Translation of the Epistle to the Galatians
Brethren: it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-woman, and the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bond- woman was born according to the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise. Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments; the one from Mount Sina, engendering unto bondage, which is Agar: for Sina is a mountain in Arabia, which hath affinity to that Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children: but that Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born according to the flesh persecuted him that was after the spirit, so also it is now. But what saith the Scriptures? Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman. So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bond-woman, but of the free; by the freedom wherewith Christ hath made us free.
Translation of the Holy Gospel According to John
At that time, Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee which is that of Tiberias; and a great multitude followed Him, because they saw the miracles which He did on them that were diseased. Jesus therefore went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand. When Jesus therefore had lifted up His eyes, and seen that a very great multitude cometh to Him, He said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? And this He said to try him; for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, Two hundred penny-worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, saith to Him, There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves and two fishes; but what are these among so many? Then Jesus said: Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. The men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to them that were set down. In like manner also of the fishes, as much as they would. And when they were filled, He said to His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost. They gathered up therefore, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to them that had eaten. Now those men, when they had seen what a miracle Jesus had done, said, This is of a truth the prophet that is to come into the world. Jesus therefore, when He knew that they would come to take Him by force and make Him king, fled again into the mountain Himself alone.
Transcription of Sermon
The Saving Words of the Gospel.
And this He said to try them for He Himself knew what He would do.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We see this interesting verb πειράζων (peirázo̱n), which I’ve alluded to in previous sermons, which when used, is usually in the sense of a temptation, of an enticement, of a trap, of putting somebody on trial, but we know from the Letter of St. James that God does not tempt, and so that same verb is translated as try or test. He said this to test Philip.
Temptations come from three sources; the world, the flesh, and the devil. And our Lord, in His providence, allows us trials of every stripe, but He also allows the temptations, and all of those are to serve one purpose which is to give Him glory with our generous choices. If we weren’t tested, how would we grow? If we weren’t forced to make a choice, how could we choose Christ over ourselves or something less than Christ?
The way the world works on us, the way the flesh, and the devil work on us is a bit different. The world is the least convincing of all of the three agents of temptation. The world is the least convincing and that usually appeals to our fallenness. It wants us to be self-referential. It appeals to our fallenness, excites us to follow our passions or ambition for glory, honor, fame, whatever it may be. That’s usually something that’s rather easily discerned. The most insidious is that work of the devil, which is much more difficult to discern from the flesh. The flesh, when the Church calls the flesh an agent of temptation, it’s talking about our fallenness. In other words, our concupiscence and our proclivity to malice; the desire to please ourselves for whatever motive we may have. Self-satisfaction. The devil, it’s important to remember, was created good and His nature remains good even though he is morally evil. His nature is good and what does that mean? That his nature is ordered towards the Father. Still, and nonetheless, he militates against that in every moment, and so he’s constantly doing violence to himself. He has a very profound and self-inflicted father wound. He is the first to have the victim mentality. And he wants to have an abusive and dysfunctional relationship with us in order to share his own misery. Since he can’t harm our Lord, he attacks the ones made according to His image and likeness. So, summing up that part, we can say that the world coddles us, the devil entices us, and the flesh incites us.
Our Lord, on the other hand, invites us to trust. And ever since the original temptation in Eden, this has been the drama of trust or lack of trust. How often do we see in Scripture our Lord tells us what He’s going to do. “I’m going to do this,” and then He does it. “I’m going to do this,” and then He does it. “I’m gonna do this,” and He does it and the Jews still doubt Him. We know, from our own experience, the lies we’ve been told by the world, the flesh, and the devil, the promises of joy that don’t come to fruition. We know that. We’ve all experienced that; the promise and the lack of fulfillment and, nonetheless, we fall for it over and over and over. That’s a form of insanity. This repetitive behavior that we know is self-destructive.
St. Ignatius of Loyola says, In persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy will propose apparent pleasures, making them imagine the sensual delights and pleasures in order to enslave them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, pricking them and disturbing their conscience through the process of reasoning and moral judgment. So, notice the strategy. The evil one will work on the passions, on the emotions, on the feelings. If we are in a state of sin, he can give us a false sense of euphoria. He can increase the amount of pleasure sin provides. And our Lord appeals to the intellect and the intellect is an ordered faculty. It’s ordered towards the truth, just as the will is ordered towards the good. So, the devil is going to be careful to not appeal to the intellect too much because he doesn’t want to awaken it to its natural course, which is to seek the truth. If he appeals too much to the intellect, it could be that we awaken to our predicament and come back to Christ. Those who wander from God’s will, and experience the gravitational pull of their fallenness through the experience of their concupiscence, etc., will experience the voice of Christ, not as a soothing voice, but as St. Ignatius says, as a pricking of the conscience, because our Lord doesn’t want us to feel comfortable in such a predicament. Our Lord never says, “I love you just the way you are”. He loves us too much to say that. He doesn’t want to leave us just the way we are. And that’s why He gives us Himself in the sacraments to pull us out of this morass that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into at times.
We’ve all had an experience of that. We’ve also have had the experience of coming back to Him. What does the evil one do? He coddles us, he entices us. And our Lord when He appeals to the intellect there’s a certain sense of nostalgia. Somebody said that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Well… it’s an interesting word νόστος-ἄλγος, which means νόστος (nóstos) is return, ἄλγος (álgos) is pain. It’s the pain of a return. It’s a longing for a homeland. It’s a missing something that’s something that is primordial, something essential. In German we say Heimweh. Heimweh means home-pain, which is a really very precise (as the Germans are precise). That’s a very precise definition, or explanation, of what nostalgia is. It’s a longing for, not a place, but a state, a state that is no more. So, that’s what our Lord does. He appeals to this, and we have what’s called the Natural Law written on our hearts. Everyone has that. We know what’s true. We know what’s good. We know what is to our detriment. We know what is good, and that’s where He appeals to us.
When we come back to Christ, when we confess our sins and we’re striving to give Him glory, what happens? St. Ignatius goes on to say, In persons who are going on intensely, cleansing their sins rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the First Rule (the one I just read) for then it is the way of the evil spirit to disturb sadden, put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may be stopped in his progress. It is proper to the good spirits to give courage, strength, consolations, tears, inspirations easing and removing obstacles that one may be encouraged in his progress. So, notice how things are flipped. Once we come back to Christ, the devil can’t touch the will, and God respects our freedom so He won’t move our will. He will invite us but He won’t move our will. That’s ours. Before the devil didn’t want to speak to our intellect, now he has nothing to lose because we’ve chosen Christ. We’re trying to do His will. We’re trying to give Him glory with our lives, so he has nothing to lose. What does he do? He appeals to the intellect with, as Ignatius says, false reasonings. “Who do you think you are? You know your sins. Do you think you can be good? You’re not fooling anyone. You’re mine.” So, he comes to us with his accusation, which is this part of the story, in order to make us do what? Lose trust. It’s all about trust, ultimately. And so, our trials are not a curse. Our trials are opportunities.
St. Teresa of Avila asked our Lord, Why do you give me so many trials? And He said, I want to see what you’re made of. It’s not that He didn’t know what she was made of. He created her. But it’s precisely in those trials, that her soul is purged, and refined, and sanctified. And so, trials are not a curse. Temptations are not a curse. As long as we recognize that they are opportunities to turn to Christ and say, “I love you infinitely more than this passing temptation.” And we do ourselves a favor if we ask our Lord for a participation in His Passion. When we do that, we know that He will never allow us trials beyond our ability, but we also lose all right to complain when trials come our way. All we can say is, “Thank you for hearing my prayer. You are the one I follow; Jesus Christ crucified.”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger