Lord we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure
Hearts and minds to follow thee. (Collect Trinity XVIII)
In the Gospel for Trinity XVII you and I were advised by our Master to take the lowest seats in the community of men, spiritual spaces of little interest to people of the world, and a disposition or character of lowliness and humility in an effort to better situate ourselves in relation to God’s Grace. What our Lord meant to teach us was that our place in relation to Him, expressed through the image of the Wedding Feast, is always His to give. And, more than this, that He gives not to those who work and think that they have earned it, but rather to those who think themselves unworthy of it. God alone is above all; God alone provides; God alone can move man out of the lowliness of alienation and division from things Divine and up into the presence of His Eternal Love. So man must humble himself and know that he can never deserve, merit, or earn anything but just punishment for his offences against the most High God. So we were encouraged to wait upon the Divine condescension of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, experiencing one element in the story of God’s love for us.
This week we continue to pray that our hearts and minds might be open to the continuation of God’s story, the story of Incarnational love in the world that He has made and longs to redeem and save. What this means, as we have said, is that just as God’s story was told long ago in the earthly life of Jesus Christ –the Incarnation of the Father’s Word, Meaning, Truth, Intention, and Purpose, so too might the story continue to be read in the hearts and minds of you and me. What this means is that through the Holy Spirit you and I are meant to become Sons and Daughters of God the Father –His children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus –members of His Mystical Body, and those who live to communicate and tell the story of God’s redemptive work in the world. And so today we pray that we might be granted Grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow…the only God. (Idem)
But what are these temptations coming from the world, the flesh, and the devil and how are we meant to respond to them? First, there is the temptation to be drawn away from the soul’s good and into the world. The world tempts us with the possibilities of becoming a part of another story. And that story is one of man’s journey into a far country at a substantial remove from the rule and governance, protection and defense, and love and inspiration of God. The world is what is closest to our senses, and thus what provides a natural home from which to write the story of our lives. St. Thomas says that the world tempts us either by attaching us to it in prosperity, or by filling us with fear of adversity. (T.A.:The Creed, What is Faith?) She promises us the stars and rewards us with the moon. She gives and takes away surreptitiously, treacherously, and abruptly. And yet think about how many men are addicted to her fickle and coquettish manner! She provides an ongoing stream of information about nothing. She invents other gods to distract our minds from reason and prudential verification. She fills our senses with images and sounds that desensitize our hearts from the love of the good. She bombards our lives with corruption and evil to such an extent that they become the norm and habit of our lives. And all the while she remains unaccountable, innocent, free, and transcendent. She tells us that nature, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology alone account for truth. She convinces us that meaning is relative, reason is wrong, and free will is a lie. We believe her because it is always more convenient for slothful minds to blame someone or something rather than to take responsibility for the real cause of their actions. So we are tempted to worship the world as a false god.
In addition there are the temptations closer to our private lives. We pray that we may resist the temptations of the flesh. And here, of course, we mean not only the alluring objects of carnal concupiscence, but also anyone or anything which tempts the ego to pursue a good independent of the will of God and his purpose for human life. And so we find ourselves tempted not only by sexual desire divorced from God’s creative purposes, but into gluttony and drunkenness, and also greed and avarice. We live in a world of unimaginable creaturely comfort that is only ever a fingertip away from our mind’s seduction by the forces of evil.
Finally there is the temptation to be as God. We pray to resist the temptations of the devil, which is to say that we must resist the temptation to determine what is good and what is evil on our own. This is the sin of the ancient Greek sophists, and of the cultural relativists in our own day. It is a recipe, in the end, for true spiritual anarchy and the end of civilization. For it leads, as Thomas Hobbes said long ago, to a state of war where everyman is at war with every other man. Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called War; and such a war as is of every man against every man. (Leviathan) It is a state that admits of no lasting principles and mores and then is surprised and unhinged when all hell breaks loose. The peddlers at the booth of Vanity Fair have told us that life has no meaning. So when they try to rouse us to shock, outrage, and disappointment at supposed injustices in human life, it is impossible to take seriously their imbecilic relativism, moved as it is by nothing! This temptation is the root of all sin and in the end it spells disaster for the human race. Its story is one of ultimate ruination and despair.
But today we are presented with the positive power that leads away from this madness and irrationality. God has written His story into the life of Jesus Christ and longs to write the same story into our hearts and souls. In Jesus Christ, God has taken on our condition and reconciled our nature to Himself. In Jesus Christ, He longs to share His life with us. He longs that His story should never end. He longs that we all should become respective chapters in the new Book of Life, which He has become. This book of life, this Divine story written into human nature by Jesus Christ, is meant to be read still in the lives of the redeemed and saved.
In today’s Gospel we read of a lawyer who tempts Jesus. The lawyer is bright and thinks that he possesses the answer to his own question. He asks, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (St. Matthew xxii. 36) Jesus answers him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself. (Ibid 37, 38) Jesus seems to give two answers. But in reality He gives one. The point is that God has never ceased to tell one story of His love for all mankind. This is the one love that is doubly expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we find the story of a love for God that is so complete that it simultaneously translates into love for neighbor. Christ loves God with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. The story of this love is then translated into the Father’s desire for all men’s salvation. Christ dies to Himself first spiritually and then physically. All that is alive in Him is God’s love, which will make His death the first step into new life for all others. All that is alive to Him are those neighbors whom He invites into the death that only He can die. He alone dies perfectly to sin, death, and Satan, and He welcomes all men to share in His loving Death. Loving God with all of His being enables the Saviour to die to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil for us. Such uninterrupted love for God will then rise up into glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and then descend mercifully in Pentecostal care. In Christ we can find a story of love that begins and ends with God. In Christ we too can begin to love God so fully and perfectly that we cannot be restrained from loving all men in God and God in all men
Today we long to embrace the reality of double love made one in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Von Balthasar describes how the Holy Spirit works in us:
The Holy Spirit is signified by in Latin by the little word in (Credo in Spiritum) that is, I give myself over, in belief, into the sacred and healing Mystery of the Spirit…Into an incomprehensible Some-One, who is someone other than the Father and the Son, and whose characteristic task will be to work in a divinely free way from within the humanly free Spirit, revealing to our limited minds the depths of [God’s love] that only He has explored…To him, the most delicate, vulnerable, and precious one in God, we must open ourselves up, without defensiveness, without thinking that we know better, without hardening ourselves, so that we may undergo initiation by Him into the Mystery that God is love. (Credo, p. 76)
In the Holy Spirit, we can become the first recipients of God’s operative love. Through Him, God will make us into the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the story that reveals His love for man. If we are honest he will make us into the spiritual story of conflict, climax, and resolution in relation to His love. In us others will read about man’s division from God through false loves and then his reconciliation through Jesus Christ. For it to work, we must concentrate conscientiously upon God’s love in His Son, remembering the words of St. John: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Amen.