Temptations are wonderful opportunities to manifest our love and deepen our relationship. The way we react to the temptation can and should affirm our love.
One way to show our love is to avoid occasions of sin (=persons, places, things that easily lead to sin). For example, if an alcoholic finds it impossible to resist the bar on a particular street, because he cannot resist going in, getting drunk, coming home angry, and mistreating his family. His love is to avoid streets he knows have bars.
To successfully fight temptation and manifest our love for God and our loved ones, let’s focus on what we can control. An alcoholic cannot control his passion for alcohol, but can control which streets he chooses to use to get from one place to another. By taking control of the occasion he keeps the temptation in check and avoid the evil that results. His love for his family and his fear of possibly losing what is dearest to him can move him to affirm those relationships by the free decision to avoid occasions of sin.
This is what our Lord advises for the person with a lustful eye:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).
Our Lord is concrete and practical, showing us that love can move us to do what is in our control: avoid movies, shows, or computer games with objectionable scenes or avoid parties where improper behavior or drug use would likely occur. Asking for guidance when we go to confession or spiritual direction can help us with ideas on how best to identify and avoid occasions of sin out of love.
We cannot control the devil, but we can control how much we pray. Prayer—appealing to God’s grace—always helps to overcome temptations, especially those of the devil. Prayer is an act of humility where we admit our helplessness and the strength of God’s power. Prayer affirms our faith in God’s love for us and his desire for us to become saints. Many find it helpful to receive the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance frequently, as these are the means by which God communicates his love and mercy tangibly.
Training our passions, feelings, and appetites is also in our control. Like an athlete who trains his body so he can push himself further, we can mortify our senses by fasting, getting up on the dot at a set time each day, avoiding snacks and eating between meal, etc. This was St. Paul’s strategy:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
May we follow the example of the saints in reacting to temptations with love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
St. Paul laments: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). How often we feel the same, especially when we experience the weight of our passions and temptation. We feel dirty and we are reminded of our past falls into sin.
But temptations and the passions are not sins, even though they feel like they are. It is our response to temptation and to the passions that are sinful (if we give in) or an act of love (if we say No to them).
We know that Jesus—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity—was tempted by the devil, but without sin. The devil tempted him with bodily satisfaction, public acclaim, and worldly power (cf. Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3-13). Later, Jesus experienced great sadness in the garden of Gethsemane; the fear of the incredible human suffering he was about to endure overwhelmed him to the point of asking the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him (Matthew 25:36-46). Yet Jesus affirmed his love for the Father by obeying him, saying No to these temptations.
Adam and Eve were also without sin when the serpent tempted them in the Garden of Eden. With the delight of the fruit attracted them, baiting them to doubt God’s love and to disobey his commandment (Genesis 3:1-7). This original sin spoiled their innocence, unleashing their bodily and emotional desires (passions are feelings, emotions, or sensual movements that incline us to some real or imagined good or away from some evil. See CCC 1763).
Once the passions and feelings have been disordered, they draw us to sin. Each of us, as descendants of Adam and Eve—with the exception of the Virgin Mary, who was conceived without sin—is also born with this disordered tendency to sin.
But these temptations are not sins even though they feel sinful. Temptations are really like hurdles for a runner. Hurdles are obstacles for the runner unless he is properly prepared to jump them. If he surmounts them, he runs with facility toward victory. God’s grace helps us overcome these temptations and achieve the victory over sin and death.
We are tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Although God created the world—people, places, and things—as good, a gift to help us fulfill our mission here on earth. But the world becomes a temptation when we turn to it for our ultimate happiness, turning it into a kind of god. We all know people who seek happiness by pursuing money, power, popularity, honor, and fame… even Facebook friends! But things don’t make us happy; people who have them may seem happy, but really they are not—if you don’t believe me, try living with one.
The flesh refers to our legitimate desires for pleasure but which are weakened by original or personal sin. This includes desires for food, drink, sex, drugs, or other sensual pleasure. The pleasure itself is not sinful, but the disordered seeking of pleasure for its own sake is. We all know people who are enslaved to some pleasure-addiction: pornography, alcohol, drugs, or even food. Such slavery prevents them from having the freedom to love with their whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.
Finally the devil and his minions tempt us with arguments and excuses to doubt God’s love and to think that we can do things better, urging us to find exceptions to God’s law.
But temptations can be an opportunity to affirm our love for God. Jesus said No the devil’s temptation and embraced the Father’s will out of love. This love moved him to overcome the fear of suffering and death to affirm that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
May we take advantage of our passions and temptations to love Christ as he has loved us, saying No to ourselves and Yes to him.
Fr. John R. Waiss
God created man to be free, putting us into the hands of our own counsel (cf. Sirach 15:14), so that he might freely seek his perfection by loving his creator. As the Second Vatican Council explains:
“God willed that man “of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint” (Gaudium et Spes 17).
Eternal beatitude requires love, and we can only love if we are free.
But freedom does not mean the right or ability to do or say anything we want to (see CCC 1747). Freedom is the ability to love, which means to seek the good of one’s beloved and to unite oneself to him. The more one does what is good the freer one becomes. To disobey, to be unfaithful, and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (see CCC 1733).
Actions can only be evil if they are free. We wouldn’t think of punishing an asteroid for slamming into the earth and killing someone. Nor would we punish a man-eating shark, although we may kill it to prevent future attacks. We punish murderers and hold them responsible because they are free human beings.
“The morality of acts is defined by the relationship of man’s freedom with the authentic good. This good is established, as the eternal law, by Divine Wisdom which orders every being towards its end…. Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness…. Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life” (St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 72).
Actions that are pure impulsive or reflex reactions can only be evil if the impulse or reflex was freely chosen, as when we deliberately give in to a habit that we know will lead to sin. For example, if we know that when we drink it leads to surfing the Internet and to falling into to compulsive pornography then choosing to drink would be the sin. Likewise, if we know that watching football will lead to angry outbursts and violent reactions, then to turn on the football game is the sin. Having a sinful dream in the middle of our nighttime sleep is not freely willed and therefore is not a sin.
Cultivating virtues—habitual acts of doing good—and overcoming vices increases our freedom to love and to do good.
Freedom and Responsibility, Grace and Law
Each of us is responsible for his acts to the extent that those actions are voluntary (see CCC 1734). Ignorance (of a child, for example), duress and manipulation, fear and other psychological or social factors can reduce or even eliminate our ability to make free decisions (see CCC 1746). Such factors coerce us into doing what we do know want to do (see Romans 7), thus reduce our responsibility. So to overcome ignorance, manipulation, and fear increase our freedom to love and our responsibility to pursue the good of the one we love.
God’s grace also increases our freedom because it gives us an ability to love. Grace is God’s love for us—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Knowing that we are loved by God—grace—gives us an opportunity to love God the Father and God the Son in return. This is “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Through the grace of the Holy Spirit working in our life through faith in Jesus Christ helps us to grow in our inner freedom, giving us the strength and confidence to endure periods of trial (see CCC 1742).
As God’s law is a gift—a grace—that guide the use of our freedom by directing our actions in ways that lead to union with God and the pursuit of the good of our beloved. That is why Pope St. John Paul II tells us:
“God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom: rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor 35).
So, let’s embrace a life of grace, law, and freedom that we can truly be free to love as God so created us.
Fr. John R. Waiss
We have come again to that time of the year when we make our pledge for the Annual Catholic Appeal. Your wonderful generosity in past years has eliminated the debt we incurred in “Saving the Dome,” operating the parish, and helping our school reach sustainable excellence. Last year’s campaign helped us add substantially to our building fund for future restoration of the façade and north tower, which will include new bathrooms. Thank you for your sacrifices—great and small—and may God reward your generosity.
Now it is time to give back. This year we wish to direct the parish portion of the Annual Catholic Appeal to the Fr. Hilary Mahaney Scholarship Fund. This will help large or financially struggling families give their children an excellent Catholic education.
Each one of us needs to grow in our own relationship with God. This not only means growing in our life of prayer and self-denial, but in orienting our whole being and all that we have toward God. This is why stewardship is so important. As we, out of love for God, generously sacrifice our time in prayer and service, our comfort and pleasure in self-denial, and our possession in sacrificial giving we not only show God that he is first in our lives, we also grow in our love for and union with God, which confers both a great inner joy and peace that is priceless.
So, God wants each of us to cooperate with his mission. Objectively he doesn’t need us. God could “snap his fingers” and give us all the resources we need. But he doesn’t do so. He wants our cooperation. Think of our Lord’s reaction to the widow who brought her two pennies to donate to the Temple: the Temple authorities laughed at her for he objectively insignificance of her gift, but Christ blesses her for her generosity. Likewise, our Lord asks for food to feed the crowds, and the apostles gave him all they have—five loaves of bread and two fish. Yet it is enough to feed the multitudes.
In considering your pledge for the coming year—how much should I give?—think about God and our commitment to him. Should I spend more money on myself and on non-necessities than on my Love? How much money will I spend on entertainment (movies, cable or satellite TV programming, etc.) and non-essentials (vacations, new car, etc.) in this coming year? Perhaps I can I give an equivalent amount to God (or a little bit more) rather than spend so much on myself.
This kind of giving will certainly “hurt” and it takes faith. If family members or colleagues hear of this they will probably consider us “crazy.” But we should live our lives to please God, not our family members or colleague—“He who loves father or mother… son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). In fact, we should live our lives for Christ and not for ourselves. In doing so, we gain HIM! Isn’t that a bargain?
No one can decide for you what amount to pledge. Reflect on this in your prayer. If you are married—as your resources are in common—discuss this with your spouse and encourage him or her to pray about it. Perhaps you wish to encourage generosity in your children, they as them what sacrifices we can offer our Lord as a sign of our love.
In this way our parish, our families, and our parishioners will grow spiritually and we will accomplish better the mission God’s is sharing with us.
Fr. John R. Waiss
In today’s Gospel our Lord warns us: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for relaxing the commandments (see Matthew 5:19) and for appearing to be good and “holy:” “outwardly [you] appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:28), “full of extortion and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). We have to do better than that. What God really wants is our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.
To truly love God, we need to fulfill all the Commandments. We also need to use our gifts and talents to serve the one we love. The kind of righteousness that God wants from us is the loving generosity of a total gift of self, to love him as Christ has loved us by dying on the Cross.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the people through Moses to set aside one tenth of all the produce of their land or of the animals of their flocks as holy, dedicated to the worship of God (see Leviticus 27:30-34). This tithe was entrusted to the Levite priests (see Numbers 18:24), who would in turn sacrifice a “tithe of the tithe” (Numbers 18:26) as their collective worship of God.
But the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees entailed tithing (give 10 percent) on silly, little things: “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42).
Jesus wants us to do more than this. He gives us an example to follow when he praises the Widow who gives everything—little compared to the gifts of the rich, but big in the eyes of God: “[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had’” (Luke 21:1-4).
As God has been good to us at St. Mary of the Angels, the Priest Council has decided to use the Annual Catholic Appeal as our collective worship to God, sacrificing the parish rebate for works of mercy. This will be our parish’s “tithe of the tithe.” The first $30,000 of our parish’s donation to Annual Catholic Appeal will be used to support poorer parishes and schools—locally and abroad—(give alms to the poor), formation of laity and priests (instruct the ignorant) and for prison ministry (visit the sick and imprisoned). Donations beyond this $30,000 will go to the Fr. Hilary Mahaney Scholarship Fund, providing education to children of our parishioners who have large families or who can’t afford the full costs of Catholic education (more instructing the ignorant).
As we prepare to make our commitment to financially support works of mercy through this years Annual Catholic Appeal—as you discuss your family’s contribution—consider the many good things you have received from God is the past year: What has God given me? What do I have that I have not received? (1 Corinthians 4:7). Let us not be like the Scribes and Pharisees, but make a gift that shows God real righteousness, true holiness, a generosity that gives itself away for love.
We ask our Blessed Mother, St. Mary of the Angels, to inspire each of our parishioners to respond with generosity.
Fr. John R. Waiss