October 5, 2015, Monday — The One Thing

“And he comes, moving slowly like a serpent, and makes those three proposals to Jesus: “If you are God, son of God, there are stones, you’re hungry, change them into bread”; “If you are the Son of God, why so much effort? Come with me to the terrace of the temple and thrown yourself down, and people will see this miracle and effortlessly you will be recognized as the Son of God”; the devil tries to seduce him and, in the end, as he could not seduce him, the last temptation: “Let’s be clear: I will give you all the power of the world, but you give adoration to me. Let’s make an agreement.” —Pope Francis, Saturday morning, October 3, in a homily to the Vatican police force during Mass in Vatican City, just before the start of the Synod

In his homily on Saturday morning to the Vatican Vigilanza, Pope Francis reflected in a powerful way on the temptations of Jesus by the Devil.

And Francis said: “This is our struggle, and that’s why today we ask the Lord that, through the intercession of the Archangel Michael, we may be defended from the snares, the charm, the seductions of this ancient serpent called Satan.”

The startling thing about the temptations is that they are all, in a certain sense, reasonable.

Why not turn the stones into bread?

Why not give faith to the people, not shadowed with the possibility of doubt, but evident and certain, through a sign?

Why not receive all power over the world, power to do everything, power which could be used to do so much good?

And the answer, in a certain sense, the answer Jesus gives, rejecting all three temptations, transcends reason — though it does not contradict reason.

The Pope ends by saying these words:

“If we go to the account of the temptations of Jesus, we never find a single word of his own. Jesus does not respond with his own words, he responds with the words of Scripture, all three times. This is what he teaches us: that we cannot dialogue with the devil, and this helps very much, when temptation comes: ‘With you, I do not speak’… the word of the Lord only.”

This applies also to this Synod, which has just begun.

What is the word of the Lord?

The word of the Lord is ultimately the Lord Himself.

And, mystically speaking, that word is holiness.

Scripture says — St. Peter, the first Pope, says — “Because it is written, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:16).

This draws upon Leviticus 11:44: “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”

This means, that the Christian life, and the entire life of the Church, is a life directed toward holiness, toward becoming filled with and transformed by the very life of God — a life which aims at becoming like God. This is what we were taught when we were young, as this is what our saints and teachers have taught us in every generation.

The entire sacramental system aims at this, and accomplishes this.

This is the only and final aim of the Church.

There has been a debate within Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council, over whether the great name of the Church ought to be “People of God” or “Mystical Body of Christ.”

The first name, which bears some aspects of a socio-political category, has in many ways replaced and obscured the second, which is declaredly a mystical category and so a category which surpasses socio-political categories. The first is, at least potentially, a “horizontal” category; the second, a “vertical” one.

And, though the first name is not incorrect, and can be acceptable when rightly understood, this replacement has been, in many ways, the source of our problems and confusion.

The Church has always known that she draws her life, not from human categories, but from above.

If the Church conforms to the things of this world, to the reasoning of this world — and much of the reasoning is quite reasonable, and so quite attractive, as were the temptations in the desert — the Church would lose her essence.

The medicine and care which the Church offers as the “field hospital” in a war which is ever occurring in this world is the medicine of the sacraments, which are the means to sanctification.

In every Council of the Church, from Nicea and Chalcedon to Vatican II, there have been many calls upon the Church fathers to take the more “reasonable” of two courses.

But, like the temptations of the devil in the desert, the more “reasonable” of the choices turns out to be the choice which loses… everything.

The Church is a Church made up of sinners. This is true.

But the Church is also the mystical body of Christ, here with us — of Christ, who listened to the very attractive temptations of the devil in the desert, and rejected them, clinging to “God alone.”

And even today, clinging to “God alone” is the way of the Church, the way of the Logos, the way which preserves the deepest of human hopes and aspirations.

(to be continued)

What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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