An Unholy Trinity: The Three Great Temptations

Christ in the Desert

Christ in the Desert

Jesus’ battle in the wilderness is the battle with the three great temptations: the flesh, the world and the devil.

The first is the temptation of the flesh. Jesus is fasting in the great tradition of forty days and nights. The great flood was forty days. Moses on Sinai fasted forty days. Elijah on the holy  mountain fasted forty days. The temptation is not the eating of bread, but the breaking of the vow and the breaking of the great tradition by giving in to the desires of the flesh.

Fasting is therefore the way we say “No” to all of our disordered desires. Through fasting we will overcome sexual sins, sins of gluttony, sins of drunkenness, sins of greed, sins of sloth. Fasting cuts through them all, and therefore the temptation to break the fast is the temptation to give in to the desires of the flesh.

But there is more to it than that. “Giving in to the desires of the flesh” makes all things physical sound dirty and nasty and bad. Not so. They are good. God created them good. What is wrong is not our desire, but our disordered desire. Giving in to the desires of the flesh is therefore another way of saying we have put the physical world first place in our lives. We love the satisfaction of physical things more than the delights of heaven. In other words, we love this world more than God’s kingdom.

To put it philosophically, we have become materialists. We behave as if we do not believe in the invisible, beautiful realm. We have put the physical first, and that is a form of idolatry. We have made unto ourselves a graven image–that is to say–we have worshipped something physical of our own making and we treat that as our first love.

The second temptation is to receive all the kingdoms of the world. In other words, the devil offers us all the wealth and power we could possibly want if only we will worship him.

Therefore if we meet someone who has all the wealth and power he could possibly want we should ask ourselves who it is that person has worshipped. It is very possible that he or she has sold their soul to the devil–if not explicitly through a Faustian contract, then implicitly by a lifetime of choosing wealth and power over poverty, weakness and reliance on God.

Why do so many Catholics find almsgiving so difficult? Continue Reading

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