Because of certain television shows and movies that have recently come out, there has been much talk in the media about demonic possession and exorcism. Movies and television shows can sometimes exaggerate the power of the devil. Watching them, we can be led to believe that demonic possession can happen to anyone for any reason at all. The truth is that possession by the devil is very rare and only occurs when people welcome a demon into their lives through some occult activity. The Holy Spirit which we received at baptism protects us from that kind of demonic activity in our lives. Though the devil is real, we have nothing to fear from him if we are living good and holy lives.
Though we should not fear the devil, we also should not take him too lightly. We should be aware of his presence and action in the world and alert to how he tries to lure us away from God. We only have to look around to see how real the devil is and how powerful his influence over the world is.
Though demonic possessions and attacks are rare, the devil’s other activity is very common. He mostly tries to attack us through temptation. We see this truth on display in today’s readings.
The first reading from the Book of Genesis gives the tragic account of the original sin. The serpent convinces Eve that God is lying to them, that they will not die if they eat the fruit. Eve, instead of running away, decides to look at the tree. It becomes desirable to her, and she is captivated by the allure of knowing good and evil. By succumbing to the temptation, our first parents lost Paradise.
The story of the original sin has much to teach us about our own experience of temptation. As in the garden, the devil always starts out by calling God a liar. He whispers to us that what God calls “sin” is really not going to hurt us. He tries to convince us that the Church’s rules do not come from God but are made up by a bunch of old men.
To resist temptations of this sort, we must be firmly grounded in our knowledge of the Bible and the Church’s teaching. When we do not understand why the Church teaches that a certain act is sinful, we must read up on it or ask someone knowledgeable to explain it to us. Everything the Church teaches comes directly from the word of God and is the result of centuries of the accumulated wisdom of saints and scholars. We should never just dismiss any teaching of the Church just because we do not understand it. When we do that, we open ourselves up to temptation.
The story of the original sin also teaches us that we must run from temptation whenever we are faced with it. Besides listening to the serpent in the first place, the mistake Eve made was to look at the fruit and begin to desire it. By doing so, she already decided in her heart that she would disobey God.
There are many ways that we open ourselves up to temptation by putting ourselves in places where we should not be. It can be by watching television, by websites we choose to visit or by the friends we choose to hang around with. We should avoid any situations which may lead us into temptation and run from them.
Today’s gospel reading gives us great hope, because sin and temptation are not the end of the story. Jesus goes to face Satan in the desert, to withstand his temptations and to win the victory over him. Through Jesus, we too find strength to overcome the devil in our lives.
Though Jesus overcomes Satan, the temptations he undergoes are very real. In fact, he will be faced with them not only in the desert but at other times and places. The basis of Satan’s temptation, though, is one that we often have to face. What the devil is telling Jesus by tempting him to turn stones into bread is that he should not have to suffer. Never mind what God’s plan is; there is an easier way.
Very often, the devil tempts us in much the same way. He seduces us with the idea of convenience. He will tell us that it is much easier to sleep late on a Sunday morning than to get up and get everyone ready for church. It is easier to cheat on an exam than to study. Other times, the devil will try to flatter us saying, “You have already done enough. You deserve a break. Just this one time won’t kill you.” And of course, the one time becomes two times and then three times. Before we know it, we are locked in a sinful pattern of behavior.
The way to combat this subtle ploy of the devil is to build up good habits. The more we pray, the more we attend Mass, the more we avoid people who spread gossip, the easier it will be to make good choices. It will become second nature to us. We will be making good and holy choices without having to put much thought into them. And that gives the devil less room to stick his nose in and disrupt us.
It is true. The devil is active in our world trying to deceive us into choosing sin. But Jesus has conquered the powers of darkness and gives us the strength to overcome temptation as well. And, if we do fall through our human weakness, we can go to him for forgiveness. Though he never sinned, he does understand our weakness because he also is human. We must never fail to pick ourselves up when we sin and start over with our eyes fixed on Jesus. With him, nothing is impossible.