Lent: Time to slam the door in Satan's face Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Mar. 11, 2010 -- 1:00 AM

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Each year we are invited to reflect on the whole of our Lenten journey in the context of Jesus' temptations in the desert. That's a model, if you will, a paradigm, for what is supposed to happen during Lent. And, I am happy to say that I discovered again this year that, substantially, my reflections on this Gospel passage are in line with those of our Holy Father. I know that when I'm in communion with the Holy Father, by God's grace and for the good of the diocese, I'm right on target.

In the passage at hand (Luke 4:1-13) Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit drives Him out into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. Note first that this episode of temptation is not initiated by the Devil. The Devil doesn't tempt Jesus to go out into the desert. The desert is a very unwelcoming, unattractive place. Satan has a super-human intelligence and he does not offer us "stupid" temptations. It would be like Satan tempting me to eat liver. Instead, we understand, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and, compelled by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by the Devil.

Lent is a time of spiritual exercise; it's a time for practice at virtue. The way we practice at virtue is by being tempted and then (we hope), by God's grace, overcoming temptation. And so Jesus' entering into the desert allows an opportunity for vigorous exercise in virtue.

It is also worth noting that the temptations of Christ help us to understand, if you will, the "mind" of the Devil. Even though his is a super-human intelligence and we can't ever be sure that we understand his "mind," this Gospel passage helps.

'Not by bread alone does man live'

The Devil's first temptation comes after Jesus goes into the desert where it's dry and hot. Jesus is out there a long time and He is hungry. Hunger is a normal, good, human appetite. Hunger causes us to take the sustenance that keeps us alive. So, Jesus is in the desert where there is no food, He is experiencing hunger, and Satan says, "command that these stones be made loaves of bread," satisfy your hunger (which is, at face value, a good thing). Jesus quotes Scripture, "not by bread alone does man live…" Jesus wants to eat and He would love to turn the stones into bread so that He could eat. And He could certainly do that -- but not at the cost of compromising with Satan and with evil!

This bread that Jesus needs to satisfy his hunger is not just a matter of a human want. It's not like a high school student who wants a Big Mac on the way home from school -- that is the last thing they need. The Big Mac is not a need, but a want. The bread in the desert is not like that; it's not simply something that Jesus wants that will make Him gain unnecessary weight. The bread in the desert is something that Jesus needs – it would fulfill a good human need. But He holds back from fulfilling a good human need, rather than entering into a compromise with the Devil, rather than allowing Himself, in any way, to be influenced by the Devil.

The United States of America is a country of wants and needs; and more and more peoples' wants become, in their own mind, their needs. More and more people compromise or allow the influence of Satan to enter their lives in order to meet these perceived, but not real, needs. That is deception by the Devil and that is how Satan works. And so, during Lent, we sacrifice not only things that we want but things that we need -- just as Jesus did -- to send a message to the Devil: "not by bread alone does man live…"

'The Lord your God will you worship'

With the second temptation, Satan shows Jesus the kingdoms of the world and he says to Jesus, "all of this has been given to me…" What Satan says here is true in a sense, i.e., the influence of Satan over the whole world is strong. But then he says, basically, "I'll give you the world, if you'll fall down and worship me." Satan has influence over the whole world, but the world belongs to God! The world is not Satan's to give. The whole world has been "given" to Satan in terms of permitting his influence in the world, but the whole world has not been given to him in the sense that he can give it away. Satan speaks a half-truth and he has the nerve to try that with Jesus Christ, who could take all worldly power in less than a second, if He so desired.

In reply, Jesus goes back to Scripture, "the Lord your God will you worship and Him alone will you adore and serve." Jesus, in His human nature, is not going to get muddled up with half-truths. Again, He slams the door in Satan's face immediately. And for us, Lent is precisely a time for doing that. So, if your temptations are increasing during Lent, rather than becoming fewer, it might be because the Holy Spirit is driving you out "into the desert" so that you can get some real, solid, Lenten exercise and discipline.

Satan urges Jesus to reject His mission

Finally, the Devil takes Jesus up to the parapet of the temple, a high tower, and he says, "throw yourself down, perform a spectacular miracle," and then Satan, himself, quotes Scripture, "for it is written, 'the angels will come and minister to Him, lest He dash His foot against a stone.'"

Although he is liar and the father of lies, when Satan is overcome by a faith-filled person (faithful with and only with God's Grace), Satan is forced to become more and more honest about what he really wants. What he really wants, in this case, is to get Jesus to reject the mission that He has from His Father.

As Pope Benedict said of this passage in recent weeks, Satan wants Jesus to become disobedient to His Father, just like Adam and Eve were disobedient in the garden, at the beginning. Satan wants Jesus, the new Adam, to become exactly like the old Adam, disobedient to the Father. But Jesus was not alternatively "yes" and "no" to His Father; He was never anything but "YES!" Yet, Satan has the nerve to go to the heart of what Jesus wants, saying "betray your Father's mission," and Jesus says "be gone, Satan." Jesus slams the door again.

Ultimately, what Satan wants to do with you and me is what he did with Jesus; he wants to try to get us off mission. He wants us to be disobedient to our Father. He wants us to say, "no" to our Father. Just as obedience is the energy that drives the Church, disobedience is the energy that weakens the Church. If we're on mission, we're in obedience to the Father, through the Church.

Government forcing unacceptable sex education

And today, what concrete forms do our temptations toward disobedience to the mission take? I'll mention just two quickly. Presently we have the state government trying to force a certain kind of unacceptable sex education into their schools (passed by our legislators and signed by the governor recently).

We should work in a very wonderful partnership with public schools. I went to public schools myself; I'm the product, in part, of public schools. But, there is such a thing as public morality that should be taught in public schools. This is the very same public morality that I was taught in public schools, a morality which is very compatible with the Ten Commandments. This is not specifically Catholic morality, but public morality, the moral code which reason engraves on the tablets of every human heart.

But our government here, and at the national level, is promoting the religion of state secularism. They want to allow for all types of immorality especially in the area of teaching contraception under the title of "comprehensive" sex education.

Many Americans have expressed fear of government-run health care. People ought to be more afraid of the governments teaching secularism as a state religion in the government schools. If the government forms the minds of the young men and women of this country for the future, without any sense of objective morality, that's a far greater tragedy, one which could bring death to many souls.

So, if people are wary of government-run healthcare, they ought to be all the more wary of government-run schools -- not because they are public schools, but because of the current example here in Wisconsin of forcing "comprehensive" sex education. A truly public school includes the teaching of public morality, so that parents can have a common point of reference for playing their God-given leadership role in the moral formation of their children.

But we're tempted to just "go along" because we'll have a much more peaceful life here in our state. But we're not going to go along with this condoning of immorality, nor the teaching of the religion of state-secularism. We're not surrendering to that temptation.

Attempt to lift statute of limitations

Another issue at present is legislation that would lift the statute of limitations for sexual misconduct and open the window for very costly civil suits -- but only for the Church and other private institutions. Here we are, God's people, acknowledging that there has been great sin, but trying to go forward to do good for the world and for our society. The Church stands ready to help those who have been wounded by one of Her ministers, but the present legislation is not simply about that. Otherwise, how could the state, seemingly, single out the Catholic Church for financial ruin and let government schools and all sorts of other work environments off the hook?

Public entities are currently liable for up to $50,000 for sexual misconduct; from the Church, on the other hand, are being awarded settlements of $6 million here, $4 million there, $2 million there. . . Yes, members of the Church grievously sinned -- we admit that; we will not forget it, and we are sorry! And the Church in the United States has moved forward, spending more time, more money, more effort, and more brain power on the protection of children than any religious community in the world. The reaction to this by some of our legislators, jurists, and other interested parties is to attempt to bring millions more in civil lawsuits aimed at breaking the Church financially and, ultimately, to break the Church.

We must stand up and be counted

Satan tempts us to go along with that -- recognizing that we are truly upset about the misconduct of these priests (and I am more upset about it than you are, believe me). Satan tempts us to use that authentic contrition to condone objective injustice. Claiming that they are attempting to help victims, the government has limited the liability of their own schools (where there is a higher rate of abuse) to $50,000 -- while the Catholic Church may pay millions. Where is the fairness in that? We have to stand up these days and be counted. Not to say we don't care about those who are wounded by sin, but to say fairness should always remain in play.

In our world today -- in Madison, in our state, and in our country generally -- it is not easy to stand up. But, just as Jesus quickly slammed the door in Satan's face, the only way to allow the Lord, through us, to triumph over evil in our world is to slam the door in Satan's face and take the consequences. Lent is all about not only surviving temptation, but overcoming temptation and growing in holiness.

Where does that all start? Certainly not with Satan, but with the Holy Spirit, who in 2010, during this season of Lent, has driven all of us into the desert, so that we might be tempted by the Devil, so that we might overcome, by God's grace, so that we might grow in holiness, and at Easter time even be more filled with the Holy Spirit.

My prayers are with you as we continue our Lenten journey "in the desert." Thank you for reading this. Every blessing to you and all your loved ones. Praised be Jesus Christ!