Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him. (Matthew 4:8-11)In the final temptation, seeing that Our Lord was unshakable in his desire to save mankind, Satan offered a temptation that went straight to his heart. He promised the whole world to our Lord and the whole of mankind. He knew that Christ longed to bring all men to himself, and how Our Lord was consumed with this terrible thirst, which he was to exclaim on the cross. Satan was offering Christ not so much power and glory, which after all Our Lord already possessed, but acceptance and popularity among all men and the powers of the world.
Unlike the previous two, this temptation is perennial to the Christian vocation, is one that we all face and has been the ruin of the church time and time again throughout history. It is quite simply the desire to be successful, accepted and popular among the elites of the world, and to seek the support and assistance of their power. This rather than being a sign of contradiction that is to despised and hated by the world.
But this can only be achieved by compromise with the mystery of iniquity, and in our day, the culture of death. Yet we cannot do a deal with the powers of darkness, for in doing so, we ruin the soul of our faith. The condition of the tempter is non - negotiable: fall down and worship me. Our Lord was to later teach, ‘You cannot serve two masters.’ If we wish to be Christians, we face the stark choice of social alienation, rejection, poverty and possibly open persecution, or surrender to the culture of death.
If we look at the times when the church has been corrupted, it has always been caused by yielding to this temptation. The spread of the Arian heresy was largely caused by the church seeking social acceptance in the later Roman empire. The Spanish Inquisition was the consequence of the church seeking the help of the secular power to advance her faith, only to find itself to become an arm of the state. The English reformation was the result of the English church identifying and compromising with the establishment of the wealthy, rather than like St. John Fisher making a courageous stand against the unlawful marriage of Henry VIII.
And more recently, the dissent of the sixties and ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ was caused by many in the church, in particular Catholic education, seeking acceptance and legitimacy among the secular academic and media elites. Rather than proclaim the sanctity of marriage, defend the rights of the unborn and show forth the scandal and sacrifice of the cross in the liturgy, many bishops and priests have chosen to follow the path of compromise and silence, effectively turning the faith into a liberal Protestantism if not a therapeutic neo - Gnosticism.
But our answer to this can only be the same as our Lord: Begone, Satan! For it is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve.