Readings: Genesis 2:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11,
1. Observe the focus of the devil’s first temptation against Jesus:
He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
The devil attacks Jesus where he perceives him to be the most vulnerable. The tempter behaves as St. Ignatius of Loyola describes in his Rules for Discernment:
[The enemy of our souls] behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defenses of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.
Imagine your king has made you the captain in charge of your walled-city’s defenses. Having lived there your whole life and having witnessed many previous sieges against the city, you should know its vulnerabilities well. Before the next hostile siege (which will surely come) would it not be wise to petition the king to reinforce wherever the walls are weak and to send the troops he can provide, and for you yourself to be an especially vigilant watchmen at the place where the next attack is most likely to come?
So it is for us. We have a lifetime of experience to know where we are weakest. Therefore, we should pray to the Lord to provide his strengthening grace where we are weak and to send his angels to help defend us, and to be especially vigilant at where the next temptation is most likely to come.
2. Imagine if Eve had said, “What you say, Serpent, is very different from what the Lord told us. My husband and I will discuss this with him the next time he visits us.” That would have entirely derailed the serpent’s wicked plans. Again, St. Ignatius:
[The enemy of our souls] acts as a licentious lover in wanting to be secret and not revealed. For, as the licentious man who, speaking for an evil purpose, solicits a daughter of a good father or a wife of a good husband, wants his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him much, when the daughter reveals to her father or the wife to her husband his licentious words and depraved intention, because he easily gathers that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun: in the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his good Confessor or to another spiritual person that knows his deceits and evil ends, it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun.
Therefore, we should bring our secret, hidden temptations out of the festering darkness and into the disinfectant light with a spiritual person we can confide in.
3. Observe how Eve responds the serpent’s sinful suggestion:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it…
The more Eve entertained the serpent’s temptation the more inevitable her fall to sin became. Contrast this with Jesus’ unyielding responses to the devil, including:
“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.
As St. Ignatius says:
The enemy acts like [an unvirtuous] woman, in being weak against vigor and strong of will. Because, as it is the way of the woman when she is quarrelling with some man to lose heart, taking flight when the man shows her much courage: and on the contrary, if the man, losing heart, begins to fly, the wrath, revenge, and ferocity of the woman is very great, and so without bounds; in the same manner, it is the way of the enemy to weaken and lose heart, his temptations taking flight, when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things opposes a bold front against the temptations of the enemy, doing diametrically the opposite. And on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself commences to have fear and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so wild on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with so great malice.
Therefore, let us be firm and uncompromising against temptation from the start, giving it no opportunity grow on us. Instead, let us focus on doing that vice’s opposing virtue. In the face of such firmness, the temptation will depart.