The Great Temptation

I was looking at an old family photo hanging on my wall and noticing the smiling faces of my 4 oldest girls. They looked downright joyful, with a sparkle in their eyes and not a care in the world (other than the perceived hideousness of the outfits I made them wear). The photo was taken pre-cancer… pre-death… pre-trauma. In that moment, I was tempted. I was truly tempted to give in to anger and despair and resentment because the cross they have been given to bear is just not fair. The cross I have been given is not fair either, but at least I’m a grown-up.  They are just kids.  It’s not fair that we couldn’t shield our children from the world, so they could be simply children. I hate that their smiles don’t always reach their eyes. I hate that tragedy has worked on breaking them at such a young age and the effects have rippled through our family for these past few years.  ‘Something’ was really tempting me to give in to ugliness and evil.

But I didn’t, and I never will, and I will tell you how and why. Giving in to that would be akin to taking the morsel Jesus dipped in the bowl at the last supper.

Judas Iscariot, the one who is to betray Jesus to the High Priests, is depicted reaching across the table to dip into the dish.

I will never understand how Judas actually took that piece of bread from Jesus. How could he choose darkness when he had been walking with the light for three years?  Why would anyone want anger, hatred, and resentment over Love, Peace and Joy? Why doesn’t Love always prevail?

The answer is age-old.

Satan has dangled the carrot of power and control since the beginning.  He did it in the garden,

“The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gn. 3:4-5

And tried it on Jesus in the desert,

“the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Mt 4:8-9

And uses every moment of suffering and vulnerability in us, still to this day!

Every once in a while it hits me that the hand we have been dealt is just so unfair.  I look at those beautiful happy souls in an old photo and can’t stop the negative resentful thoughts. It’s easier to overcome this temptation when all is well and going according to my own plans, but when things are not looking so rosy, it’s tempting to feel like we have been thrown to the wolves and the deck has been stacked against us.  It is imperative that as quickly as those thoughts surface, I take control of them by an act of my will.  And therein lies the how. The gift of our free will is powerful – that is how we never have to give in to temptation. Of course the deck isn’t stacked against us.  Jesus says as much in scripture, 

“And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Cor 10:13

We always have all that we need to overcome temptation and evil. Period. Judas had the power to overcome it as well, but he chose to reach out his hand and take that morsel instead. The God I know and Love would never stack the deck against us and He certainly didn’t set us up to fail.  To the contrary, He has stacked the deck highly in our favor.  He stacked the deck for us during His ministry on Earth when he established the sacraments and the priesthood and set Peter as the first in line to lead His church.  He stacked it when He promised that the gates of hell would never prevail.  He stacked it from the cross when He gave his final earthly gift; his Mother.  He stacked it by opening the gates of Heaven and sending his Holy Spirit to be with us always.  He stacked it with the ultimate sacrifice of himself.
When we face trials there is often the temptation to turn away from God. I hear it said again and again; “If God really loves me then why did he allow (fill in the blank)?”  When evil and suffering are at work, we blame God and question why.  At the first sign of trouble we demand God show himself and explain.  When that happens we have bought into the lie and are playing right into the hand of Satan.  God can stack our deck all day long but it does us no good if we only play our own game by our own rules.  We need his church.  We need the sacraments and the wisdom of the church fathers and the saints who have gone before us.  We need every single tool at our disposal because we are under attack.  As long as we live on Earth, we constantly have to fight the temptations that our human nature is susceptible to.

God never abandons us in our trials and temptations, but I think sometimes He allows them just to show us how strong our free will is.  We have to know our strength in Him in order to become saints.  And in order to know our strength we first have to be humble in our weakness. Nothing teaches humility like realizing, through our trials, that we are not in control.  We cannot control life and death, sickness and disease, poverty or wealth, or the choices others make, but we can control our response to them all.  We can control whether we rise up to the challenge and respond with faith, trust, and surrender to God, or whether we fight (kicking and screaming) to maintain some illusion of control.  That is why Love and peace and joy do not always win out.  Our desire for control, and belief that we have it, is the great temptation.  Wanting that control is the ‘something’ that was coaxing me to give in.  As a parent I want to be in control of what my children are exposed to and what trials they have to suffer. (If I were, I guess they would suffer precisely nothing.)  Naturally, I want to protect them and shield them, but giving in to anger, despair, and resentment is just plain silly and only hurts myself.  And therein lies the why.  Our trials are good for us.  They help form us into the saints we are all called to be and this is true for my children, too.  Sainthood should be the desired goal of our entire lives.

In this modern age, being in control has become increasingly ingrained in us by our society.  We are so self-reliant and self-sufficient that it’s easy to forget we need God, every single minute of every single day.  Every minute that disaster doesn’t strike us we should be thankful for the grace and protection that is keeping us safe.  Anna’s date of death, March 2nd, happens to be the feast day of St. Charles the good.  Shortly after she died, a friend sent me one of his quotations that has stuck in my mind ever since: “We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God.”   Unfortunately, the modern view tends to be just the opposite.  We have the expectation of controlling as much as we possibly can and when disaster strikes we are angry and upset that we didn’t see it coming, or that God didn’t protect us.  How differently we would view suffering if we lived a more God-reliant way of life!  If we stepped outside of ourselves and practiced letting go all the time, and not only when we are forced to, it would be easier to do when we need to.  So, if the goal is sainthood, we should be thankful for our trials since they give us the opportunity to relinquish control and trust more fully in God.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.


“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Cor 15:10

The gift of my free will is powerful, but it does not give me control over life and our circumstances.  Disease will strike.  Accidents will happen.  Trials will come, but in my weakest moments my free will gives me the power to tell Satan to go to hell and to let God be God.

When I look longingly at the Joy of days gone by, temptation to despair may arise, but I know that it holds no real power.  Instead of being bitter and angry about what has been lost, I choose to pray in utter surrender,
Jesus, I trust in you. My kids have been broken, but you are the divine healer and can restore us, Lord. I didn’t ask for these trials God, but you can use them for your good. We have lost so much, but as long as we have you, Jesus, we have everything.  I am Thankful.”

"We are always in the midst of danger, but we belong to God"  1083- March 2, 1127

“We are in the middle of dangers all the time, but we belong to God” St. Charles the Good 1083- March 2, 1127

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This is good….

A recent Godversation

ME: The situation is just too difficult.  I just can’t help

GOD:  Whatsoever you do to the least of my people you do to me

ME: I’m hardly talking about the least of your people

GOD: anyone in need is the least of these

ME: I have too much on my plate already

GOD: I will never give you more than you can handle

ME: I’m afraid

GOD:  You’ve already gone where many will never go and you know I

go before you always. Try Again

ME: I don’t know how to help

GOD: Give

ME:  How much?

GOD: As much as I’ve given you

ME: I have a family to take care of first, I can’t just give everything

GOD: I take care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, how much more will I take care of your family?

ME: I’m tired

GOD: My yoke is easy and my burden is light

ME: Do you have an answer for everything???

GOD: I allowed the questions didn’t I?

3D

We took the family to see Madagascar 3 in 3D the other day.  (A great family movie for all ages!) The nine of us filed into our seats and got settled while I helped the two youngest (ages 4 and 2) with their special glasses, which went over very well and they were oohing and aahing over the scenes jumping out at them.

Real D glasses

Real D glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while into the movie there was a particularly awesome 3D scene and I excitedly turned to the little girls to share their reaction because I just knew they must be almost overwhelmed with the awesomeness of something they don’t see everyday – or really ever!  But instead of childlike awe and wonder they were staring blankly at the screen – without their glasses on!  I couldn’t believe they were missing the experience.  What happened to the initial oohing and aahing?   Surely they just didn’t understand that if the glasses stayed on there would be more of that?  So in a screeching whisper I coaxed and cajoled until they put their glasses back on and sure enough their sweet little faces lit up again!  For about 5 minutes…  and then the glasses were off again.  I coaxed and cajoled again and glasses went on and so it went for the rest of the movie because I could not stand the fact that they were watching a dull and blurry screen when those little glasses so easily changed the whole game.  It made no sense really.  They saw and experienced how much better it was with the glasses on so why would they ever want to take them off?  But what could I do?  Forcing the glasses on would have been counterproductive, not to mention rude if crying and fighting ensued.  I was forced to watch the movie and simply accept the fact that I had done all I could to help my little girls experience the magic of a 3D movie, and failed.

This parenting moment reminds me an awful lot of the gift of free will God our Father gives His children.   He teaches and guides and coaxes and cajoles but ultimately we have the choice to follow and live in his will or not.  He gave us the gift of being able to freely choose for ourselves to accept Him or reject Him, that is, to live out our 3D life with or without our glasses on!  Of course He wants us to experience the fullness and beauty of our world, and creation itself was designed to elicit our awe and wonder, but if we won’t wear the glasses then we get the grainy and dull version.  How heartbreaking for God our Father to watch us partaking in life with less than He intended and less than we deserve.   He’s set us up Royally and at times we choose the pauper’s lot, hurting not only ourselves but also our ever-loving Father in Heaven.

Why would we do that??  I suppose it’s one thing if we don’t know any better, but even when we do  we often still reject God’s more excellent way.  Like my 4 and 2-year-old rejecting their glasses for no apparent reason, even after they had experienced the wonder of having them on.  It makes no sense!  Why not do it the way God has prescribed?  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The answer lies partly in the cunning voice of our most ancient adversary.  The distractions and enticements that lead us away from the simple and obvious path of truth cause us to question the truths we’ve seen with our very own eyes.  The evil one deceives and conceals while obscuring our minds from counting the cost.  This is what Jesus warned against when He said,

 Mt. 7:13-14  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There is one path that leads to Heaven and It’s a path of Love.  We were created to know God and as such to Love.  We are called to be like little children, not only to Love but to be Loved.  Jesus is saying, buyer beware, the wide and varied paths lead directly to the manipulator of all that is good, for the evil one creates nothing of his own.  And when his work is done he can count on our own pride to perpetuate the lie.   After all who wants to admit they’ve chosen unwisely or wrongly?

God our loving Father wants so much for us to put on our glasses and expose the lies for what they are but more importantly to see the Love He offers so vividly that it seems we can reach right out and grab it!

Lord we pray that you illuminate the narrow road and give us the grace to choose to be on a path straight to you! Amen.

Evangelical Earthworms

More reflections from the garden:

Yes I am writing a catholic blog post about …. earthworms.

Earthworms are a good example of soil-dwelling...

Earthworms are a good example of soil-dwelling detritivores (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They really are fascinating little creatures and I decided that if God put the time and energy into making the slimy little things then they are definitely worthy of a little Godversation!  For sure they do really important work in the soil.  I’m certainly no expert but I do know that lots of worms = good soil!  Luckily I have lots of them in my little garden and as I’ve been preparing for planting  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe their activity.

What strikes me is their strength of purpose.  They instinctively know exactly why they were created and what they are supposed to do in God’s ultimate design and they just do it.  No fuss, no muss.  They slither into the soil and eat it up and poop it out.  Over and over and over, all day long.  And I bet if you dig up a worm a thousand times it will gracefully disappear back under the soil all one thousand times.  It won’t stop to whine and complain and question.  It won’t get distracted and stray from it’s task.  It won’t get bored and decide to sow it’s wild oats elsewhere for a while.

It’s simply an obedient and purposeful little creature that was created for a specific and necessary purpose and it does it’s part no matter how insignificant it may seem.  As a general rule they don’t aspire to be anything other than what they are.

“In Him, we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28

They embody that verse and I think it’s a tremendous model for all of us.  Yes, I am saying that we should all channel our inner earthworm!  All creatures great and small glorify the Lord by being exactly what we are created to be and all of creation gives testament to the amazing wonder of God’s ultimate design when we play our part in it.  This is evidenced in the delicate balance of our ecosystem working harmoniously over the Earth.  When any one piece is missing the whole system goes down!

It would be crazy to think God created us for a purpose but didn’t give us the tools we’d need to achieve that purpose.  In the same way it would be crazy to think that He created us with no purpose!  Of course not.  If he fashioned that ugly slimy little worm to play such a vital role in our world, then how much more vital are we, his beloved and cherished children?  He created each and every one of us with purpose, for a reason, with a plan in mind and He’s equipped us with all that we need for that purpose. We are clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49) to achieve what he’s laid out for us, and when we cooperate we find fulfillment and joy and happiness.

The real kind.  Not just the temporary and temporal.

But unlike an earthworm we’ve been gifted with free will to choose if and how and where and when to become all that we were created to be.  Or not.

Sometimes our greatest gift can be our greatest pitfall. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.  If you are anything like me, we are not always as obedient and cooperative as, say, an earthworm but God loves us anyway.  He will never stop encouraging us to achieve the perfection for which we were created.  Not actual perfection of course, because no one gets there this side of the pearly gates (Rom 3:23) but the perfection of our purpose! A perfection born of Love that the Father has for each and every one of his children.  He sees us perfectly, wonderfully and fearfully made (psalms 139:14), even when free will and sin interfere with the grand design.

Saint Anne with child Mary (Св. Анна с младенц...

Saint Anne with child Mary (Св. Анна с младенцем Марией) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the bible God has sent prophets and angels and evangelists to shepherd his people. He is always guiding and teaching us truth and wisdom.  Ever notice that you know exactly the person you need in a given situation?  Ever notice the worms in your garden being little evangelists?  The truth is that we all evangelize by being what we are in our walk with God.   We are called to holiness.  We are destined for sainthood.  Take the example of St. Anne living out her vocation as a wife and mother.  She kept her house, took care of her children, taught them to know the Lord, and remained a faithful and dutiful wife.  Imagine the moment she found out that her daughter would bring forth the Messiah of the world!

God has placed us and will use us!   The only prerequisite is to simply be what God has created us to be.