July 15, 2009

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Today we finish our study of the Lord's Prayer.

Previous posts in the series:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trepass against us

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

According to St. Augustine, God doesn't lead us to temptation. In some translations, the word used instead is suffer: "suffer us not to be led into temptation". In other words, God doesn't tempt us but allows us to be tempted. Our enemy cannot do anything against us unless God permits him so, as St. Cyprian once noted, our fear and devotion should be addressed to God alone.

St. Augustine went on to explain the difference between asking not to be tempted and not to be led into temptation. This may be a more subtle point, but it is worth reviewing. It is the difference between asking not to be touched by fire and not to be burned. If we are never touched by temptation, we cannot prove ourselves. What we pray for is not to avoid the fire but not to burn when it touches us - not to avoid temptation but to survive it unscathed.

After we pray to avoid succumbing to temptation, we recognize that at times we have already. "Deliver us from evil." Why? Because we are beset by it. Because we have failed already and need to be freed.

At Confession, the priest absolves us of sin first, then tells us to go and sin no more - first freedom, then strength for the rest of the journey. What good is the strength to go on if you aren't free to continue in the first place? In this same light, we pray these final two petitions of God. We ask him to free us from evil and the sins in our past, then to strengthen us to resist temptation in the future.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Gospel of Matthew. Online at http://www.catecheticsonline.com/CatenaAurea-Matthew6.php

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