Times That Try Men’s Souls
Times That Try Men’s Souls

Times That Try Men’s Souls

225px-Thomas_Paine_rev1It strikes me that over the past two years we’ve heard much about how deeply our government is in debt, about bankruptcies, downsizing, the reorganization of our corporate businesses, eliminating governmental waste, and determining our true and necessary priorities. What is wasteful and what is essential, and how do we measure them? We simply cannot go on as we have in the past. “These are times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine during the early formation of our American Revolution.

As we begin Lent of 2011, shouldn’t we deal with similar questions in our spiritual lives? Isn’t it necessary for us to take a hard look at the fundamental questions dealing with how we are living measured against the reasons why God has put us here on earth? Asking how we as Americans came to the crisis in which we now find ourselves is important. Of greater importance, however, is to ask how we as individual Catholics have come to where we’re at in our spiritual lives today. Lent is a time of not only asking questions but of taking the necessary steps to change our behavior and our patterns of living.

Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer and come upon the words “And deliver us from evil” we are praying something that deserves our considered thought. Throughout the centuries there have been a number of translations of the original Hebrew words that Jesus used when He taught the Lord’s Prayer. For instance, most of the original translations did not say “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those words were originally translated as “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Just why or where the word “trespass” was substituted for the word “sin” is unknown to me. Sinning is much more consequential than trespassing.

So also translating the phrase “And deliver us from evil.” Other ancient translations render it “And deliver us from the time of trial”; still others render it “deliver us from the time of testing”. That being so, I want to pay some attention here to the time of trial or testing Jesus endured out in the desert when Satan, our Ancient Enemy, put Jesus to test with those three great temptations we just heard about in today’s Gospel account. Satan was taking the measure of Christ’s inner convictions and character.

God came to Moses on top of Mt. Sinai. Christ our Savior taught His Beatitudes from the top of a mountain. Later He was transfigured on top of Mt. Tabor. Satan, in his arrogance, leads Jesus to the top of a high mountain, shows Him all of the kingdoms of this world and then takes the measure of Him, tempting Him to be a Messiah other than what God our Father sent Him to be for us.

We should note that it was not God our Father who was testing Jesus. No, it was Lucifer. Why would God the Father want to “test” His Only-begotten Son? He knew all along what was in His Son’s heart and soul. The Devil, of course, did not.

Satan, we see, claimed that the world and all that’s in it belonged to him and is in his power. “I will give them to you,” he haughtily informs our Blessed Lord, “if you worship me and acknowledge my power.” Satan was setting himself up as God’s equal. This echoes the serpent’s original seductive temptation offered to Adam and Eve, “Eat of this fruit and you will be as God!”

In His complete freedom God could certainly “test” us. Lots of people think of God that way. Many times, when we face trials, troubles, and suffering we immediately tell ourselves that “God is testing me” or we tell others in their misfortune that “God is testing you.” While we may think that way it’s usually a quick and superficial response that short-circuits a more insightful awareness.

Many trials and troubles beset us, not only throughout our lifetimes but on a daily basis. What or who causes these trials? Each and every day people “test our limits.” How often is your patience tested? And who is testing the boundaries of your patience and your love? You find yourself tested, tempted to anger and wrath, by members of your own family in your own home. Your children test your limits. Your loyalty and patience are tried and tested in your place of work. We easily see that while events and chance occurrences may test you and me, there is no greater testing than that which comes to us from other people.

Many such moments of trail and testing come to each one of us every day, which is why Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, to ask God our Father for that heavenly sustenance that gives strength to our souls as we face the trials and challenges of each day in our lives. Good people face suffering from others and are tested by others. In all such moments we are given opportunities… opportunities that are gifts hidden within those trials. The highest and best opportunity in every such trial is to enter into the heart of Jesus. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews wrote of Christ, “…because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

The Lord’s Prayer is composed in the plural, not in the singular. It addresses our Father. It asks God to give us our daily bread. In all of this we need to realize that we are also collectively tested, tried, and tempted. We are tested as a nation of people. We were tested as we underwent the trail of the Civil War. World Wars, and may other wars beside, have tested, and will continue to test our national resolve, our American ideals, our intentions and purposes in entering into conflicts, as well as how we conduct ourselves in them. The war against terrorism is presently testing our national soul.

Both individually and collectively our character and our limits are being tested. Our resources, our civil liberties, our commitments to freedom, our adherence to the rule of law, and our faith in God are all being tested and put on trial. Do we respond to evil in the way that Jesus responded to Satan? Upon what are our responses based? Satan was offering Jesus a spectacular, superficial, and dazzling way of life, one that did not require our faith. In response, Jesus turned to His Father in heaven. You and I should do no less.

Satan is also known as the Great Seducer, the one who seeks to remain in power and control by capitalizing on our human weakness. He hides his real agenda, his lust for power over us by lurking and hiding behind our human weakness. “Oh, everybody’s doing it, so I can do it” is the sentiment that Satan whispers deep within us. But, we should ask ourselves, what about what is right no matter how many people don’t care about what is right? The kingdom, the power and the glory belong to God. Jesus knew that and remained faithful to that. In Christ’s humility Satan’s pride was overcome. In taking the measure of Christ, Satan was exposed for who and what he is. Trials take the measure of our own faith.

Christ knows full well what’s deep within the human heart. He knows how readily we can be swayed and how powerfully the “easy way” tempts us. When, therefore, we are beset by trails and sufferings, when we are tempted to try any way but God’s way, we need to keep focused and to turn to our Higher Power and rely on the powerful love of God.

May this holy season of Lent be an opportunity for you and me to take stock of what’s in our souls, to see what we’re really made of, to get in touch once again with God’s powerful Holy Spirit who abides within us, and then face life with all of its trails, temptations and testings, nourished as we are by the Living Bread God puts here on our table each and every day.

“Deliver us from evil,” O Lord. And most of all, deliver us from ourselves… for we do not belong to this world, or to the Great Seducer who roams through this world, or even to ourselves. We are Christ’s, and Christ’s is yours, O Father in heaven.

These are times that try men’s souls. During this Lent lets you and I see what we’re made of.

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Written by
Fr Charles Irvin