It is a sad fact that most Catholics don’t take an interest in the writings of our great thinkers. That most Catholics have never read writings from the Fathers or Doctors of the Church is not a surprise since most couldn’t name one of them. My fear is that this lack of interest starves our brothers and sisters from nourishment offered from Holy Mother Church by missing a chance to dive deeply into her wisdom. They are content with skimming over the surface of our faith by only listening to people like me try to give insight – missing the chance to deepen their relationship with God. Now, nothing takes the place of prayer; it is the life blood our relationship with God; but if the faithful would only take the time to meet these thinkers and listen to them in their words then their journey would be all the more healthier. For instance today’s Gospel reading shows us, among other things, the devil’s cunning and through his temptations on Christ we are warned that he does the same to us. This can result in an unnerving realization of the seriousness of our situation. But there is so much more that this passage can give us. For instance – through the Fathers of Church I find great comforts in this reading – let’s listen to some thoughts by two of the Church Fathers on today’s Gospel.
Father David today mentioned how jealous the Devil is of mankind’s relationship with God. The Gospel reading today shows to what extent Satan will go to interfere with our relationship. Make no mistake, Satan hates our relationship and he bends his total effort in trying to slice through it. His attacks are directed mostly at those baptized and most intensely at those who try to live out their relationship with God. St. Hilary of Poitiers said: ‘the temptations of the devil are specially directed against those who have been sanctified: for victory over the just is more desirable to him.’ Satan is out after our souls – more so because we have accepted the gifts of God and yearn for His embrace. That our Lenten exercises are to help with this constant barrage from the devil; and that we need to train and strengthen ourselves to fight off this attack – is a given from Gospel this reading. But, as St Hilary’s comment points out, these attacks should also give us comfort because Satan’s barrage on our persons means that he sees us as worthy (if I may use that phrase) of special attention – we are following the right path.
In today’s Gospel we see Christ, who in desiring to be like us in all things but sin, is going out to meet the devil to experience this constant barrage that mankind is under. But whereas the Devil comes to us – Christ must go to him because as St. John Chrysostom puts it ‘The devil goes out against man to tempt him. But since the devil cannot attack Christ, Christ goes out towards the devil.’; and this fact should also give us great comfort – Christ loves us and desires to be one with us so much that He actively puts Himself within our experiences.
Third and Fourth Comforts
At the end of the temptations we hear: ‘At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.’ St. John Chrysostom points out that the devil withdrew ‘though not as it were in obedience to the command, but because the divinity of Christ…drove him from thence.’ And this should comfort us because Christ’s strength is greater than Satan’s and because, again St. John Chrysostom: ‘What affords us personal consolation is that the devil tempts those who serve God, not as long as he wills, but only as Christ permits.’ Christ is always watching our efforts, and through His being one of us knows our limits and our strengths.
Finally, St. John Chrysostom continues: ‘He did not say, ‘and the angels descending’, that he might show they were ever present on the earth.’ This is a comfort knowing that though we can’t see them, the angels are fighting alongside us, they are not bystanders in heaven watching our battle – they are with us side-by-side in this eternal battle for our souls.
In today’s Collect Prayer we asked the Father
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
These great Church thinkers, Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and many others broaden and deepen our understanding of God’s Word, they allow us sink our roots deeper into the fertile soil of revelation which makes for stronger witness and healthier fruit. My hope and prayer for each of us is that we take the time to listen to those who came before us so that we might strengthen ourselves and pass to those who come after us an even stronger faith.