Gospel Reflections by Father Gerry Pierse, C.Ss.R.

C - First Sunday of Lent

Dt 26:4-10 • Rom 10:8-13 • Lk 4:1-13

Not Settling for Pleasure


       Before discussing today's fascinating Gospel story and reflecting on what it teaches us about prayer I will first explain what I mean by some of the words used. I understand pleasure to be the opposite of pain. Pleasure is more short lived and immediate than happiness or joy. Suffering and sorrow are the opposites of happiness and joy. I think all human beings are seeking happiness but we often settle for pleasure in its stead. All the great spiritualities of the world point to detachment from immediate pleasure as a necessity for happiness, for getting to deeper and more long lasting joy. Transcendence of pleasure does not mean its denial. Pleasure is a driving force in our lives and leads us to do most of the things necessary for survival. The human race would not survive for long if we did not have the pleasures of warmth, food and sex. The problem arises when we get stuck on the pleasure level and this does not allow us to transcend, to go beyond to another level.

       The extraordinary story that we read in today's Gospel is a sort of Psycho-drama which tells us what becoming human meant to Jesus. It meant that he, like us, had to struggle with the temptation to settle for pleasure rather that to aim at transcendence. Not only that but the tempter wanted him to use his divinity to escape the human struggle. He wanted him to avoid accepting his humanity by solving his problems through miracles. He wanted him to settle for an easy pleasure, as we all tend to desire, rather than to aim at transcendence.

       The story of Christ is, of course, the story of each person. As we face the harsh realities of life and seek happiness, we adopt different ways of responding to our experiences. Some respond in a more rational way, some more emotionally and yet others in an instinctual way. Each of these ways of responding has its inherent strength and weakness.

       The energy of the rational person comes from his head. He wants to know more about the topic to be discussed. Gradually getting more becomes an obsession with them. They not only need more knowledge but they also need more possessions, more courage, more fun. They tend to store up all sorts of things and find it hard to let go. They are afraid that there will not be enough left for themselves if they give to others. There sense of security comes from the thought that they have possessions. They tend to be very wise and careful people but their problem is in moving into action.

       The tempter in our Gospel story began by trying to seduce Jesus to produce possessions easily. He suggested that he use his divine power to make possessions; to turn stones into bread. But Jesus answered him "Scripture says: People do not live on bread alone." While food and possessions are essential to life there is something even more to life than them.

       The energies of the instinctual type of person comes from the gut. They can sense danger in their gut and they move to protect themselves from being overwhelmed by it. They have a very strong sense of inner authority. They are very concerned about justice and order but will sometimes find themselves violating the freedom of others by bulldozing others into doing what is for their own good. In their efforts to make all things and people perfect they find it very hard to have patience with ordinary, less perfect human beings. Their giftedness is in their high energy and noble ideals but this makes them want to have power over others.

       The tempter tried to seduce Jesus through power and control. "Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, 'I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall be yours.'

       But Jesus answered him, 'Scripture says:
              You must worship the lord your God and serve him alone.'"
              Jesus rejected the gut temptation to worship power.

       The energies of the emotional type of person are in the heart. These people are very much concerned about their appearance. They reach out to do good, they are doers. But deep down their great need is to look good, to receive adulation and praise not only from others but also from within themselves. They have been described as fish in a bowl. They are very conscious of others looking at them. Their giftedness is in their capacity to respond to a situation. They are helpful, efficient, and often artistic. Their weakness is in their pride and vanity. The cannot resist the limelight. Often their values are taken more from what others think of them than from true interior conviction.

       The devil tempted Jesus to see if his weakness was in the heart area, if he would settle for a cheap popularity. "Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,' he said to him 'throw yourself down from here,' for Scripture says; 'He will put his angels in charge of you to guard you,' and again, 'they will hold you up in their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.'

       But Jesus answered him, 'It has been said; you must not put the lord your God to the test.'

       "Having exhausted these ways of tempting him the devil left him, to return at the appointed time." In this last temptation the devil tries to get at Jesus' vanity. He tries to make him prove himself, "…if you are the Son of God."' But Jesus would not succumb to the temptation to prove himself for others in a cheap way then as he also refused to do later. On Calvary the crowds said the same thing, "if you are the son of God come down from the cross."

       Having tried and failed to find Jesus' weakness in either the head, gut or heart, the devil seemed exhausted and withdrew for some time. If Jesus cannot be seduced in the areas where all others fail, he is a formidable opponent.

       There are several ways in which this discussion is relevant to prayer. A lot of our traditional prayer is actually aimed at satisfying our needs, or fixations, at the head, gut or heart levels. A lot of our prayers is "give me" prayer instead of "Not my will but thine be done." We are generally saying in practice when we pray, "My will be done" and "My kingdom come" instead of Your kingdom come.

       In meditation one sits still repeating only a single word. When doing this one quickly notices one's distractedness and gently returns to the prayer word. This practice teaches one also to notice one's weakness - one's sin area - and gives one a chance to decide not to succumb to it. This is how meditation helps us to grow towards transcendence.

       If one is able to identify which is their strongest space, the head with its desire for possession, the gut with its yearning for power and the heart with its propensity towards prestige, one will also find clues on how to pray with better concentration. Head persons tend to be locked up inside their inner worlds and they often find an external focus helpful. They like to pray before a mandala, a candle, a crucifix, a tabernacle or some focusing object. The heart people are given to activity. If they pray along with their breathing, saying the prayer word with the incoming and outgoing breath, this activity seems to have a settling effect on them and helps them to be more still. The gut-centered person is poised between the thinking head and the active heart. Focusing either on their breathing or on an external object may be helpful for them. They are the natural meditators. The can sit still for long hours. However, it is often very hard to know whether this is prayerful stillness or just mental vacuity. They are so afraid of being overwhelmed by their unprocessed emotions that they easily narcotize themselves into sleepy peace.

       If we know where our strong points are we will also know where our weaknesses lie. Knowing this we will know better how to pray so that while enjoying the legitimate pleasures of life we will not allow them to fixate us and prevent us transcending to a deeper joy and a greater happiness.

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Taken from Sundays into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian Publications

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Sundays into Silence

A Pathway to Life

by Gerry Pierse, cssr
380 pp., PhP 299, U$ 19.95

“The best word I can find to describe this book is integration. In these reflections on the gospel readings for year A, B, and C of the liturgical cycle, Fr. Pierse integrates the richness of the word of God with experiences and stories from life in the community. He shows how through silence, the word can bear fruit in service and sacrament.” (R. J. Cardinal Vidal)

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