First Sunday of Lent: How to Identify a Real Temptation

BY FR. JAMES MARTIN, S.J. | March 6, 2022
First Sunday of Lent – Today’s Readings
Reflexión en Español

At times, Jesus’ life can seem far removed from our own.  Maybe most times. After all, none of us is the sinless Son of God, the Messiah or the Second Person of the Trinity. But Jesus is fully divine and fully human. And one of the most human things that happens to him is in today’s Gospel: he gets tempted. 

Notice that each of these temptations involves something good. First, he’s temped with food. Next, he’s tempted to see if the Father would protect him physically. Finally, he’s tempted to have others worship him. 

How to Identify a Real Temptation

Now, each of those things is good: Jesus has to eat. It’s not so bad that he would be physically protected. And it makes sense that people would worship the Son of God. 

That’s the real cleverness of Satan, or what spiritual writers call the “evil spirit,” the spirit that moves us away from God. It sounds counterintuitive, but we’re tempted most by things that seem good, but then lead us to something bad. I mean, few of us are tempted to go out and murder someone.  It’s obviously bad, so it’s easy to identify and therefore easier to resist.  

The most difficult temptations are those that seem good. In my own life, I’m often tempted by self-care that is masking some selfishness. “Oh,” I say, “I shouldn’t say yes to another talk or lecture or trip, because I’m tired and need to take care of myself.”  That can end up leading to selfishness or self-centeredness. Again, it’s good to take care of yourself, but it shouldn’t dominate everything else. St. Ignatius of Loyola sometimes calls this the “angel of darkness” appearing as the “angel of light.” 

In other words, be alert to the real temptations. Once you’ve identified them, you’re halfway there to resisting them. 

For Reflection:

  • In your life, what moves you away from God—and away from the call to work for a more just world?
  • How can you better identify the temptations that mask as things that are good? What space can you make in your life for discernment?
13 replies
  1. Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight
    Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    I sometimes ask the Lord, “How much of the world do I need to pay attention to?” As everyone seems to feel/think “We can only do so much!” I need to pay attention to all God puts in my heart and mind. At this time, we lift up to the Lord the Ukrainians and all their strife and suffering but I also need to bring the woman that struggles to get to Church or the person that is paying the bills – they are part of the kingdom and need my prayers and understanding as well as monetary assistance. So part of my temptation is to attend too those who are struggling most but I want to remember those who are struggling to be a disciple of Christ on any level. We all want to be with each other on the path to the kingdom.

  2. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    It seems to me, “Fr.” Martin, that this reflection that bears your name is the exact same one as in a day previous to today. However, to answer your question/questions I would like to tell you that if there is anything that is tempting to move one away from God it is discovering “priests” like you who set bad example to Christians on how to live out their daily Catholic/Christian lives. The things you say and do to other priests and Catholics is NOT Biblical, kind or loving. Your effect on the unborn and those who want the truth to live out their lives is crushing. Your inclination to boast indirectly of what you apparently think is your right to abuse of power does alert on “to the real temptations.” You provide many “temptations that mask as things that are good” by the things you say and do with the “power” of the media and a “name.”

    • Colleen Sharp
      Colleen Sharp says:

      Elaine, I believe that getting the same reflection as yesterday was an issue with the website. I listen to the reflections, rather than reading them, and today’s was definitely different from yesterday’s.

    • James ONeill
      James ONeill says:

      Peace be within you Elaine. So you are concerned about the “power” of the media and a “name .I find Fr. Martin to be inspirational and pastoral. His book on Jesus is very biblical and a good read for the average person to get to know Jesus better. His book about the LGBTQI community is really a moderate one but has given hope and comfort to gays who have an above average suicide rate. I think the God of life would be proud of him. Do you think your tone is kind and loving? Remember today’s reading reminds us that even the devil can quote scripture. so lead us not into temptation.

      • Marie Booth
        Marie Booth says:

        Thank you for your reply. I find these reflections so positive and inspiring and then I read her response and it just felt ugly. Thank you again for putting into words, exactly what I was thinking.

  3. Diane
    Diane says:

    Where is the light? Such a helpful reflection question, even as a reflect on the 2 previous comments. I am journeying with 2 people in the SEEL, it is my privilege to see them experience the mercy and love of Jesus. My oldest son is a priest. It is my prayer that I will hold onto the Ignatian preposition, that we ought to be eager to put positive interpretation on another’s statement.
    In these times of division, looking for and seeing the light in another can be just the invitation I need to grow in my faith, understanding and lead me to look and respond in loving compassion to the other. Thank you for the reminder that I pray for and love all- Jesus, shows us by his life that He is ALL inclusive.
    What is mine to do, in the most loving way. Holding us all up to the light.

  4. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Is this reflection on another set of readings? These readings do not include the words referenced about being “repairers of the breach”. I would love to reflect more on that topic, as our church is experiencing such a huge breach, and is in great need of repair.

  5. Jane
    Jane says:

    I try to be an adult disciple of Jesus. What holds me back is our broken church. I feel the clericalism is rampant. Fr. Martin,while not a perfect human being, seems to be trying hard,like me to be inclusive and merciful. As in today’s gospel,the devil works hard to refocus us on being judgmental and negative. I am praying the synod and the Spirit will bring light.

  6. Richard Roos
    Richard Roos says:

    “In your life, what moves you away from … the call to work for a more just world?”
    Sometimes I just seem overwhelmed by it all: i.e., the multitude and magnitude of needs out there…and my “smallness” or feelings of inadequacy to address “the call to work for a more just world”. I have chosen to work in small ways: i.e., contribute to “pet charities” and join with others of like mind (Parish Groups).

  7. Vicky
    Vicky says:

    Perfectionism. Perfectly kept house. Constant pursuit of having the ideal body. Always measuring every word and scrutinizing every reaction to appear “smarter”. Our culture make us (especially women) feel like these ways of being perfect are worthy and admirable, but it kills my spirit and cuts me off. Perfectionism is a temptation .. false god.

  8. Laurel
    Laurel says:

    It’s helpful to realize that temptations are usually to things that are superficially, obviously, good. We need to eat! I am not sure, though, Father Martin, that it’s a ‘temptation’ to be selfish if you decide not to exhaust yourself. You would know better than your readers when ‘self-care’ = ‘selfishness’ in your own life. For me the question I need to ask myself is whether “taking care of myself” is really a distraction from something I need to and could be doing right now, but don’t really want to do … we need to take care of ourselves. We need to eat. We need not to exhaust ourselves, which makes us no use to anyone. But we also need not to use any of that as an excuse to avoid the things we’re called to do.

  9. Dr.Cajetan Coelho
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    Thanks Jimmy for these beautiful thoughts. In a fast changing world, temptations find new ways of getting to their targets. Vigilance, discernment, prayer, courage to take risks to reach out to the vulnerable do help.


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