The Solidity Of Stone

The Solidity Of Stone

First Sunday of Lent

On this first Sunday of Lent, Holy Mother Church invites us out to the desert with Christ Our Lord. She recalls to our minds His strict fast of 40 days, followed by His triple temptation. St Paul tells us that Christ was likened to us in all things, and was tempted, but did not sin. The three temptations that are recounted by St Matthew englobe all forms of temptation that are common to us all. First there is the temptation to sensuality, to satisfy one’s instincts without waiting for God’s time. Then the temptation to vainglory, to be seen and admired for the good things we do. Finally, the worst of them all, the temptation to power and domination over others. It is noteworthy that Our Blessed Lord responds each time to the tempter with a verse of Holy Scripture, but the Enemy himself also has recourse to Scripture, twisting it to his own purposes.

The first temptation then is the bread. If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. Our Lord had the power to perform such a prodigy; actually He will perform a greater prodigy still when he draws bread out of nothing in multiplying the loaves. What was wrong with the proposal? Our Lord had eaten nothing for forty days and forty nights, nothing at all; He was literally starving. Rather than die of starvation, it would have been understandable for Him to perform a miracle that He will later not refuse to perform for others. What was wrong was that it violated the fundamental precept of love. It would have been taking, when love is about receiving and giving. In the garden of Eden, it is quite possible that God would have eventually given Adam and Eve the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Where they went wrong was in taking it. They did violence to the one they should have loved, revered, and waited patiently for. They turned God into an enemy they needed to get around. This is precisely what Our Blessed Lord in the desert refuses to do. He has given His entire human life to the Father. If the Father allows Him to die of starvation, so be it. He will not violate the confidence of love. The same attitude He will maintain on the cross when His enemies taunt Him to come down and save Himself. No, He will stay, He will wait for His Father to deliver Him, an echo of which we find in the beautiful Psalm Qui Habitat that we just sang before the Gospel.

The second temptation is that of vainglory. The enemy takes our Lord to the pinnacle of the Temple and incites Him to cast Himself down, so that the angels will come to His rescue, making Him into a public champion, whom everyone will applaud. Our Lord’s reply that we must not tempt God reminds us that Heaven helps those who help themselves. If we do what lies in us, if we refuse to do what is spectacular in order to attract attention, if we remain in our place, then we can rest assured that God is with us and will rescue us in His time.

In the third temptation, Our Lord is taken to the mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world. They were His for the asking, on one condition, that He would accept to adore Satan, to fall down and worship him. Not exclusively, mind you. Satan does not mind sharing the pedestal. All he wants is to make sure that we do not adore and give ourselves entirely, exclusively to the one true God. The true God is a jealous God. He will have no rivals, for there are none. There is nothing God abhors more than to be one among many, a god among others. God does not accept a booth in the pantheon. Such was the lesson that the first generations of Christians died for. All they were asked to do was accept that Jesus is not the only God, but that others can be honoured side by side with Him. A bit of incense to Jupiter and another bit to the Emperor, and your Jesus is fine by us. This they would never do, for it would be apostasy; it would be to put the Son of God on equal footing with His enemies. It would be to break the first commandment, as Our Lord reminds Lucifer on this day. Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.

Each of us personally is invited to examine our conscience this Lent on how we have failed to imitate Our Lord and given in to the temptations of the enemy. But given that our bishops have invited us to reflect on what the Spirit is saying to the Church in our age, we might also ask ourselves about how we as a Church are dealing with the three temptations and how we have done so over the past few decades.

Over and beyond the obvious meaning of giving in to pleasures that demand immediate gratification, there are other loaves of bread that we sometimes fall for. We can exchange bread for stones when we renounce the ways of strong principles, and clear guidelines in favour of malleable, bendable rules that suit our whims. We have done this in particular with the liturgy. The hallmark of the Church’s liturgy has always been to give a sure, clear, unequivocal rule of worship that is foolproof and tamper-proof. The decision to allow the liturgy to be changed beyond recognition, leaving so many things to the choice of the priest and his liturgical team, what is it if not exchanging the solidity of stone for the softness of bread? We also see this same attitude in the so-called paradigm shift from a dogmatic Church to a pastoral church, a church in which it is no longer Jesus Christ the Son of God who is king, but every whim of anyone who happens to be a member of the Church. The present-day efforts to change the Church’s divine constitution and create a synodal church, just as the push for women priests and the blessing of same sex couples, like the attempt to relegate the condemnation of moral evils such as abortion to the private sphere and deprive the Church of a strong voice on these matters, are all indications of the mentality of “grab it while you can”, “if they won’t give it to you, take it”, that Our Lord definitively rejects today in refusing to change stones into bread.

In the same way, we can ask ourselves in what the Church is tempted to show herself off today. Where might she be caught out seeking the glory of the world? Might it not be in the effort to align herself with the politics of the day, seeking slavishly to be well-seen by the local governments and carefully avoiding the condemnation of immoral and unjust laws. One diocese openly states on its website that according the law of the land priests must report any knowledge of abuse of minors, regardless of how they learned it. What the website fails to say is that according to Divine Law and Canon Law under pain of excommunication the priest cannot violate the seal of confession, which is what the law in question is trying to impose. What is this but at attempt at throwing oneself off the pinnacle of the Temple, showing off one’s capacity to please both God and Satan, eating at both the altar of Christ and that of Lucifer? What is it if not bending the knee to both Cesar and Christ and thus deserving the curse of Christ?

As for the third temptation, we do not have to go very far to find ample matter for our examination of conscience. Any attempt to create brotherhood on any other basis than that of being created by the one True God and redeemed by the Blood of the One Lord Jesus Christ and destined to receive the same sacraments of salvation from the One True Church is already a betrayal of the truth, a rejection of the Kingship of Our Lord. It is already bending the knee to Satan, whom Our Lord Himself calls the prince of this world.

My dear friends, true Christians in every age are well aware of what is really at stake, that our eternity is something we need to work for and be prepared to lose everything else for. The world will always laugh us to scorn as it did Christ. Will we be treated better than He? The world will always find ways of accusing us of troubling people, of preventing them from having a good time and enjoying the good things of life. But we know, with St Paul that we are on the winning side. We stand with Christ in the desert, with St Paul and all the holy martyrs who were not afraid of criticism, humiliation and privation. And so we make ours those immortal words of the apostle that once again this morning brought delight to our ears and balm to our hearts:

We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognised and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things (2 Cor 6:8-10).

Yes, we may seem sorrowful, but the joy that fills our hearts is the envy of those who hate us. We may seem on the verge of death, but oh what life is ours! We may seem to be impoverished, but we know that the very riches of God are ours and it is our honour to share them with those who are brave enough to take a stand and wait for God’s hour, that hour which is much closer than we think. With Mary Immaculate, we stand at the foot of the cross, weeping for the sins of the world, for our sins, confident that the Mother of Mercy will open wide her arms to each of her children who will but turn to her for aid.

Temptation of Christ