Reading (James 1:12-18) Gospel (St. Mark 8:14-21)
Saint James tells us in the first reading today that we are blessed if we persevere through temptations, and that when we are being tempted we are not to say that the temptation is coming from God. We see that very clearly even with what Our Lord said in the Gospel – Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod – because these things get sown into our souls and cause us trouble.
It is the things that are very subtle sometimes; that is the way the devil is going to work. If you are trying to do what is right, the devil is not going to come down with some sort of horrible thing, assuming you are going to give in. He knows better than that. The devil is exceedingly intelligent. We do not need to worry that he is going to come down as some sort of sulfur-breathing dragon that is going to put fire in our face, because he knows we will not go for it. Instead what he does is to find a very subtle way to try to tempt us. He knows where our weaknesses are, so he is going to find little ways just to plant some seeds, to get us thinking in a certain way. One thing you have to say about Satan is that he is very patient and very persevering. He keeps coming at us in ways that he knows are going to be problematic for us individually.
We certainly need to be on guard against any huge problem the devil might try to throw at us, but generally that is not the way it is going to work. The big thing, as Saint James makes very clear to us in the Gospel today, is that the evil desire we conceive within ourselves brings forth sin, and then sin, when it reaches maturity, brings forth death. That is the way it works. It is not going to be some huge thing that is going to pop up and we are going to crash, not normally. And certainly if we have just recently overcome some area of habitual sin, we might easily fall into that again.
But under normal circumstances, the way the devil works is to start out with a small idea, something not even completely sinful, just to get us thinking along a certain way. Once we start thinking that way, he augments it a little bit: “If that wasn’t so bad, how about this? Well, if you can do that, how about this?” Pretty soon we are out there hanging on the edge and we are giving into something that we should not be. Of course, we should not have been giving into the very beginning of it, but we are giving into something that is going to pull us down.
What we have to be able to do is to watch for the very beginning movements of temptation. Not just to watch for the huge things so we do not fall into sin, but to watch for the little movements of temptation and nip them in the bud, cut them off immediately, so we do not play around with fire; otherwise, we are going to get burned. If we do not do that, then Our Lord’s words to His disciples are going to be addressed to us: Do you have eyes but not see, and have ears but not hear? Do you not understand? We know these things, yet we keep putting ourselves back into occasions of sin, into areas where we are going to be tempted. It is just plain foolish.
We need to ask the Lord for the grace to open our eyes to be able to see where these problems are in our lives, to see how the devil is going to work, so we can guard against it. We need to keep praying, because the closer we get to Christ, the more clearly the light shines on anything that is dark, the more clearly the truth exposes anything that is false. Once that is clear to us, we are not going to be giving into all of these things. That is the way we have to be operating. So we need to look for the good, we need to focus on Christ, and in that way to defeat even the smallest temptations of the evil one.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.