Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Temptation isn't a gift from God.

"No one who experiences temptation should say, 'I am being tempted by God'..." 

St James explains, "for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one."  God allows temptation, man benefits from persevering through temptation, yet the inclination to evil is not a gift.  As the Holy Father clarified today:
“Where does temptation come from? How does it work in us? The Apostle tells us that it is not from God, but from our passions, our inner weaknesses, from the wounds left in us by original sin: that’s where temptations come from, from these passions. - Pope Francis
At the beginning of the Letter, the Apostle tells us to "consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials or temptations - because the testing of our faith produces perseverance."  The temptation is not 'the' gift however.

St. James also speaks to those of us who doubt and waver in the faith - this can happen in and through our trials, it is another temptation.  Entertaining our doubt leads to instability; we vacillate, we fall prey to every wind of doctrine and theory, driven and tossed about by whatever justification that comes our way, believing the temptation itself to be good - because we allowed it to develop or 'grow' as Pope Francis suggests.  We believe that it is something non-binding and fluid - naturally progressing towards a greater freedom - a liberation, when in reality, we fall into the trap of becoming that 'man of two minds, unstable in all his ways'.  As the Holy Father points out, "the temptation closes us in, in an environment where you can’t get out easily.”  In fact some are thereby led completely astray, even abandoning the Church for an ideology.

It seems to me that today's reading is a kindly warning to us, a reminder to trust, to endure our trials - even as the discipline of God - his grace is 'the' gift which sustains us and rewards us.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. - Letter of James

The struggle.

I once wrote a post about the struggle - the wrestling of Jacob with God in that dark night wherein Jacob's hip is injured and he was given a new name, that of Israel. It is an important event in salvation history, yet is also an important image of the life of prayer as well. Especially the role prayer plays in overcoming personal sin, wrestling through temptation.

Every sin after baptism is a choice. The temptations - as well as the tribulations and seductions of life - test our fidelity. In every life one is faced with a fundamental choice - to choose between good or evil, Christ or the Antichrist. Some people may live in such severe testing, the choice may even be every day. Sometimes we lose, sometimes we win - yet so long as we live in the body we have access to hope, and mercy is available to us - thus we can lose a battle, recoup, and begin anew. But we have to keep trying, we have to persevere in the struggle - just as Jacob, the deceiver, struggled in the darkness with the angel, and was finally freed - though left with a dislocated hip as a sort of thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.

The deception of the false self...  an invented, false identity.

Our identity can never be limited to our sin or our disordered natural self - from which spring our temptations. In fact it is in and through prayer and mortification and surrender to the grace and mercy of God that we find our true identity in Christ. Christ is the one who defines our identity - our eyes fixed upon him, we are stable in faith - thus we are not tossed about by the wind, or a slave of our ever changing desire.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this struggle exemplified in the story of Jacob's encounter with the angel. It speaks to the necessity of prayer and the struggle therein, as well as the trial temptation poses. It touches upon the notion of identity as well. Perhaps it will make sense as a conclusion to this post.

Once the fight is over Jacob says to his opponent that he will only let him go if he blesses him. Jacob "who had defrauded his brother out of the first-born's blessing through deceit, now demands [a blessing] from the unknown man, in whom he perhaps begins to see divine traits, but still without being able to truly recognize him. His rival, who seems restrained and therefore defeated by Jacob, instead of bowing to the Patriarch's request, asks his name. ... In the Biblical mentality, knowing someone's name entails a type of power because it contains the person's deepest reality, revealing their secret and their destiny. ... This is why, when Jacob reveals his name, he is putting himself in his opponent's hands. It is a form of surrender, a complete giving over of himself to the other".
Paradoxically, however, "in this gesture of surrender, Jacob also becomes the victor because he receives a new name, together with the recognition of his victory on the part of his adversary". The name "Jacob", Benedict XVI continued, "recalls the verb 'to deceive' or 'to supplant'. After the struggle, in a gesture of deliverance and surrender, the Patriarch reveals his reality as a deceiver, a usurper, to his opponent. The other, who is God, however, transforms this negative reality into a positive one. Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel. He is given a new name as a sign of his new identity ... the mostly likely meaning of which is 'God is strong, God wins'. When, in turn, Jacob asks his rival's name, he refuses to say it but reveals himself in an unmistakable gesture, giving his blessing. ... This is not a blessing obtained through deceit but one given freely by God, which Jacob can now receive because, without cunning or deception, he gives himself over unarmed, accepts surrender and admits the truth about himself".
"Our entire lives", concluded the Holy Father, "are like this long night of struggle and prayer, passed in the desire of and request for God's blessing, which cannot be ripped away or won over through our strength, but must be received with humility from Him as a gratuitous gift that allows us, finally, to recognize the face of the Lord. And when this happens, our entire reality changes: we receive a new name and God's blessing"... - Benedict XVI 


  1. Reminds me of a past reflection: http://abbey-roads.blogspot.com/2012/08/who-are-you-lord-and-what-am-i.html

    Who are you Lord and what am I?

    1. You know so much about my archives - it's scary. ;)

  2. Off-topic, but you may be interested in this, Terry. It's an article that looks into whether the new Mass is "soft on Hell". The conclusion is surprising, I think, but worth noting.


    It has proven particularly helpful to me when I hear constant bashing of the Church since the 60's (including, of all people, Pope Benedict) from 'Trad's'. The Lord is good and never abandons His faithful.


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