Since no one was with our Lord during the 40 days He spent in the wilderness, it is obvious He later related it to His disciples.
Perhaps this was among the secret things He revealed during the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. His three temptations, hedonism, materialism, and egoism, are the sum of all kinds of assaults we endure throughout life.
“We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism.”
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The physical temptation of hedonism is symbolized by bread. Christ taught us to pray for our daily bread, for man needs food to live — but we are not meant to live for food. That kind of satisfaction never satisfies.
That first temptation leads to another: the desire for power through things. This inverts the other part of the prayer Christ taught: wanting my kingdom instead of the Father’s.
Recently, a rancher in Colorado announced he is the rightful king of England. That sort of curiosity makes whimsical headlines, but it is equally eccentric to claim one’s personal will is superior to the will of God.
The most subtle temptation is to misuse the imagination. Represented metaphorically by trying to fly, egoism goes back to that forbidden fruit in Eden. God gave us a brain, the most complex organism in the universe, so He does not want us to be stupid. But He forbids misusing that brain to deny reality by calling good evil and evil good.
The day before his election as pope, Cardinal Ratzinger preached about that third temptation, which has become a cultural phenomenon: “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism,” he said. “Whereas relativism — that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ — seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
That relativism is dictatorial because it subordinates reality to the pampered self. Thus in our universities, which are supposed to be centers for learning the truth, ideology tramples reality. Often these days, speakers who contradict others’ egos are shouted down and even physically attacked.
“The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Denial of objective truth is slavery to the ego, Adam’s fantasy that he could be a god. But, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”
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Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article, which originally appeared in his parish church bulletin, is used by permission.