Nothing to Fear

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The movie The Passion of the Christ begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John.  Satan comes to Jesus to tempt Him.  The temptation is very subtle; Satan is trying to sow doubt into the mind of Jesus by telling Him that no human can carry the sins of all humanity.  He says to Jesus: “No one man can carry this burden, I tell you.  It is far too heavy.  Saving their souls is too costly.  No one.  Ever.  No.  Never.”

On the surface, it’s a reasonable argument.  That’s why it is so tricky; the real, more sinister, temptation behind it is this:  “You cannot do what the Father is asking you to do.  His will is unreasonable.”  That’s what, in the movie, the character of Satan wants to put in Jesus’ mind.

In real life, Satan is just as tricky, even more so.  On this First Sunday of Lent, we see in the Gospel that Jesus is led into the desert and is tempted by Satan.  I would like to share with you about Satan’s temptations and how they affect us.

First, who is Satan?  Where did he come from?

Just like God has given us free will in order that we may choose to love Him freely, so God created all the angels with free will. At some point in time, he allowed them to exercise that free will so that they could offer their love freely, because love isn’t love unless it is a free gift of oneself.  Some of those angels chose to rebel against God; the highest of the rebels was Lucifer, who was cast out of heaven.  This is Satan, the most evil of the fallen angels who tempts us now because he wishes all of us to fall away from God.  I’ll explain why he wants to do this, but first, his strategies.

He tries to stir up our passions, which are already unruly because of original sin.  But he usually doesn’t do it directly.  When we are deliberating whether to sin or not, he wants to join in the conversation; he wants to plant subtle suggestions in our minds.  Things like:

“Don’t think about it.  Just do it.  Do what feels good.  Do what you want.”

“Just do a little.  You can stop yourself before you do anything serious.”

“You can’t live without this.  Why would you want to miss out?”

“Don’t miss this opportunity.  You may not get it again.”

“You need an escape.  You can’t be good all the time.”

Many times he also tries to tempt us by using our fears and doubt, trying to build a lack of trust in God.  He wants to plant subtle thoughts in our heads, to pull us away from believing in God.

So why does Satan do this?

Satan hates God.  Don’t think for one minute that he cares about you, your happiness or your pleasure.  He only cares about your destruction because he hates God and all of God’s creation.  He wants to destroy you simply to spite God.  To him, we are only pawns; nothing he offers us will give us anything but agony and destruction.

Here’s the good news: We have absolutely nothing to fear from him.  Jesus mounted the wood of the cross for us and defeated him.  We were pulled from his clutches by our baptism, and we are free to love God and to live for Him alone.

This Lenten season is a time for us to re-commit ourselves to loving God.  We acknowledge that there have been times that we have been seduced by Satan’s lies.  God is most merciful and forgives our sins if we only turn to Him asking for mercy, especially through the sacrament of confession.  Lent is also a time of spiritual training as we fast, abstain, do penance, spend more time in prayer and give to the poor.  Working to choose the good leads us closer to God and away from Satan’s lies.

We are not alone in this battle against Satan’s deception.  The Gospel says that as Jesus faced Satan’s temptation in the desert, the angels ministered to Him.  We can call on God’s angels to help us too, especially St. Michael.  The prayer to him should be one that we all know by heart so that we can readily ask for his help in temptation:

St. Michael, the archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.
And do thou, O prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Fr. Mark Gurtner

About Fr. Mark Gurtner

Fr. Mark Gurtner, J.C.L., is Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fr. Mark is also an Adjunct Assistant Professional Specialist in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.