Let us first put the readings into perspective. The vocation of a Christian is to grow. St. Paul would say “to advance on the way to the Lord”. I believe this is important to us today. We are constantly warned against sin, without urging us to grow. The positive call to grow is seen in Christian literature from the Gospels to the early Fathers, to the scholastic, charismatic and religious movements to contemporary writings. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “To stand on the way of the Lord is to move backwards.” In other words, the Lord who leads us on the way expects us to move, to follow: “Come, follow Me,” He said. Not to follow then, is to retreat. The second reading tells us that this call to grow is not a matter of choice: Christ gave us His grace in order for us to grow and to advance.
Thus, we either move forward or we slide backwards. St. Gregory the Great said, “Certainly, in this world, the human spirit is like a boat foolishly fighting against the river’s rush: one is never allowed to stay still, because unless one forges ahead, one will slide back downstream.” The readings today tell us that temptations then provide us an opportunity to move ahead; the prime purpose of temptations is not to bring us down, but help us mature. Temptations are not sins yet: they are amoral. How we respond to them will determine its morality.
Our emotions are unstable; our feelings come up and down. We have less control of our emotions, but we have control over our behavior. Even if we are angry, we can choose to act in a way that is consistent with our values. Even if we have an emotional storm going on, regardless with what we feel, we can choose to do our jobs well. This is called, constructive behavior: people who possess this characteristic is mature. As Adam and Eve (who symbolize all of humanity) in the first reading and Jesus in the Gospels today were tested: their challenge is in their choice of behavior.
Second, scripture writers say that the Temptation of Jesus is an inner struggle: it is not an outward experience. The proof is that there is no mountain that has a view of all the kingdoms of the earth. But it is true: if we look into our lives, the testing of our faith and our character is indeed an inner struggle.
But the call to grow is much more than just about sinfulness. It is also about the right thing to do; about following our conscience. If one is bullied in school or in the workplace, or we discover that the system in our organization and our country is not working anymore, we Filipinos think that it would be better just to keep quiet and let things pass — or we cease to be nice. But in this situation, we are called to speak up, because it is the right thing to do. To do the right thing, despite criticisms from other people, makes us grow. When Rosa Parks didn’t give her seat to a white man in Montgomery in 1955 and Martin Luther King Jr gave a speech against racial discrimination and segregation, they both contributed to moral progress, even if it would cost Martin Luther King Jr his life: he was assissinated in 1968.
When the Church said that the peak of the liturgy is full and active participation in 1965, those who don’t sing at mass do not commit a sin, but they remain underdevelop and immature. It is like a mama’s boy at 45 years old: he may be kind and guileless, but his capacity for commitment and independence is infantile. So, grow up!