for Sunday, March 6, 2022
He was alone in the desert. No one would see him. No one would witness his
giving in to the devil. He had plenty of excuses available. He was hungry. He had been
fasting for forty days. Why shouldn't he do something drastic to get something to eat?
The first temptation.
He felt within him the call to lead his people from oppression. With one
seemingly meaningless action he could become powerful. Wouldn't any price be worth
it if he could lead the people against Rome and establish Israel as the greatest empire in
the world? He knew that he was special, chosen. Is not this what He was chosen to
do? What would be so wrong with His grasping at power when it was offered to him?
The second temptation.
Then there was that third temptation. He believed in scripture. Isn't it reasonable
that he should demand a sign from Father? The Father certainly was demanding a
great deal from him.
There were plenty of excuses Jesus could have made if he had given in to the
devil's temptations. But there was something that would be demanded of him. He
would have to sacrifice his integrity. He would have to sacrifice that spiritual part of him
that said, "Trust in God," for the sake of the physical part of him that said, "Seize the
In the wilderness, where no one could observe, Jesus chose not self but service
of God. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:30 and 6:13 to the devil's first two temptations, using
the Torah to assert that human life is defined by more than physical subsistence, not by
bread alone, and that service is owed only to the ultimate source of life, the creator God.
The third testing from the parapet of the Temple was the most severe, for in it the
very support for Jesus' opposition to the devil was subverted. The devil quoted
scripture. Jesus should test his son-ship against the promise of God to protect him.
Jesus rebuked the devil with Deuteronomy 6:16, "You shall not test the Lord your God.".
He will not force the Father's hand. He will be the servant of Isaiah 50:10 who walks in
darkness yet trusts in the name of the Lord. Later on, Jesus will leap from another high
place. At the end of the Gospel Jesus will leap from the cross into his Father's hands as
he cried out in the words of Psalm 30: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
The devil left Jesus--for a time, he would return when once more the Lord was
again severely weakened, this time during the emotional turmoil of the Agony in the
Garden. The devil would return, but He would find the Lord strong in faith. Jesus's
integrity was intact.
I am drawn to the theme of integrity this Lent. There are people in the public
sphere, on both sides of the political aisle, who have no integrity. They appear to be
incapable of telling the truth. Perhaps they have embraced relativism to such an extent
that they have declared themselves the arbiters of the truth. Many of them adhere to the
guideline of Lenin, "Tell a lie over and over again and people will believe the lie." The
liar has no integrity.
Integrity comes from the union of the physical and the spiritual. On Ash
Wednesday, the reception of ashes emphasized that a human being is both physical
and spiritual. A human being is the only physical creature with the ability to love as God
loves. A human being is the only physical creature with the capacity to encounter the
love of God.
But a human being is also the only creature capable of compromising his or her
existence, his or her integrity. The sacrifice of integrity leads to chaos. When we sin,
when I sin, when you sin, we plunge into turmoil. We might make believe that there is
nothing wrong with us. We certainly are expert at rationalizing our actions, but we are
torn up within ourselves. When we sin we are in turmoil. We cannot stand our own
When we fight off this temptation, we are in peace.
Every priest has had the humbling experience of walking with people from turmoil
to peace. This experience usually takes place in the sacrament of penance. The priest
is not just an intermediary with God forgiving sins, but a witness to a person becoming
whole. It is a humbling experience because the priest is acutely aware of his own
sinfulness, the times that he has chosen the physical over the spiritual, chaos over
integrity. At the same time it is a beautiful experience for a priest to walk with a penitent
towards peace. The priest is privileged to be part of a person becoming fully human,
integrating the physical and spiritual dimensions of his or her life, trusting in God to be
whole. This is what St. Irenaeus meant when he said that the :Glory of God is man fully
This Sunday's Gospel reading demands that I take the blinders off my heart and
see where I am in turmoil. The reading demands that I listen to the Word of God within
me calling me to be the person the Lord has given me the capacity to be. The reading
offers me peace over turmoil.
Where are we in turmoil? Where do we lack integrity? Is it in our relationship
with family and friends? Are hatred and grudges destroying us? Is our lifestyle
wholesome? Are we rationalizing our way through immorality? Do we lie to ourselves so
much that we believe our own lies?
The ancients saw the three temptations of the Lord as describing three main
categories of sin: love of pleasure, love of possessions and love of power. When
pleasure, possessions or power become the goals of our lives, we sacrifice our integrity
to materialism. We sacrifice our wholesomeness to turmoil. We enter into chaos. Sin is
chaos. And the devil is the master of chaos.
Human integrity, the wholeness of body and soul, physical and spiritual, is the
focus of the first part of Lent. You and I begin Lent by looking within ourselves. We ask
ourselves: "Am I in peace, or am I in turmoil?" If we are honest enough with ourselves,
then perhaps we have to admit that over the last year certain things have crept into our
lives without our noticing them. They might seem small, even not worth noting, but they
can wreck havoc within our being, and bring chaos where there should be peace. Unless
we are careful, our integrity can be compromised.
When we feel disjointed, torn up inside, just not happy with ourselves, when we
are hurting on the inside, then we need to remember that the Lord does not want us in
pain. He wants us to be whole, wholesome, and at peace. He gives us his power and
strength to integrate our body and soul. "Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with
me Lord my God," we sang in the Responsorial Psalm, from Psalm 91. He is with us.
He is on our lips and in our hearts St. Paul tells the Romans, and us. With him we can
conquer any enemy. With him we can scale any wall. With him we can fight off
temptation. With him we can preserve, or if needed, restore our integrity.
The main focus of Lent should not be on what we give up, what prayers we say,
even what charity we practice. If we want to make a good Lent, more than that, if we
want to be better Christians, our focus should be on our integrity, the harmonious union
of our physical and spiritual lives.
Jesus Christ offers us dignity. Jesus Christ offers us peace. Jesus Christ offers
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Deuteronomy 26.4-10
Second Reading: Romans 10.8-13
Gospel: Luke 4.1-13
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: