Fr John Kadookunnel
The Indian cricket team is the top-rated cricket team in the world. Recently they pulled off a historic series win in Australia. Despite the team being the most talented team in the world, before each match, the players go back to the basics. During their net practice, the batsmen keep perfecting their skills such as footwork, frontfoot/backfoot drives, length batting etc. The bowlers too, hone their length and line skills; so do the fielders.
Lent is a time of the Church year when we go back to the basics. Whether we are beginners or advanced, saints or sinners, it is a time to rehearse our fundamentals once again. Quoting the French catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal, Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, observes that most of our time is spent in seeking diversions. We distract ourselves with various pursuits and interests in life that we do not ask questions like “Who is God? Who am I? Where am I going?” These are the most crucial questions in life that we do not ask ourselves adequately because we keep playing our own little games.
Jesus was tempted in the desert. And he was led by the Spirit there to spent forty days there. Desert is a place where there is no distractions; there is nothing in the wilderness that captivates our senses and minds. During the lent we too have to leave aside all our distractions to experience a desert life. Pope Francis says that only when one is tempted does one understand who really he is and who God is. The temptations of Jesus teach us basically who we are.
Bishop Barron observes that there is a topography in the means of temptation. The first temptation deals with rocks and stones-the stuff that lies on the ground. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). The first temptation is a low level, basic temptation. It is a temptation to base our life not on the will and purpose of God, but solely on our basic bodily needs such as food, drink, sex and sensual pleasures. These desires are not bad in themselves. But none of them is the ultimate good, which is God. We are blinded from seeing the ultimate realities. We will never access the deeper realities of God if we confine ourselves to sensual pleasures. The great spiritual master Thomas Merton notes that the desires for food and sex are like little children. Children keep making their demands constantly; often they are unreasonable demands that are not in the best of their interests. They want immediate satisfaction. Parents today realize more often than before that if they keep indulging their child’s desire, pretty soon, the child will start running the house. One overcomes this temptation when one realizes that there is more to life than sensual and bodily pleasures: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). The ancient masters recommend fasting as a means to overcome this temptation.
The next temptation takes us to a higher level where all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. From this high point of vantage, one can see in one glance all the kingdoms. This is a subtle temptation to power. History shows us how people are tempted by power: Augustus Caesar, Henry VIII, Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin are only a few of such figures. Some powerful people could even be ascetic, even controlling their sensual desires, only in order to dominate others. Or others, only after being tired of sensual pleasures and lust, find pleasure in dominating others. Like sensual pleasures, power too is not bad in itself. The devil says, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Mt 4:9) as if earthly power belongs to the devil. It is indeed difficult to resist the temptation to domination. Prayer and an attitude of service to God and through him to man, is the only way to overcome this temptation of power: “worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Mt 4:10).
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple.” The final temptation occurs at the highest place, the pinnacle of the temple. The temple was the centre-point in the life of the Jews: the political, economic, and social life. The pinnacle of the temple is the place of highest glory. The place where everybody sees me. When I am at the top, even God and his angels are watching over me. There is an inflation of one’s ego in wanting to be honoured and glorified by all. In fact, this is a common temptation faced by priests and those who carry the public face of religion. Jesus cautions against using even God as an instrument to further one’s glory: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”
During this lent, by creating a desert within us, let us look carefully within us to find what is wrong with us and seek answers to the deeper questions of life. Where am I going with my life? How would God see me? In subtle ways am I giving myself to the temptations of sensual pleasure, power and glory?