St. John tells us that there are three categories of temptation:
the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John
2:16). To a certain extent, these categories give focus to the Second,
Third, and Fourth Sundays in Lent, much as the different virtues gave focus
to the Pre-Lenten Sundays. Thus, today we are bidden to reflect on
the lust of the flesh.
The Canaanite woman's daughter in today's Gospel is described as being
severely possessed by a demon (Matt 15:22). This description could
be applied to all of us, for to be in the grip of sin is to be possessed
by a demon.
All sin arises from the suppression of the truth about God in favour
of some created image of God's glory (Rom 1:18-23). All sin thus
stems from the embracing of a lie (Rom 1:25). What is it to embrace
a lie, if it is not to give one's heart to the devil, the father of lies
(John 8:44)? This is surely to be possessed by a demon.
Perhaps the most deep-rooted and hard to eliminate form of such possession
is the lust associated with the flesh. St. Paul makes the connection
very clear. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts,
to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because
they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served
the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:24, 25). To be sure,
the lust of the flesh includes all sinful desires for the material goods
of this world. Nevertheless, sins associated with sexual desire are
somehow the most characteristic.
Fornication, therefore, would seem to be the fundamental enemy of our
sanctification (I Thess 4:3). There are two reasons for this.
First, it makes us transgress and wrong our brothers and sisters (I Thess
4:6). It oversteps and overreaches the limits of justice and charity,
and violates the integrity and holiness of other people. Second,
it is a sin against our own bodies (I Cor 6:18). It separates our
bodies from Christ's mystical body, from Christ's spotless humanity, and
stains them with its passionate excesses. It drives the Holy Spirit,
our only Comforter and Guide, from his temple, our body, and makes that
temple foul with the deeds of unregulated desire (I Cor 6:12-20).
Contemporary culture does not want us to believe these things.
We are constantly bombarded with images designed to excite our passions.
However, unchastity, by releasing the passions from the control of prudence,
replaces all natural love and Christian charity, and undermines every relationship
and institution based upon them.
It seems, then, that our primary Lenten task is clear, to cast out unchastity,
and all excessive desire for this world's goods, by the discipline of prayer,
fasting, and alms-giving. Let us approach this task with the same
humility, faith and perseverance the Canaanite woman displayed in today's
Gospel. We must know ourselves well, trust heartily that God will
perform his promises, and persist even when God seems to resist our urgent
requests. Then God will answer our prayers and defend us from all
adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which
may assault and hurt the soul.