Isn’t it funny (and annoying) that those things you gave up for Lent seem to present themselves way more often than normal? People keep offering you that frothy beer or fancy dessert, and you have to give it the old “just say no” Nancy Reagan routine.
And I don’t know about you, but it’s ridiculous how hard I often find it.
(Perhaps traveling to the land of biscotti and cappuccino on pilgrimage during Lent wasn’t my brightest idea.)
Even so, God uses temptations to our great advantage in Lent, as well as the rest of the year.
Well, temptation comes from the Latin tentare, which means “to try” or “to test.” So temptations are a tool God uses to see how we measure up.
“Matthew! Are you saying God actually causes temptation? Doesn’t James 1:13 says, God “tempts no one”?
Yes, it does.
We’re talking here about what are called “temptations of probation” – special trials allowed by God that aren’t encouragement to sin.
(The kind that come from the Devil are called “temptations of solicitation,” with which we’ll deal another time.)
Think of guys like Job and Abraham, or even St. Joseph.
They experienced trials. And so do we.
It’s pretty simple. God is testing the quality of our love.
He wants to know if you only say you love him at Mass (or on Fat Tuesday), or if you really love Him when the rubber meets the road.
(Of course, he already knows because he’s closer to us than we are to ourselves, as Augustine said. But we still have the free will to act one way or the other. As St. John Chrysostom says, “For we must first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our choice, lest our free-will should be outraged.”)
The great early 20th century theologian, Fr. Francis Remler calls temptations of probation a spiritual acid test.
They expose us like nitric acid poured over fool’s gold.
After all, a lot of people look virtuous.
They’ve got a big breviary with ribbons. A first-class relic of St. Jerome is embedded in the full-grained Italian leather cover of their limited edition Hebrew-Greek Interlinear Bible.
They can even pray over their meal in Latin.
But as far as God’s concerned, actions speak louder than a “Hammer of Heresies” tattoo peeking out from behind a rolled-up shirt sleeve.
He wants to know the true state of your virtue.
That’s the role of these kinds of temptations. God permits them because He wants to know if you practice what you preach.
That’s part of the value of Lent. It’s like a 40 day pass to a spiritual gym.
It’s a time to get pumped up.
And if you aren’t working out your spiritual muscles on a day-to-day basis, you’re going to become a 98lb. spiritual weakling.
I guess you could call God your personal spiritual fitness coach. And by permitting temptation, he not only gets you fit, but provides opportunities to flex your mystical muscle…not for your glory, but for His.
“In this you rejoice,” says St. Peter, “though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1:6-7)
So keep smiling and saying “no thank you” when the dessert tray comes your way in this penitential season.
You’re building virtue that will help you resist larger (and perhaps more dangerous) temptations in the future.
God bless you.
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