Riches, Honour, Pride

When I read the three temptations of Christ in the desert I was struck by the uncanny resemblance of those temptations to Ignatius’ wisdom in the Exercises.

In contemplating the two standards in the second week, Ignatius writes that the retreatant is asked to pray for the grace to understand the deceits of the enemy. In the third point he writes that Satan first tempts us through a “…a longing for riches—as he is accustomed to do in most cases —that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.”

Hence, the evil spirit first gets us to us by making us imagine or dream of making a lot of money.  In making this money we seek to bring ourselves honour.  Finally, in being honoured, we feel pride about ourselves.

It is amazing how the temptations of Christ also seem to follow in a subtle way these same movements of the spirit.  First, there are those who seek a life of pleasure and wish to fulfill perhaps all of their carnal desires.  This way of being sees failure when any pleasure is not given its proper licence.   Money is needed for this life of luxury.

Christ seems to experience this temptation in the desire for bread. Here, Christ is tempted to focus on satisfying his own fleshly desires, at the expense of the will of God.  He reminds us that one does not live through the body alone, but by the Word that comes from the mouth of God. Here in the temptation to bread, we can see our own temptation to wealth, and the many bodily pleasures that come with it.

Secondly, Ignatius points out that the desire to make money, leads us eventually to the pursuit of honour.  There is part of us, that wants our name to be known, our reputation to be pristine, and our name to be respected.  Christ in the second temptation is asked to jump off the cliff with the view that the Father would send his angels to support him.

It is amazing to see how honour would come into play here.  It would be a dazzling site to see Christ jumping off the precipice of the mountain, only to be saved by angels as he is gently placed on the ground.  Such an event would have brought him much renown and much fame.  This is perhaps a great temptation for those who live a life of poverty.  How much of what we do is in fact truly a desire to bring renown to our name?

Finally, in our desire for riches and honour we come to pride.  The sin of Adam which moves us to trust in our own skills, our own knowledge, and therefore in our own selves.    Here Jesus is tempted with worshipping Satan in order that all the nations of the world submit and obey him.  Here, as in the temptation itself, the Devil tempts us to adore our “self.”  Christ again rejects this temptation by pointing out that God alone ought to be the center of our thoughts, and the focal point of all our actions.

This for me is a unique way of seeing the Exercises in their relationship to the scriptures.  What is more amazing is that Christ, in the Father’s time, receives everything that Satan tempts Him with.  He receives bread enough to feed the thousands (Matthew 14:13-21).  He receives much fame (Luke 7:17).  Finally, as his Kingdom grows, he receives the “glory, honour, and power”(Revelation 5:12) that He deserves.

Raj Vijayakumar is currently residing in Toronto and working as an assistant for L’Arche Canada.

  • Paul Panaretos
    Posted at 08:15h, 19 November Reply

    Thanks, Raj. You point us toward that “true recognition and [self-]understanding” St. Ignatius desires everyone to enjoy (Spiritual Exercises [322.3]).

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 10:17h, 19 November Reply

    Thank you very much Raj!

  • Ada MacDonald
    Posted at 12:48h, 19 November Reply

    There is also, I think, a similarity to the energy centres, identified by Thomas Keating, a promoter of Centering Prayer meditation, from which the false self acts: power and control: survival and security; and affection and esteem.

  • David Shulist, SJ
    Posted at 08:46h, 26 January Reply

    Thanks Raj. Yes, indeed as you said, they can be “subtle” so as to blind us from realizing what is really going on and what motivates us. It takes God’s grace ” to understand the deceits of the enemy.” Could not agree more.

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