What a powerful little word, “if”. The word “if” can be defined many ways – “on condition”, “even though”, “uncertain possibility”. Those two little letters have the ability to inject tremendous doubt into a person or spur them on in confidence. Think about it. We use that word all the time – if I did this or that I’d be happy, if I had these friends…, if I looked this way….if I had better clothes…, more money, a nicer car, a bigger house, better job, better family, different major. Right? What happens when we let that little “if” word precede everything? We begin to question and focus on the negative side of things and begin to slip under the weight of temptation, begin bad habits, become lost in sinful ways. But it does not end there, ever.
Look at Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Satan approaches Jesus and leads off with, “If you are the Son of God…” Couldn’t we read that from the perspective of either Jesus or the devil? I don’t think Jesus ever has an identity crisis in the desert. Jesus knows that He is the Son of God. Old Scratch knows that Jesus is the Son of God as well, but in his self-centered pride he is compelled to rage against the love of God now incarnate in Jesus Christ. “Taking into consideration you are the Son of God, why don’t you still go ahead and fill your empty belly, take possession of the world, test the Lord God.” Silly devil.
Jesus being tempted in the desert is not a cosmic battle of good versus evil wherein either side could win. God and the devil are not equally matched powers and good just got lucky that Jesus won that round. That’s the pride of Satan – he thinks he has the power and that because Christ is sapped of all physical and emotional strength from the 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus is weak, vulnerable. Quite the contrary; it is in Christ’s weakness that we see the full power of the Trinity at work. Christ, as the beloved Son of God, relies on His heavenly Father and the armies of angels to strengthen Him and fight with Him against the tempter’s wiles.
We have all been tempted in one way or another. It seems that when our souls are besieged by temptation, God is far away from us. It appears that when life is not going so well and we are in a rough spot that God is far away. We cry to God in desperation for relief, “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble!” Yet, God holds back, or so it seems. If only He answers my prayer, hears my cry. Will He hear my prayer and fill the longings of my heart? Will He draw close to me? Are we doomed to perish in the wilderness?
The readings this Sunday are riddled with the promises that God is not, nor will He ever be, far away from us. Whether it is in times of trouble or times of great joy, God is always present. The first reading says “we cried to the LORD…and he heard our cry” (Dt. 4:7). Later the Psalmist assures us “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him” (Ps. 91:15) Many times our habits of sin, which occur from giving into temptation over and over again, blind us to the loving presence of Jesus in our lives; but temptation is not something we can not overcome. It is possible “IF” only we trust Jesus and the abundant graces of the Holy Spirit.
While we are struggling in the throes of temptation and doubt we do not have to feel like we are on our own or that if God will answer our prayers and if I were stronger I could be holy and avoid temptation and sin. No. We have a victorious King who has won the battle of sin and death, who knows what the experience of temptation is like.
Use that “if” word in a positive way – “granting, or supposing that”. If I rely on Jesus Christ and His grace and trust in His power I can overcome temptation. If I realize “the word is near me and in my mouth and in my heart” (Rom. 10:8), the God of Hosts and the same army of heaven that attended Christ in the desert are micro-seconds away from coming to my aid. If I quit trying to control all situations in my life and if I trust God and His plan for my life, I will learn how to serve others. If I say my prayers I will draw closer to Christ and deepen my friendship with Him and will know Him in a powerful way. If I regularly partake of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, God will fill my soul with overflowing grace. If I “call on the name of the Lord [I] will be saved.”
May your Lent be filled with moments of Christ’s radiant presence and may His grace fill your heart and soul with joy.