In Volume I of Jesus of Nazareth, authored by Pope Benedict XVI before he became pontiff, the three temptations of Christ in the desert before entering public life are considered.
As applied to the Church, Benedict envisions the Church being afflicted by the same temptation:
A very serious temptation of the Church is to gain acceptance of its authority and message by solving social problems. Liberation theologians during the 70s allied themselves with Marxism, thinking this alliance would draw people to the message of the Gospel. But the Kingdom of God is a separate message, connected, but not identical, with social justice.
Liberal Catholics, identifying the Gospel with social justice, often are willing to literally "throw out the baby with the bathwater" — voting for rabidly pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they are for social justice (along with most atheists and secularists). The right to life of the most vulnerable human beings is considered somehow irrelevant to this "social justice."
The Pope comments,
Imagine the instant influence and adulation Jesus could have acquired, if there had been a crowd gathered down below the temple, looking up and seeing him literally being carried down by the angels; or if, in his preaching, he had used his miraculous powers to draw attention to himself in front of crowds, e.g. by levitating.
There is a temptation among some segments of the Church to draw people in and make conversions through "signs and wonders." The Medjugorje cult now is the chief example of this. Pilgrims have been coming in the tens of thousands for over thirty years to an unauthorized Marian shrine, where the Madonna is alleged to have been appearing almost on demand to six visionaries over 33,000 times. Visitors often return with tales of seeing solar phenomena imitating the miraculous "dance of the sun" at Fatima in 1917, and having their rosaries mysteriously turn a golden tint; Randall Sullivan, in The Miracle Detective, reports an incident when the visionaries were pulled miraculously in two minutes to the top of Cross Mountain at Medjugorje.
But the messages of the "Gospa" at Medjugorje are heterodox messages: "all faiths are identical;" some people are in hell because "they have committed grave sins that God cannot pardon;" people in heaven are "present with the soul and the body;" and a disobedient priest-director, Fr. Zovko, is a "saint," in spite of his suspension from priestly functions. This Madonna allegedly entrusted ten secrets to the visionaries, none of which have been revealed; predicted a "great sign" which never appeared; and said that her last appearance would be on July 31, 1981, but apparently changed her mind, and decided to continue appearing. This Madonna also, strangely and uncharacteristically, supports the Franciscans in their disobedience to Vatican orders, and tells the visionaries to ignore their bishops. These are strange "fruits" of a visitation by the Madonna. Disobedience is the sin Satan (famous for his own non serviam) identifies with most closely; once inculcated, it branches out into greed, lust, wrath, and other capital sins.
Medjugorje supporters point to many "good fruits" — conversions, return to the sacraments, etc. — but one can also be sure that there would have been all manner of conversions and repentance, possibly lifelong, if Jesus had decided to manifest his supernatural powers in public.
Yves Chiron chronicles 71 apparitions supposed to have taken place after Medjugorje, between 1981 and 1991. This is a spectacular way to get some people to flock to the sacraments and convert, complementing the "bread" with "circuses." But lasting faith ordinarily grows in low-key surroundings in the silence of the heart.
The Pope observes that, as applied to the Church,
First of all, one should notice that Jesus did not contradict the devil regarding the alleged power he had over the world. Like a Mafia boss, Satan, within the limits allowed by God, has tremendous power to reward those who are forwarding his purposes, and make things difficult for anyone who gets in his way. But Jesus was not interested in any kind of "power sharing" or détente with evil.
The temptation of the Church, similarly, is nothing so gross as devil worship, but much more subtle — making accommodation with evil, to be seen as "progressive," and thus winning many of a progressive mentality to its side. For example, the current rush of some Catholic institutions to accept the Presidential mandate for coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizing procedures is an accommodation that has mustered much support from liberals, who congratulate such institutions for no longer being "stuck in the dark ages," inimical to modern progress. Some, seeing how "progressive" the Church has become, might overcome their hesitancy and desire to become associated with this modernized Church. This sort of Church, in their eyes, would be an asset for their plans of organizing or reorganizing society, no longer an unwelcome obstacle. But power-sharing with evil has a way of boomeranging.
At the end of these three temptations, the Gospel tells us that angels came to minister to Jesus. Likewise, if the Church is able to avoid easy, pragmatic ways of evangelizing the world, we can be sure that supernatural help will arrive to give an extra boost to its efforts.
Howard Kainz. "The Three Temptations of the Church." Crisis Magazine (January 4, 2012).
Reprinted with permission of Crisis Magazine.
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