When, Not If.

From today's Mass readings (emphasis mine):
Responsorial Psalm
Ps 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15

R. (cf. 15b) Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,
my God in whom I trust.”

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

No evil shall befall you,
nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him.

R. Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.

Reading this today, I had a small epiphany -- it says "when." Not "if." We will be in distress. We will suffer. We will get into trouble (often of our own making!). That's life on this rock. But God will deliver us, God will be with us, all we need to do is cling to Him and we will survive.

We are not God, we are not in control, and we can't stop every bad thing from happening through prayer, maximum effort, or anything else. Bad things are coming. We don't know what they are. We don't know when they'll happen. But rest assured, they will -- one need only to look at history (no matter how recent or ancient), let alone prophecy, to see evidence of that. And WHEN (not if!) the bad stuff happens, the handbook for survival is found right here in this Psalm.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gave us another concise "survival guide" -- the survival guide for temptation:
Lk 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan
and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days,
to be tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing during those days,
and when they were over he was hungry.
The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.”
Then he took him up and showed him
all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.
The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.”
Then he led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here, for it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“It also says,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
When the devil had finished every temptation,
he departed from him for a time.

When Jesus said, "One does not live on bread alone," He referenced Deuteronomy 8:2-3:
"Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.

He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD."

Afflictions and temptations are not just part of life on Earth -- they're part of God's plan for us. The "silver bullet" to conquer both is found in a single, simple, simultaneously joyful (because we know it will work) and terrifying (because we're afraid we can't do it) concept: Obedience. Cling to the Lord. Love Him. Obey His commandments. Keep the faith. By doing this, we can and will survive anything the Lord, the adversary, or everyday life throws our way.

"It is written ... it is written ... it is written." Jesus faces each temptation the exact same way, with obedience to the Word of God. My old pastor at the megachurch gave a great sermon on this several years ago -- the main concept being that when the devil tempts you, you go to the Word and find an irrefutable reason not to give in. Just say "It is written ... !" It's kind of a "Don't shoot the messenger" thing -- like saying, "Hey, these aren't my rules, they're God's. I'm just following orders. Take it up with Him." And we all know Who comes out on top whenever the devil attempts to "take it up" with God.

So our answer to every temptation should be, "It is written ... !" And as Catholics, we have a lot more writing to use to back us up -- seven more books of Holy Scripture, plus two thousand years (give or take a few) of written teaching and exposition by the Fathers and Doctors and great Saints of the Church. That means we should have absolutely no trouble finding ample justification for our obedience to God if we just take a moment to look for it.

And on those occasions when despite our best effort (or even due to a complete lack of effort), we fail to engage the enemy with our most lethal weapon (our obedience to God) and we are broken, weary and afraid of the battles to come, then we can head to the great Hospital for the walking wounded throughout the Church Militant, the Confessional. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will heal us, restore our soul and make us stronger and better equipped for the next battle. Losing one battle doesn't have to mean losing the war, so be encouraged and grateful for the opportunity to try once more to get it right. And be always armed with the most effective weapon against evil: Obedience.

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