Did you give up chocolate for Lent? I hope that some of you were able to watch the video from the Best Lent Ever program. It’s not too late; just take one of those cards home with you today, give them your email address, and you’ll receive a 3-5 minute video every day of Lent. If you take the time to watch the video and say the prayers, you’re going to experience a change. I’ve been watching the videos too, and they help me to reflect on my own spiritual life this Lent.
I bring this up because in the first video, Matthew Kelly talks about this idea of “resistance.” As in, we know what’s going to make us happy, and yet we fight it. We’re either too lazy, too busy, or maybe too afraid of doing the right thing in a given situation, and so we choose some lesser good. He gives the example of an alarm clock. When your alarm went off this morning, did you snooze it? Or did you get up right away? If you snoozed it, I’m sorry, but you just experienced this thing he calls “resistance.”
Resistance. It’s what keeps us from being truly happy. It’s that force that pulls us down into mediocrity, and convinces us that we’re not worthy of excellence. Or that excellence isn’t worth the effort.
Today in the Scriptures we hear about resistance.
- Adam and Eve experienced resistance by eating of the forbidden fruit.
- Paul re-echoes the Adam and Eve story and calls it disobedience.
- Finally, we follow Jesus into the desert, and we see that even he encountered resistance. And in that case, resistance had a name—the devil.
The truth of the matter is that this idea of “resistance” is not a new idea. You’ve probably figured out by now that this “resistance” we speak of goes by another name. You won’t find the word “resistance” in the Bible, or in the index of the Catechism. That’s because Kelly’s term “resistance” is a sort of code word. It’s code for sin.
Let’s talk about that. What is sin? We can call it a transgression, or a fall, doing something wrong, or “missing the mark,” but when we get down to it, sin really is a sort of resistance. It is to push away the thing that will make us truly happy and to embrace something lesser. It’s like saying to God, “I know what you want me to do, but I am going to do what I want to do.”
Have you ever tried to buckle a fussy toddler into a car seat? No easy task. All you want to do is make sure the kid is safe so that you can head on down the road and get to where you’re going. And you can’t go anywhere until the kids are buckled up. But sometimes they resist. They fuss and squirm, and it’s a battle just to do something that is really for their own good! You know that the best thing for them is to be safely bucked in when driving down the highway. But they resist, because they think the best thing is to be unencumbered by the oppressive car seat straps. They resist the greater good of safety and desire the lesser good of being unrestricted.
It’s like that when we sin. God is trying to give us grace, which is the divine life within us, the thing that we truly need and that will make us truly happy. But we resist. We try to give ourselves happiness by lesser means. Just like the toddler, if we would cooperate with what God is doing in our lives, we could actually go somewhere! We could make progress in the spiritual life.
I think the reason that Mr. Kelly has put a new spin on the old subject of sin is because so many folks will put up their defenses as soon as we start using churchy words. When we say things like sin, or atonement, or beatitude, it can seem like we’re speaking a foreign language. What Kelly is doing is to translate these concepts of our Catholic faith into the common language we use in everyday life. So, if you feel yourself getting lost in the churchy words, turn on your inner translator. When you hear the word “beatitude,” think “happiness.” When you hear the word “sin,” think “resisting happiness.” And when you hear the word “holiness,” think, “excellence.”
Now it’s no secret that we all want to be happy. And I would even venture to say that we all want to be excellent. And that is a good thing. We were made to seek happiness; that’s why it comes naturally. And so, we order our lives towards goals that will fulfill us, and in fulfillment, we will be happy. The danger of course, is that we can be mistaken about what will make us truly happy. Sure, we always choose what looks good, what appears good, but we have to use our brains in order to know what really is good.
Very often we get led astray by the illusion of what will make us happy! We think, “If only I had this job/promotion, or a little more money in the bank, or a Nintendo Switch, then everything would be OK.” And this illusion, the idea that these things will make us happy, we call temptations.
In the Gospel today, we heard about Jesus enduring temptations. The devil promises Jesus:
- bread – the temptation to satisfaction in exchange for breaking his fast.
- safety – the temptation to invincibility in exchange for self-harm.
- kingdoms – the temptation to power in exchange for idolatry.
This is what the Prince of this World promises. But it’s all a lie. We have another name for the devil, and that is the Father of Lies, because everything he says is a lie. Here’s the truth:
- The temptation to satisfaction actually leaves us empty;
- the temptation to safety/invincibility leads us into recklessness and self-destruction;
- and the temptation to power leaves us lonely, unlovable and unloved.
These temptations turn us inward on ourselves, sending into a spiral of selfishness. Trapped in this cycle, we turn to the forces of darkness to make ourselves feel better: self-harm, alcohol abuse, violence, drugs, occult practices, or even just drifting from pleasure to pleasure.
But these things don’t make us happy. They miss the mark. They don’t quench the thirst we have deep within our hearts. When we try to satisfy ourselves with these things, we only become thirstier. What we truly desire is goodness itself, beauty itself, truth itself. In a word, we desire God. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God.” He is the only one who can satisfy us, who can fill that God-shaped space in our hearts.
Brothers and sisters, when we sin, we resist our own true happiness. We push God aside and try to do it ourselves. And we always come up short. Lent is a time for us to remember what will make us truly happy by denying ourselves the things of this world that ultimately fail to satisfy us.
If you gave up something for Lent, perhaps you’ve already been tempted to break your fast. If not yet, then just wait, because Lent is just getting started. Sooner or later we all get tempted. When temptation comes, we have just been engaged in spiritual combat.
And so, allow me to equip you for this combat. Let’s talk combat strategy. Now, there are two basic responses when you come under attack: Fight, or flight.
First, you can fight. When the Devil starts to harass you, there are some practical things you can do.
- Pray. First thing to acknowledge is that the enemy is stronger than you. “Your adversary is like a prowling lion, looking for someone to devour.” We need God’s help, who send his angels to protect us. I like the St. Michael prayer.
- Go to Scripture. Notice that in the Gospel reading today, Jesus counters each temptation with a Scripture quotation. And in order to do that, we have to spend time reading and praying with the Scriptures. That way they will be close at hand in the event of an attack.
- Shine a light on him. When we turn on a light, the darkness is dispelled. When the sun comes up, the night is no more. As soon as you recognize the temptation, name it! The Devil hates that. Tell him: “I see you, you little sucker!” Stare it in the face and say, I’ve been down this road before. I know how this ends. This is just a lie. And I’m choosing to do the right thing.
Now, we might find ourselves outgunned and powerless to do anything. So, what then? Do we lay down our weapons and give in? Of course not! That’s when we turn to flight. You can retreat. If you can’t resist the temptation, remove yourself from the situation. Recognize what triggers the sin, whatever it is, and flee from the temptation. There is merit in a strategic retreat. There is no merit in defeat. The next time you’re tempted, use these strategies.
And when you’re feeling crushed by unrelenting temptation, remember that Jesus, too, was tempted in the desert. The desert, which is a place of isolation, poverty and vulnerability. And there in the desert, Jesus knew what it’s like to be tempted. He went through it all. From the tiniest temptation to break his fast, to the gravest temptation of suicide. He knows what it means to be tempted. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”
Jesus felt the weakness of human flesh and he wrestled with it. He was showing us that he knows our weakness. So, when we mess up, when we sin, when we give in to the cravings of the flesh, he knows. He knows. And when we fall, he offers us mercy, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Don’t be afraid to come back to confession. Even if it’s been a year, five years, ten years, thirty years. Jesus is there waiting for you. And he understands.
“Come, let us worship Christ the Lord, who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.”
 Psalm 63:2
 1 Peter 5:8
 Hebrews 4:15
 Hebrews 4:16
 Liturgy of the Hours, Invitatory antiphon for the Lenten season