During this Lenten season we are following the footsteps of Jesus, and going out into the desert to prepare for Easter. But when Jesus went out into the desert, it was there that he was tempted by the devil. Perhaps you, too, have felt tempted and attacked by the devil as you live out your Lenten penances. As Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ recently said on St. Joseph’s Workshop, there’s a reason for that.
Drawing on a homily from Fr. Hugh Barbour O.Praem., Fr. Matthew pointed out that we often experience more temptations and attacks from the devil during Lent because we are making the devil afraid.
“When the devil sees someone praying a little more, doing a little fasting, and sleeping a little less, he actually becomes fearful of that person,” he said. “Can you imagine the devil becoming fearful of you? In my experience, what often happens when you start to ramp up your spiritual life, when you start to pray more, to practice fasting more, when you start to exercise more discipline in your spiritual life, the devil does get fearful right away. But his first response is not to to run in flight. His first response is to fight back.”
As the devil saw Jesus fasting and praying in the desert in preparation for his mission and tempted Him, so too when he sees us fasting, praying more, and growing in spiritual discipline, he grows afraid and tries to hinder our progress.
“But then pretty quickly, he can’t stand it,” Fr. Matthew said. “He can’t withstand all the prayer. He has a hard time hanging in there and he flees. He will return. I mean, he’s never bested for long, at least in the spiritual life. God always allows him to return, in order for us to grow in strength and remain dependent on God. But it’s an interesting trajectory that I often see when you start praying more.”
Fr. Matthew encouraged listeners to fight back against these temptations with the classic spiritual tools of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. He also pointed to Jesus’ response toward the devil’s temptations, that He answered with sacred words, with Scripture.
“Don’t enter into dialogue with the evil one,” Fr. Matthew cautioned. “Don’t be like Adam and Eve, who entered into dialogue with Satan and then eventually got distracted. Instead, shut the devil down with sacred words, as Father Barbour points out. It’s a good response, and the more sacred words you have at your disposal, ready at hand, then the better off you’re going to be. This is why we as Catholics immerse ourselves in prayer, in Scripture, in reflecting upon the Psalms and recognizing how important it is that we know Sacred Scripture.”
So be aware, especially during this Lenten season, of the ways that the devil may tempt you, speak lies into your ear, or work to discourage you in your progress with the Lord.
Fr. Matthew advised, “Make sure that you are creating reinforced spiritual nourishment and strength in your life. Make sure that you have, at the ready, those powerful spiritual words that come from Scripture, especially the words of Jesus that we can invoke and use. And then realize that God, when he allows temptation, allows it only for your good only allows it for your growth.”