The Devil’s a coward and a bully. He picks on us when we are weak and alone. He is a roaring lion… pretending to pronounce his prowess from a position of power, staking claim over his territory and his slain prey, while still on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour to satisfy his insatiable hunger.
He came when Jesus was alone in the wilderness.
He came when Eve was alone in the garden.
He comes when we are alone and at our weakest.
A note: There’s some debate about whether Adam was with Eve when she was tempted. The scripture says the man was “with her” – but God talks about only Eve allowing herself to be deceived by the serpent, and Adam for listening to her (not to the serpent). Chrysostom, at least, says that Adam was “with her” in the garden, but not “with her” during the conversation. I’m not smart enough to disagree.
Saint John Chrysostom (in Aquinas Catena Aurea for this gospel):
The Devil is wont to be most urgent with temptation, when he sees us solitary; thus it was in the beginning he tempted the woman when he found her without the man, and now too the occasion is offered to the Devil, by the Savior’s being led into the desert.
The psalmist reminds us that original sin is a thing. We are deprived of original justice, and stained from conception. Not guilty, but suffering the consequences of the sin of Adam. Aquinas, in discussing these scriptures, points out that the root of the original sin is pride, which led to disobedience. He references Sirach 10:13 “the beginning of every sin is pride” and furthermore that “the beginning of pride makes men separate themselves from God.” (Sirach 10:21)
Often, the choice to be alone, whether it is physically, emotionally, or intellectually, is driven by pride. We separate ourselves from God and from the people he’s given us, and set ourselves apart, vulnerable to the enemy.
There’s strength in community. Not that we should never draw apart to be alone with God, but that’s not alone, is it? Jesus didn’t go apart to be alone, he went apart to do battle with the enemy. When the battle was won, he was rejoined by the angels, and then himself rejoined his disciples.
What if we are we alone by circumstance, rather than by choice? I think we should first evaluate our spirit to ensure that there is not some seed of pride setting us apart. Are we too proud to admit we need companionship? Are we too good for those willing to offer fellowship? Are we too afraid to risk rejection?
In which case we have the certain company of God, and of his Saints in heaven. We can choose to put ourselves in their company, and to unite ourselves with them in prayer and care for suffering and struggling souls.
And what if we find ourselves in the desert, not driven from the garden by sin, but led by the spirit into the desert to a time of desolation, denied the consolation of his sensible presence?
Go there to do battle.
Go there knowing there is a cloud of witnesses on earth and in heaven praying for your victory. You can neither see nor feel their presence, because you are at the forefront of this battle, and they are behind you.
But you are not alone.
They are there.
Waiting to rejoice in your victory.
- Sufficient evil – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
- St Gregory the Great on Lent as a tithe of time