There is an unwritten law in the world of morality: The holier you are, the less you know it. The flipside is also true. That is, the more sinful you are, the less you know it. As to the latter, sin makes one gullible because it darkens the mind. If a person does not believe in the promise of the Father, which, according to the New Testament, is the Holy Spirit, then we forfeit the light of His wisdom. That’s right! Without God’s interior voice and without His infallible guidance resounding through the Catholic Church, the human mind is incapable of seeing the world as it really is. The Devil knows this. His temptations are tailored to this human weakness.
In fact, when Satan tempted our Lord in the desert he was quite methodical. And if you look closely, his methods in the desert and his methods in the 20th century are very similar. Throughout history Catholic missions have always benefited from spiritual vigilance; that is, from being mindful of how the Enemy undermines the Gospel and the salvation of souls. The New Evangelization in the 21st century would also benefit from such a vigilance.
Below, each temptation is divided into three parts: The first is the temptation itself. Second, is the rating or what kind of person Satan assumed Jesus to be. It is a common teaching among many Saints that Satan did not know if Jesus was God, a holy man or a prophet. That is why he prefaced each temptation with, “If you are the Son of God…” And finally, the third part is the penalty or consequence if Jesus would have consented to the temptation. With each temptation, you should notice a pattern.
Here is the sequence of the three temptations of Christ in the desert according to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 4:1-11:
Temptation #1: Turn stones into bread
Rating: God- Only God can do that.
The penalty (if complied with): Sin
Temptation #2: Jump from the heights of the Temple and be protected by an angel
Rating: A holy man- If an angel catches him, he must be a holy man.
The penalty (if complied with): Physical death
Temptation #3: Worship the devil
Rating: A sinner- Only the greatest sinner would worship the Devil
The penalty (if complied with): spiritual death- hell.
Notice that Satan begins his series of temptations by assuming that Christ is God. Again, only God can change stones into bread. But what if Jesus would have complied? An educated guess would be that if our Lord were just a man, he would have displeased God by breaking his fast. So, with the first temptation Satan rates (or assumes) Jesus to be God and tempts him knowing the consequence is not that steep. With the second temptation, Satan rates Jesus a notch lower. After all, if Jesus were to jump off of the Temple and if an angel were to catch him, he would be holy but not God. God would not need the assistance of an angel. But as the rating lowers, the penalty or hazard increases. Anyone jumping off of the Temple without such angelic assistance would obviously die. And finally we come to third and last desperate attempt to get Jesus to stumble. Satan tempts him with the temptation to possess the kingdoms of the world. Here Satan is rating Jesus as a sinner because only a sinner would forsake his faith and worship him. But with what consequence? The worst consequence of all: eternal damnation!
The point to be had is this: Satan takes for granted that the more a person sins, the more gullible he becomes. And the more gullible, the greater the damage he can inflict on the sinner. When St. Paul describes the pagans of his day, he said that “although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Romans 1: 21) Their minds were darkened! They became exceedingly gullible. They fell for lies of the worst kind (see postscript).
Faith and Sex:
In Romans chapter one, St. Paul had closely associated sexual sins with idolatry or pagan worship. Interestingly, the two go hand in hand. In other words, faith and obedience in God on the one hand, and sexual attitudes and practices on the other, are never far apart. If one errors in sex, his faith will be adversely affected. Conversely, if one errors in faith or creed, then one is get sex wrong too. Perhaps, this is why Our Lord was assertive and even dramatic when teaching about lust and those acts of holy violence that are need to get rid of it. In Proverbs, does it not say, “Lust indulged starves the soul…” (Proverbs 13:19)
This is why chastity, virginity, celibacy and marital fidelity are of vital importance for America (yet, they are seldom talked about from the pulpit on Sundays). If this is lost, then no political program- no matter how conservative -can save America. Satan knows as does every intelligent dictator, that if you want to usher in a totalitarian State preach unbridled sex. Why? Because only the State (other than the Church) can clean up the mess. But when we invoke the help of the State to do so, its power increases as our liberties decrease. And Stalin alluded to this when he said, “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”
And so we come to the twentieth century. Satan employs a similar tactic he used against Christ. He begins his series of temptations with what only seems to be a preventative measure in the use of contraception. But the end result is the culture of death. It goes something like this: Between the 1930’s and the 1960’s, contraception is popularized. This is sex without life (i.e. a baby); then the tempter moves to fan the flames of the Sexual Revolution in the late 1960’s. This is sex without love (i.e. marriage); and then shortly after, in 1973, we have the legalization of abortion. This is life without love. Largely through this series of temptations, in one generation, the culture of death was created.
From Birth Control to Abortion:
The following is a brief explanation of the three temptations of the 20th century- from birth control to abortion:
1. Use of Contraception: Sex without life. Here, we have the first temptation in the 20th century: the justification for birth control beginning in the 1930’s only to become widespread in the 1960’s. Using human reason alone, this act seems to be harmless enough. After all, no one is killing anybody. Only a preventative measure is being applied. However, human reason is shortsighted and to only rely on human reason is detrimental. The obedience of faith saves and liberates. It goes beyond what the human mind can apprehend. For instance, in the 1960’s who would have guessed that Europe, Japan and so many other parts of the world would eventually be contracepting themselves out of existence in a matter of a few decades?
Italy, for instance, has a birthrate of 1.2. According to demographers and historians, this birth trend is impossible to reverse. Pope Paul VI was right in warning the world about the moral and societal consequences of a widespread use of birth control in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae. The Church has never been so prophetic on such an important issue. Yet, we rarely hear about it from our pastors. Indeed, Europe is aging and it is dying; so is Japan, so is Russia and the United States will soon follow if Americans don’t start having more children. I am puzzled as to why the Vatican has not repeatedly issued an encyclical or a significant ecclesiastical document on this alarming birth trend. The Vatican sirens should be going off so that the world will take notice!
2. Sexual Revolution: Sex without love. Sex is the chosen instrument by God through which marital love is expressed and human life created. When this instrument is misused, abused or perverted, then what we end up with is the opposite of love and life. In other words, with the widespread promiscuity then culture takes on the burden of hate and death. Is it any wonder that in so many of the television programs violence and sex are featured as the main attraction? Is it any wonder that in the 1960’s, just when contraception and promiscuity were on the increase in America, that our neighborhoods became riddled with crime? Indeed, locking the front door eventually became a necessity.
This is why Fulton Sheen wrote the following in his book, Three to Get Married: “If love does not climb, it falls. If, like the flame, it does not burn upward to the sun, it burns downward to destroy. If sex does not mount to heaven, it descends into hell…Those who separate sex and spirit are rehearsing for death…:
“There are two reasons,” he continues, “for the primacy of sex over love in a decadent civilization. One is the decline of reason. As humans give up reason, they resort to their imaginations. That is why motion pictures and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore. Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important.”
3. Abortion: Life without love. The womb of a woman was created to be a tabernacle where new life is created, where the infusion of a soul is infused into a newly created body. It many respects, it bears a striking resemblance to the sanctuary. In both instances, two things come together and a transformed into a person under God’s blessing. In the altar of the sanctuary, bread and wine are consecrated into the Person of Jesus Christ. In the womb, the sperm fertilizes the egg and with God's Word, a soul is infused, a person is created. Perhaps this is why the number of Catholics practicing contraception is proportionate to the number of Catholics who do not believe in the real presence of the Eucharist.
A big part of Christianity's success in civilizing the cruel and barbaric world of the ancient pagans was that it insisted upon sexual purity as the condition of being a Christian. Sin clouds the mind, but sexual sin darkens it. Satan knows that the more we sin, the more gullible we become. The stakes and the hazards increase the further we move away from God. As such, we end up believing the greatest of lies. And one lie that has gained currency in America is that our freedom is not worth the cost, that our security lies- not with faith in God -but rather with a servile trust in the State. More people are saying, "Our political rulers will take care us. They will look out after our best interests."
If the New Evangelization is to usher in the Gospel of Life, if it is to make any gains, it must dispel the gullibility which so often accompanies sin- especially the willingness to believe in the lies of an all-powerful State!
From A World without Christ: How gullibility, the effect of sin, led two men in the first century to buy into the culture of death (one worse than the other). Yet it was the culture of death that came back to haunt both of them.
The year was 60 A.D. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, decided to go to the show; not a play in the theatre but a show of a real life and death drama. He didn’t know what he was getting into. He had heard about the gladiator shows at the Coliseum, but he wanted to see for himself what the hype was all about. Thinking that he was going to be entertained and distracted from the burdens of everyday life, he instead witnessed something he would never forget. He discovered that his beloved Rome— the home of the most “civilized” empire yet to date —gave no thought to human dignity during its state-sponsored entertainment. In his own words:
“I come home more greedy, more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings. By chance I attended a midday exhibition, expecting some fun, wit, and relaxation…But it was quite the contrary…These noon fighters are sent out with no armor of any kind; they are exposed to blows at all points, and no one ever strikes in vain…In the morning they throw men to the lions; at noon they throw them to the spectators.”
Another prominent figure during that time was Petronius, a contemporary of Seneca, and a fellow advisor of the Emperor Nero, who had a different opinion of these shows. With a feverish anticipation, he wrote to a friend reminding him not to forget about the gladiator show; after all, there was a new shipment of fresh blood. He could barely contain his joy as he writes:
"Don't forget, there's a big gladiator show coming up the day after tomorrow. Not the same old fighters either. They've got a fresh shipment in. There's not a slave in that batch. Just wait. There'll be cold steel for the crowd, no quarter and the amphitheatre will end up looking like a slaughterhouse. There's even a girl who fights from a chariot."
Seneca and Petronius were both products of their culture. Seneca was a refined gentleman who seemed to rise above the times, yet even he endorsed infanticide without the slightest hesitation. He once said, “We drown even children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Yet it is not anger, but reason that separates the harmful from the sound.” As for Petronius, he was an unabashed sponsor of human cruelty through and through. He had no scruples about the moral decadence that surrounded him.
These two men failed to realize, as did most at the time, that when even one person’s human dignity is violated or ignored, then it is a loss for humanity; a loss that eventually finds its way to the indifferent. It should not be surprising then that the culture of death caught up with both of these men. Indeed, Seneca and Petronius were forced to commit suicide by their beloved Emperor Nero; an emperor whom they faithfully served