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Talking back to the devil
Lenten spiritual exercises


How do we defeat temptation?
    One step that is little used is the step Jesus himself took. He quoted Scripture to defeat the enemy. How can quoting words defeat the often powerful battles in the mind and soul? Remember: Jesus’ word is different than any other word you read or speak. His word has life-giving grace (the very life of Christ) flowing through it into you. Perhaps this Lent, it would be good to see what are the two biggest temptations and sins in your life. Look up the names of those temptations in a concordance (a Bible dictionary), and see the Scriptural passages that contain the word. Start reading them, pick out several that are pertinent to your situation and ask God to equip you to fight the enemy. Remember, it is not magic or some superstitious practice. Reading and rereading the passages allow God’s light to penetrate your heart, mind and spirit. Jesus says, I am the truth. The truth is living; the very presence of Jesus empowers his word to make a difference in your life. When Jesus fights the temptations in his life, he teaches us how to fight them in a most effective way. Of course, we need to do other things that help to put us on solid ground. Most importantly, stay away from the near occasions of sin – those people, places or things that make us vulnerable to temptation.

    In Mark 9:2-10, Jesus takes three of his disciples up on the high mountain, where he is transfigured before them.  Pope John Paul II used to love this passage very much and often commented on it. In summary, he said, Jesus took them up the mountain and revealed his divinity to them so that they would have the faith and hope to descend that mountain and, very shortly after, climb Mount Calvary. While the disciples did not fully understand the vision on Mt. Tabor, it enabled them to trust him more and it gave them grace to endure the horrors of the crucifixion and not totally give up their faith. Jesus knows every detail of what he has asked you to carry in your personal life. Read this Gospel passage again and again and ask the Lord to strengthen your faith and hope through the grace flowing from the revelation of Christ’s divinity on Mt. Tabor.

Clearing out your house:
    Read John 2:13-25. Here, Jesus physically cleanses the temple by driving out all the trading and bargaining that is going on within the temple precincts. Jesus is angry because they are conducting secular business in a place set apart for the worship of God. Ask yourself: How do you respect the presence of the Lord in your parish church? But even more important, is “your house.” Are  your own body, mind and spirit being cleansed in an ongoing way in order to receive him worthily in Communion? Do you frequent the sacrament of confession?

God’s enormous love:
    In the Gospel of John 3:14-21, Jesus tells Nicodemus that only if he is lifted up on the cross will people come to believe in him. How often do you stop and think of the enormity of God’s love for you! Many years ago, when my religious community first began to do foster care work for medically fragile babies, we received a newborn who only weighed three pounds (think of a five-pound bag of sugar and you realize how very small she was.) One night, shortly after we received her, I was feeding her milk from a tiny bottle. Someone called my name, and in the darkened room, I turned my head and my body to see who was speaking. When I turned back, the baby was nowhere to be seen. It was a heart-stopping moment, until I realized that when I shifted my body, she had slipped down in the chair between me and the arm of the chair. Fumbling through the covers, I raised her up while thanking God that she was not harmed. Right then, I “heard” the Lord. (That is, a thought came into my head which I knew was not mine.) “If she were the only person on the face of this earth, I would have died for her!” I began to weep and spent some time just gazing on her miniature features. She could do nothing for herself. She had never accomplished anything. Breathing was her main work at that point. But the Father who created her did so in his image and likeness. We are infinitely precious to God – our dignity is beyond our own understanding. Jesus paid the price on our behalf. Take some time this Lent to reflect on God’s love for you and your infinite worth in his eyes. Don’t let the standards of the world – beauty, wealth, sex, power – or your successes and failures determine your value. Let God’s own words speak to your heart and mind! So often, as the Scripture tells us, we are actually perverse enough to prefer the works of darkness. But, if we have made such choices, it is never too late to turn around and walk toward the Light that is Jesus.

What would you die for?
   Read John 12:20-33. I would urge you to focus first on the point I am about to make. This passage is particularly rich – I could write two columns just on these verses. But, for this time, I would urge you to pay attention to verses 24 and 25. If we are to truly be a disciple of Christ, then we must be ready to die to those things that are alien to discipleship. You can’t call yourself a Christian –  a follower of Christ – if you are not going about the business of denying your own selfish wants in order that others might see Jesus through you and be drawn to him. That’s not just some “pious piffle,” as a friend of mine calls holy words that are not backed up by action. We have got to walk the walk. It is possible for Christianity to fade from our life as Americans, as human beings, unless we are willing to die to selfish ambition; unless we are willing to put our money where our mouth is; unless we are willing to pay the price of dying to sin so that God may be glorified; unless we are willing to choose Gospel values over those of the world. May this Lent be a time where each of us makes one personal decision to give up or change something in our lives that is opposed to the Gospel. May God speak to your heart!

Sister Ann Shields is a renowned author and a member of the Servants of God’s Love. Questions can be addressed to Sister Ann Shields, Renewal Ministries, 230 Collingwood, Suite 240, Ann Arbor, MI 48103

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