There is an unwritten law in the world of morality: The holier you are, the less you know it. The flipside is also true. That is, the more sinful you are, the less you know it. As to the latter, sin makes one gullible because it darkens the mind. This is especially the case when the mind and the heart are burdened with sexual sin. When we get sex wrong, we get life and even God wrong.
Without God’s interior voice and without His infallible guidance resounding through the Catholic Church, the human mind is incapable of seeing the world as it really is. The Devil knows this. For this reason, his temptations are strategically applied to our human weakness. In fact, when Satan tempted our Lord in the desert, he was quite methodical. And if you look closely, his methods in the first century and his methods in the twentieth century are similar.
Throughout history Catholic missions have always benefited from spiritual vigilance; that is, from being mindful of how the Enemy undermines the salvation of souls. The New Evangelization in the twenty-first century will also benefit from this spiritual vigilance. A good place to start is the Gospel of Matthew. This is where we begin to see a pattern emerge.
Below, each temptation by Satan is divided into three parts: The first is the temptation itself. Second, is the rating or what kind of person Satan assumed Jesus to be. Keep in mind, it is a common teaching among many Saints that Satan “did not know” if Jesus was God, a holy man or a prophet. That is why he prefaced each temptation with, “If you are the Son of God…” And finally, the third part is the penalty or consequence if Jesus would have consented to the temptation. With each temptation, you should notice a pattern.
Here is the sequence of the three temptations of Christ in the desert according to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 4:1-11:
First temptation: Turn stones into bread
Rating: God – Only God can do that.
The penalty (if complied with): Sin or breaking the fast
Second temptation: Jump from the heights of the Temple and be protected by an angel
Rating: A holy man – If an angel catches him, he must be a holy man.
The penalty (if complied with): Physical death
Third temptation: Worship the Devil
Rating: A sinner – Only the greatest sinner would worship the Devil
The penalty (if complied with): spiritual death – hell.
Notice that Satan begins his series of temptations by assuming that Christ is God. Again, only God can change stones into bread. But what if Jesus would have complied? An educated guess would be that if our Lord were just a man, he would have displeased God by breaking his fast. So, with the first temptation Satan rates (or assumes) Jesus to be God and his temptation has a minimal consequence.
With the second temptation, Satan rates Jesus a notch lower. After all, if Jesus were to jump off of the Temple and if an angel were to catch him, he would be holy but not God. God would not need the assistance of an angel. But as the rating lowers, the penalty or hazard increases. Anyone jumping off of the Temple without such angelic assistance would obviously die.
And finally we come to third and last desperate attempt to get Jesus to stumble. Satan tempts him with the temptation to possess the kingdoms of the world. Here Satan is rating Jesus as a sinner because only a sinner would forsake his faith and worship him. But with what consequence? The worst consequence of all: eternal damnation!
The point to be had is this: Satan takes for granted that the more a person sins, the more gullible he becomes. And the more gullible, the greater the damage he can inflict on the sinner. When St. Paul describes the pagans of his day, he said that “although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Romans 1: 21) Their minds were darkened! They became exceedingly gullible. They fell for lies of the worst kind.
Not much has changed. What worked with ancient pagans has proven to be effective with moderns. But this time his temptation does not begin with the belly; it begins with the organ under the belly. As for the twentieth century, Satan commences his series of temptations with what only seems to be a preventative measure in the use of contraception. But the end result is the culture of death. It goes something like this:
Between the 1930s and the 1960s, contraception is popularized. In short, this is sex without life, that is, sexual love without the possibility of having a baby. Then the tempter moves to fan the flames of the Sexual Revolution in the late 1960’s. With the help of fallen human nature, he inspires sex without love, that is, sex outside of marriage. Then shortly afterwards, in 1973, we greeted with the legalization of abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court. This is life without love.
First, it was sex without life, then sex with love, and finally, life without love…which is a kind of hell. With each temptation, the stakes get a little higher. The seemingly harmless act of preventing life culminates with the killing of life. Through this series of temptations, in one generation, the culture of death was created.
Satan has his methods of inaugurating the culture of death but Christ has his way of building up a culture of life. And what is that way?
A big part of Church’s success in civilizing the cruel and barbaric world of the ancient pagans was that it insisted upon sexual purity as the condition of being a Catholic. Coupled with the spiritual value of suffering, the sanctity of sexual purity restored the family; and by restoring the family it restored civilization. Since the early centuries, the prophetic voice of the Church has always insisted that to live the life of Christ is to break with sexual sin. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, no fornicator will inherit the kingdom of God.
But today, repentance from sexual sin is optional in many, if not, most Catholic parishes. This is unfortunate because repentance from serious sin used to be mandatory. Indeed, optional repentance is a serious departure from our pastoral tradition as it was practiced throughout most of Church history. This has allowed Satan to make sure that good seed (i.e. God’s Word) falls on rocky ground. With this, sin continues to cloud the minds of would-be converts to Christ and his Church.
Satan knows that the more we sin, the more gullible we become. And the more gullible we become, the more we fall for – not only his lies – but the lies of the world.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.