God is the issue: is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, and it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence. What must the Savior of the world do or not do? That is the question the temptations of Jesus are about.
1, 29 Nazareth
Reflection – Pope Benedict’s masterful analysis of the temptations of Jesus in the desert are alone worth the price of this book. He rightly concludes with the above question—is God real, or is He not real? The turning of stones into bread, the impulse to ‘prove himself’ by throwing himself off the temple, the attaining of power by worship of Satan—all of these boil down to a rejection or denial of God in favor of some kind of human solution to life and its questions.
The way of the world, which almost all of us follow to some degree, is to figure out what we have to do and do it, to be practical, sensible people who do what needs doing to get by. It’s not a wicked way, usually. Most of us are not serial killers mowing down people at the mall. And it’s not entirely wrong, of course. God gave us brains so we could use them, right?
But it’s limited. That’s the problem. God made us for something better than just human prudence and human common sense and human answers to human questions. We are made for divine life, not merely ‘good’ human life. And this good human life usually shows itself to be the limited thing it is, sooner or later. In times of crisis or failure, sickness or death, weakness or stress, the human way proves itself to be insufficient.
And that is the hour of temptation for all of us. When everything is going wrong, when it’s all falling apart, when the pressure is mounting and we are in sore trial and distress, the question emerges: God’s ways or ours?
Do we start eating stones (i.e. feeding ourself on what is not food) or worshipping whoever promises to give us our power back or doing more and more ridiculous things to fix the problem or achieve our goals? ‘I know… I’ll… throw myself off the
and float harmlessly to the ground! That’ll do it!’ That’s the temptation before us always – to force our way, our ideas, our notion of the good upon the world and ourselves by some kind of brute force of will or some manipulation of reality. Temple
Or there is the way of God. Humble listening, reverent submission, patient prayer, attentiveness to the commandments and the movement of the Spirit. Love, and the suffering that love entails in a fallen world.
It is the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary today, and this is the way of Mary in the world. She never walked in the path of the world, but lived in the divine sphere of life and action, lived in the Spirit all her life. Her way is one of a gentle, humble receptivity to the action of God, and she shows us, by her obedience and her quiet fidelity to what God asked her to do, the true way of human life in the world. And this ‘true way’ led her in the end, not to misery and anguish, but to glory and enthronement with Christ in heaven.
You know, we talk about the temptations of Christ because they have been recorded in the Gospels. I wonder what the temptations of Mary might have been. Like good children with their mother, we don’t like to think of Mary being tempted, but she was human. Adam and Eve were without sin, and yet were tempted and fell; Mary must have been tempted, too.
It’s worth thinking about. She must have been tempted to try to fix things up with Joseph, to defend herself against his suspicions. She must have been tempted to tell someone what had happened to her (such an extraordinary thing) and who this son of hers was (what mother doesn’t want to boast about her children?). She must have been tempted to protect Jesus or defend him when he was being attacked.
She stayed still. She kept silent. She attended to the duty of the moment for 30 years, and then followed Christ to the foot of the Cross. Her immaculate heart was pierced by a sword, and so the whole world can find a home in it.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, that we may resist temptation and walk the way of Christ today.