Temptations from the devil are instruments in God’s hands to strengthen the spiritual dimension of the human person, namely, the human mind and will. The sacred humanity of Jesus Christ had to submit to temptation because He chose to experience everything human. Our Lady was united to Him spiritually during His temptations and stands by us in the same way, undoing the work of the devil in our lives.
The Necessity of Jesus’ Temptation
One might ask why the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity needed to endure temptation. God cannot be tempted, so why was Jesus tempted? Clearly, it was not His divinity that was tempted – the devil could not have found the slightest possibility of weakness in His divinity. His sacred humanity was tempted. “He was like us in all things but sin,” says the Letter to the Hebrews (4:15), and in that sense, Jesus had to experience the temptations of the flesh.
In one of his commentaries on the psalms, St. Augustine said that Christ “could have kept the devil from himself; but if he were not tempted he could not teach you how to triumph over temptation.” This is true but perhaps not sufficiently appreciated. The sinless Jesus had to go through temptation in order to be one with sinful humanity. If He had not been tempted He could not have shown us what victory over temptation looks like.
Spiritual Growth in Lent
It is a theological truth that all free beings (angels and men) must endure a certain testing of mind and will – our spiritual faculties – in order to grow in spirit. Through temptation, Jesus’ humanity went from strength to strength by the trial He was put through in the desert. We, however, do not have His virtue. We go from weakness to strength through our temptations, that is, if we embrace them as an opportunity for spiritual growth and respond to the devil in imitation of Christ.
The Season of Lent is a penitential season for this reason. It is a time of explicit testing where we make efforts to be more deliberate in our embrace of spiritual things. The Church usually recommends prayer, almsgiving and fasting as the pathways for us to “exercise” our spiritual faculties.
Yet, temptation also has an important role in our spiritual progress. We might say that, like Christ, it is necessary for each of us to go through temptation in order to grow in spirit.
Did the sinless Mary experience temptation? It’s impossible to imagine otherwise. Since the sinless Christ was tempted and Our Lady was a member of the human race, she surely was not exempt from temptation, although the scriptures give us no information about the temptations she endured.
We can imagine Mary uniting herself to her Son as He spent forty days and forty nights in the desert undergoing His temptations. Did she fast too? Did she endure her own intense temptations or trials during that period? Our imagination must remain in the realm of speculation on this matter, but the spiritual union of sinless mother and Son could have easily expressed itself in that precise way.
What is certain is that the Virgin Mary’s spiritual life was perfectly in order, and her prayers assisted the sacred humanity of Jesus in His mission of salvation. And so also does she assist us in our missions.
Our Lady’s Role in Our Temptations
We must never ask for temptations and trials, of course, but they will inevitably come to anyone who lives a Christian life. The devil paints a target on the backs of all Christ’s followers, and, without fearing the Evil One, we should prepare for the spiritual combat his malice entails.
Mary was without sin, but she still knew temptation. She can assist us in overcoming our temptations in very tangible ways, not only during Lent but at any time. We must be diligent in turning to her for help and victory over temptation. In this way Mary Undoer of Knots unravels the power of evil in our lives.
First, we must ask Untier of Knots to show us our temptations. It happens that sometimes we are not sufficiently aware that we are being tempted or are unaware of our areas of greatest personal weaknesses. We may interpret them, in fact, as strengths or pass them off as unimportant, but we must become acutely aware of them if we are to grow in spirit. Ask Our Lady for clear knowledge of your weaknesses and temptations.
Then, we must ask her to obtain for us the grace to endure those temptations while they last. Jesus’ temptations lasted forty days. Thankfully, ours don’t last that long! Whatever the duration, Our Lady obtains for us, through her prayers, the graces of perseverance and fidelity.
Finally, with Mary we must thank God that we have a spiritual life that grows with His grace and our cooperation. Mary expressed this inner gratitude best in her Magnificat: “My spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:47).
By Peter Darcy
Iconographic source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness_(J%C3%A9sus_tent%C3%A9_dans_le_d%C3%A9sert)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg#/media/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness_(J%C3%A9sus_tent%C3%A9_dans_le_d%C3%A9sert)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg