The Temptations of Jesus and conversion to the Kingdom of heaven
Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
General Audience, Ash Wednesday, 13 February 2013 - in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter; it is a time of particular commitment on our spiritual pathway. The number forty occurs several times in Sacred Scripture. In particular, as we know, it recalls the forty years in which the people of Israel wandered in the desert: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty were also the days of journeying for the prophet Elijah to reach the Mountain of God, Horeb, as well as the period that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this catechesis I would like to dwell on this moment of the earthly life of the Lord, which we will read in the Gospel next Sunday.
First of all the desert, where Jesus withdrew to, is a place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and finds himself facing the fundamental questions of existence, is driven to go to the essential and exactly because of this it becomes easier for him to meet God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude, in which man more intensely feels temptation. Jesus goes into the desert, and there undergoes the temptation to leave the way indicated by the Father to follow other easier and more worldly roads (cf Lk 4:1-13). Thus He bears our temptations, takes upon Himself our misery, so as to conquer the evil one and to open to us the pathway to God, the pathway of conversion.
To reflect on the temptations which Jesus underwent in the desert is an invitation for each of us to answer a fundamental question: what really matters in my life? In the first temptation the devil proposes to Jesus that he change a stone into bread so as to sate his hunger. Jesus replies that man also lives by bread, but not by bread alone: without a response to the hunger for truth, to the hunger for God, man cannot be saved (cf v 3-4). In the second temptation, the devil proposes to Jesus the way of power: he leads him up on high and offers him dominion of the world; but this is not God's road: Jesus was very clear that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the cross, of humility, of love (cf v 5-8). In the third temptation, the devil proposes to Jesus that he throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and make himself be saved by God through His angels, that is, to do something sensational to put God himself to the test; but the response is that God is not an object on which to impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf v 9-12). What is the core of the three temptations that Jesus undergoes? It is the proposal to manipulate God, to use Him for one's own interests, for one's own glory and for one's own success. And thus, in essence, to put oneself in the place of God, removing Him from one's own existence and making Him seem superfluous. Therefore everyone should ask themselves: what place has God in my life? Is He the Lord or am I?
To overcome the temptation to subordinate God to oneself and to one's own interests or to put Him in a corner, and to convert oneself to the right order of priorities, to give God the first place, is a pathway that every Christian must travel again and again. "To convert", an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means to follow Jesus in such a way that his Gospel is the concrete guide of life; it means to let God transform us, to stop thinking that we are the only constructors of our existence; it means to recognize that we are creatures, that we depend on God, on his love, and only by "losing" our life in Him can we gain it. This demands making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact of living in a society that has Christian roots: even those who are born in a Christian family and educated religiously must, every day, renew the choice to be Christian, that is, to give God the first place, in front of the temptations that a secularized culture proposes to them continuously, in front of the critical judgment of many contemporaries.
The tests to which modern society subjects Christians, in fact, are many, and affect both personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, to practice mercy in daily life, to leave space for prayer and inner silence; it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many consider obvious, such as abortion in the case of unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in the case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos so as to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one's own faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed many times in life.
There are as an example and stimulus the great conversions such as that of St Paul on the way to Damascus, or of St Augustine, but also in our time of eclipses of the sense of the sacred, the grace of God is at work and works wonders in the lives of so many people. The Lord never tires of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem swallowed up by secularization, as happened with the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After a completely agnostic education, so much so that he felt outright hostility to the religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky found himself exclaiming: "No, one cannot live without God!", and completely changed his life, so much so that he became a priest.
I also think of the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she discovered him by looking in depth inside herself and wrote: "A very deep well is inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I manage to reach him, more often stones and sand cover the well: then God is buried. I need again to unearth him." (Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she found God right in the midst of the great tragedy of the 20th century, the Holocaust. This fragile and dissatisfied young girl, transfigured by faith, is transformed into a woman full of love and inner peace, capable of affirming: "I live constantly in intimacy with God."
The capacity to oppose the ideological flattery of her time so as to choose the search for truth and to open herself to the discovery of faith is demonstrated by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly of having fallen into the temptation of resolving everything with politics, adhering to the Marxist cause: "I wanted to go with the protesters, to go to prison, to write, to influence others and to leave my dream to the world. How much ambition and how much self-seeking there was in all this!" The pathway to faith in so secularized an environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts all the same, as she herself stresses: "It is certain that I felt more often the need to go to church, to kneel down, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer...". God led her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a life dedicated to the underprivileged.
In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a perhaps superficial Christian education, are distanced for years from the faith and then rediscover Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of the Apocalypse we read: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, eat with him and he with me" (3:20). Our inner man must prepare to be visited by God, and precisely for this reason must not let himself be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.
In this time of Lent, in the Year of faith, we renew our commitment on the pathway of conversion, so as to overcome the tendency to close in on ourselves and to make, instead, space for God, looking with his eyes at daily reality. The alternative between the closing in of our egoism and the opening to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives of the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption viewed solely on material well-being and a redemption as the work of God, to whom we give the primacy in existence. Conversion means not closing in on oneself in the search for one's own success, one's own prestige, one's own position, but making sure that every day, in the little things, truth, faith in God and love become the most important thing."
Papa Benedict XVI had begun this general audience by making reference to his resignation, which he had announced to the Cardinals two days previously on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes:
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us."
After the catechesis, Papa Benedict greeted the pilgrims in various languages:
"Je salue avec joie les francophones, en particulier les nombreux lycéens présents ! En ce Carême, je vous invite à renouveler vos engagements pris pour votre conversion. Pour y arriver, ne vous laissez pas envahir par l’égoïsme, la recherche exclusive du succès personnel, l’illusion, l’apparence et les choses matérielles. Donnez plutôt la primauté à Dieu, confiez-vous à lui et regardez les réalités quotidiennes avec ses yeux. Saint temps de Carême !
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present. With prayers that this Lenten season will prove spiritually fruitful for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Von Herzen grüße ich die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. In dieser österlichen Bußzeit wollen wir den Weg der Erneuerung gehen und die Versuchung überwinden, nur auf uns selbst zu schauen. Laßt uns Gott Zeit schenken in den täglichen Gebeten, um so offen für seine Liebe und die Liebe zum Nächsten zu werden. Die selige Jungfrau Maria begleite euch auf diesem Weg. Danke.
Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los grupos provenientes de España, Perú, México y los demás países latinoamericanos. Invito a todos en este tiempo de Cuaresma a renovar el compromiso de conversión, dejando espacio a Dios, aprendiendo a mirar con sus ojos la realidad de cada día. Muchas gracias.
Amados peregrinos lusófonos, uma cordial saudação para todos, nomeadamente para os grupos portugueses de Lamego e Lisboa, e os brasileiros de Curitiba e Porto Alegre. Possa cada um de vós viver estes quarenta dias como um generoso caminho de conversão à santidade que o Deus Santo vos pede e quer dar! As suas bênçãos desçam abundantes sobre vós e vossas famílias! Obrigado!
البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.
Drodzy Bracia i Siostry,
Jak wiecie, zdecydowałem się – dziękuję za waszą sympatię – zdecydowałem się zrezygnować z posługi, jaką Pan mi powierzył w dniu 19 kwietnia 2005 r. Uczyniłem to zupełnie dobrowolnie dla dobra Kościoła, po długiej modlitwie i przemyśleniu wszystkiego przed Bogiem, zgodnie z własnym sumieniem, w pełni świadomy powagi tego aktu, ale równocześnie przekonany o swojej niemożności kontynuowania posługi Piotrowej z tymi siłami, jakiej ona wymaga. Podtrzymuje mnie i umacnia pewność, że Kościół jest Chrystusa, Który nie przestanie go prowadzić i troszczyć się o niego. Dziękuję wszystkim za miłość i modlitwę, którymi mnie wspieraliście. Dziękuję, w tych niełatwych dla mnie dniach czułem prawie fizycznie moc modlitwy, którą miłość Kościoła i wasza modlitwa mi przynoszą. Módlcie się nadal za mnie, za Kościół, za przyszłego Papieża. Pan będzie nas prowadził.
Drodzy polscy pielgrzymi! Dziś, w środę popielcową, rozpoczynamy okres Wielkiego Postu. Liturgia poprowadzi nas ku tajemnicy męki, śmierci i zmartwychwstania Bożego Syna. Jest to droga nawrócenia i uświęcenia, dzięki łasce Bożej, która wyprzedza nasze osobiste wysiłki ku przemianie życia i wierności Chrystusowi. Pamiętajmy, że modlitwa, post, jałmużna, a szczególnie sakramenty święte są jej niewyczerpanym źródłem.
Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!
Pozdravljam od srca sve hrvatske hodočasnike, a osobito krizmanike iz Esslingena! Dragi prijatelji, neka vam ova korizma bude milosno vrijeme jačanja vjere i nade u uskrsnuće. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!
Srdečne vítam pútnikov zo Slovenska, osobitne zástupcov kresťanských laických hnutí a združení ako aj Matice Slovenskej.
Bratia a sestry, Pôstna doba nás pozýva na obrátenie cez počúvanie Božieho Slova, modlitbu a konanie skutkov milosrdenstva. Na také prežívanie Pôstu rád udeľujem Apoštolské požehnanie vám i vašim drahým.
Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!
* * *
Grazie per questo dono di alcuni canti a me particolarmente cari. Grazie. E rivolgo un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare, alle Ancelle del Sacro Cuore di Gesù. Saluto i rappresentanti dell’Ordine nazionale dei tecnologi alimentari e il gruppo dei Carabinieri dell’Umbria. Cari amici, la sosta presso le tombe degli Apostoli rinsaldi la vostra adesione a Cristo e faccia crescere la carità nelle vostre famiglie e nelle vostre comunità.
Saluto infine i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli. Domani celebreremo la festa dei Santi Cirillo e Metodio, apostoli e primi difensori della fede tra i popoli degli Slavi. La loro testimonianza vi aiuti ad essere anche voi apostoli del Vangelo, fermento di autentico rinnovamento nella vita personale, familiare e sociale.
Grazie a tutti voi."
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