The First Sunday of Lent every year focuses on Jesus’ temptations in the desert. It’s a mythological tale that most Christians with basic formation know. Jesus fasts for forty days and nights and then, just when he’s ready to return from his retreat, the devil appears and tempts him with three very human desires: power, prestige, and possessions. Not only does Jesus not give in, but he also defeats the enemy by engaging his strong will and acute biblical rhetoric. I always want to yell “touché” when the devil slinks off defeated and Jesus is comforted by angels.
After listening to this gospel at mass on Sunday, the topic of temptation has occupied my thoughts. Like everyone, I have had many temptations in my life, some I gave into, some I resisted, others I simply observed with obsequious detachment. No longer wrestling with the devil at my age, I do still wrestle with God, almost every day, in fact. There are so many mysteries and paradoxes, so many confounding situations in our Christ-soaked world. I am tempted to lose my temper, change my sanguine nature, ditch my contemplative commitment to nonviolence, especially when I ponder world news each day. So much gloom and doom have tempted us to give in to depression, anxiety, and a host of other apathetic stances. Resisting these more subtle temptations has been far more difficult than we ever knew.
I watched “60 Minutes” this week and their report about the people of Ukraine brought tears of rage and sadness to my entire being. An overwhelming temptation to engage headlong into the conflict and DO SOMETHING engulfed me. I absurdly entertained thoughts of what it would be like to be in physical combat, forcibly resisting the oppression. The compassion of the Polish people on the train platform made me want to get on the next plane and join their efforts to take care of the vulnerable. Let’s be real, I silently told myself. I cannot engage either of these temptations. I am an older American woman committed to nonviolence who has no power or prestige on world stages.
Late last night, I had a long conversation with a soul friend. She talked about her fears of another world war. I told her we had to stay detached from these gut-wrenching thoughts and the temptation to believe we cannot defeat evil except with violence. When we hung up, I wondered if I had said the right thing. Was I telling her NOT to engage with the faces of those beautiful children and mothers on the trains, the resolute ones staying behind to fight? Just stop reading editorials and watching the news? Move into blissful ignorance and not think too deeply? While I was only trying to help assuage her anxiety, apathy is not the answer, of course, when it comes to temptations.
So what else can I do? I can (and will) write a check and send it to the Ukrainian Relief Efforts. I have, after all, a wealth of possessions that sometimes possess me way too much. Yet my conscience sneers at this paltry solution. Simply sending cash is too easy and will not untether me from the deeper conflicts within my spirit. Every day, I turn to prayer, always my go-to solution for everything, even though sometimes these efforts never seem like enough.
In the end, I ask myself, “What is the spiritual response to these nagging temptations that constantly peck at the hard shell of my well-ordered life? Rebuking the devil is also not enough, as Jesus showed us in the gospel story. The paradox of living in this on-going war between good and evil begs us to hold the tension of this world resolutely enough to slake temptations and gently enough to allow the restoration of angels.
According to prolific writer and theologian, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, we should always view the world as we look upon the scene at Calvary: Jesus hanging in between two thieves. From a distance, you cannot tell which is which. Closer, we see that Christ is with us in the human drama of struggle, suffering, sweating blood, and dying for love. The scene is not simply a remembrance of what happened two thousand years ago, but is real today–Christ is riding on those trains with the refugees, fighting for peace and freedom with both the Ukrainian and Russian people. On both their sides.
Perhaps the best response for us who are far away from the conflict is to keep the faith and resist the temptation to think we have been forsaken or abandoned. It always astonishes me how the Good, alive inside us, quickly appears when the chips are down. The whole world is reaching out to the people of Ukraine, coming to their aid with immense, unfathomable love. When tempted to do good, the Christ in us arises, surprises, and sustains all who are in need. Seeking the wisdom place, let us unite in solidarity with all who are affected by war and be comforted by the enormous display of empathy flowing into the world.
2 thoughts on “Temptations: Lent Week 1”
Very well said Donna! I too felt I wanted to take action by flying off to Poland. But those wise words of Mother Teresa reminded me about staying home and making something good happen for the people there!
Dennis and I went to lunch last week at Jfat’s in the harbor and our waitress, Kataryna, an immigrant from Ukraine, who has cried daily for her country, told us about her parents getting into Poland with the hopes of getting to fly to USA. Still, many of her friends and relatives are struggling with the unknown there. Made the story of Ukraine more real!
Besides prayer and monetary donations, I still feel the need to do more!
Keep up your inspiring writing, our souls thirst for it! Peace and all good, Jane
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“The paradox of living in this on-going war between good and evil begs us to hold the tension of this world resolutely enough to slake temptations and gently enough to allow the restoration of angels.” Donna, this is a wonderful piece of wisdom and fine prose. Peace be with you.