As we approach the end of this calendar year, we should give thanks to God for all the blessings He has sent, for the multitude of gifts and graces, often hidden beneath what seems banality or even outright suffering. The primary purpose of this life is a journey to the next, and as Saint Augustine remarks in one of his sermons, it is a foolish man indeed who is so intent on the path and its scenery, that he forgets where he is going.
Yes, God does ‘test’ us in this life, a verb which, as a recent article in Crisis points out, is distinct from the notion of ‘tempting’, although their etymology is the same (and in the original Greek, are the same word). The author raises this in the context of Pope Francis’ speculation that the second last petition in the Lord’s prayer, ‘lead us not into temptation’, should be changed to something like ‘may we not fall into temptation’, minimizing God’s agency in our sins.
Fine, but the author of the article claims that it is not so much the verb ‘lead us’ (eisenéngkēs) that needs to be modified, but rather the noun ‘temptation’, for, as Saint James writes, God tempts no man, even though He does test us.
This distinction between ‘tempt’ and ‘test’ was already made in the Catechism in its commentary on the Our Father. As paragraph 2847 tells us, The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man,152 and temptation, which leads to sin and death.153
A ‘temptation’ is an occasion of sin and vice, while a ‘test’ should lead us to virtue; yet within temptation, as the Catechism continues, we must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation. It is only the latter that is a sin; the former is a kind of test.
Confusing? Well, this distinction, in concrete reality, is often not easy to distinguish, and usually depends upon our own choice to the various situations in which we find ourselves: Lead us not into temptation…implies a decision of the heart: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…”
The key here is to rely upon God’s grace, a life immersed in prayer, docile to the promptings of God by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This final petition of the Our Father is one of hope and confidence, for God truly wills our salvation through all the travails of this transitory life:
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” In this assent to the Holy Spirit the Father gives us strength. “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it
Should the prayer be changed? Well, I would not be a great fan of adopting the verb ‘fall’, which implies a passivity in the moral life (just as I do not really believe in ‘falling in love’; should we not rather choose to bind ourselves to another by that most affective of bonds?). Added to that, I’m more or less with Father Frederick Faber in theological matters, whose quip that ‘all change is bad, even change for the better‘ contains more than a small degree of wisdom. So long as we understand what the words of the prayer signify, we will do all right, that life is about growing in virtue, which requires being tested, even tempted, for it is only in adversity that we can grow in strength.
This kerfuffle over the Pope’s comments reminds me of a previous story a number of years ago concerning Pope John Paul II, who at one point was rumoured to be ruminating on changing the first words of the ‘Hail Mary’ to be more in line with the original Greek greeting of the angel Gabriel, ‘kaire’, rejoice!’, which neither ‘hail’, nor even ‘ave‘, really capture.
Sure enough, the prayer could be changed, but custom is custom, difficult to modify, especially after centuries of usage. What is important is what is behind the words, the signification, the reality…
So in these final days of the year, we should rejoice, with Christ, Our Lady, all the saints for what has gone before, and that whatever tests and trials lie ahead, we may live in serenity and peace, accepting what we cannot change, with the courage to change the things we can (and, I would add, should), and the wisdom to know the difference.
Only thus may we grow, day by day, year by year, into the persons God intends us to be.