted, a single tear rolled down his cheek, telling the whole story. This powerful public service commercial still shows up on TV screens after 17 years. 
In 1988 Cody repeated an old Indian legend in Guideposts magazine. Here it is: Many years ago, Indian youths would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood.  One such youth hiked into a beautiful valley, green with trees, bright with flowers. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow. I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke. 
"I am about to die," said the snake. "It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley." 
"No," said the youth. "I am forewarned. I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me." 
"Not so," said the snake. "I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you." 
The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg. 
"But you promised..." cried the youth.
"You knew what I was when you picked me up." said the snake as it slithered away." 
Bits and Pieces, June, 1990, p. 5-7.

Misunderstandings regarding temptation:
 
Temptation itself is sin.
We fall into temptation.
God is disappointed and displeased when we are tempted.
To be strongly tempted means we are as guilty as if we had actually committed sin.
We overcome all temptation by separation from it.
When I am spiritually mature, I will no longer be harassed by temptation.
Charles Stanley, tape AU146, In Touch, June 1988, p. 13.