CONNIE ROSSINI: ‘Lead us not into temptation’
February 18, 2021
Today we continue our exploration of the Our Father in the Catechism with the petition, “Lead us not into temptation.” What does it mean for God to “lead us” into temptation? Why is this strange-sounding request in the Lord’s Prayer?
As the Catechism notes in number 2846, this petition is linked with the previous one, on forgiveness. Earlier we asked to be forgiven after we had sinned. Now we ask that God help us avoid sin.
In 2017, Pope Francis ignited a controversy when he suggested the translation of this phrase be changed to, “Do not abandon us to temptation.” As he rightly noted, the original Greek phrase is difficult to translate accurately. The Catechism says, “The Greek means both ‘do not allow us to enter into temptation’ and ‘do not let us yield to temptation’” (ibid.). Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that God allows us to be tempted by taking away his grace when we sin (“Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer,” petition 6). This is especially true when we have fallen into mortal sin. Thus, we must see this petition, like those that came before it, in the context of our whole spiritual life.
“‘Lead us not into temptation’ implies a decision of the heart” (CCC, no. 2848). It implies that we are serving God as our only master. If we choose to follow God, rather than our momentary desires or what our culture values, then we can trust that God will enable us to withstand temptation. He will come to our aid, so that we do not fall into sin. We ask him to keep us in his grace, to help us put his will first, so that even in difficult times we hallow his name by our actions.
Facing temptation can actually help us to grow spiritually (CCC, no. 2847). When we are tempted, we gain a better knowledge of our weaknesses and failings. We learn how much we must rely upon grace in order to stand firm. Being tempted is not itself a sin. It is only when we consent to the temptation, when we say yes to selfishness and no to God that we sin. God gave us free will. Temptation gives us an opportunity to exercise that will in choosing to resist temptation. We form a habit of saying yes to God.
When children are little, their parents protect them from harm. Gradually, however, they must let their children face potentially hurtful situations. Children can only grow up by encountering choices and learning to choose well, and by getting up again when they have fallen. “Our Father in heaven” lets us face difficulties too, so that we might grow up spiritually.
How can we survive temptation? “Such a battle and such a victory become possible only through prayer. It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony” (no. 2849). Jesus shows us the way. He began his ministry in the desert, fasting and praying before being tempted by the Devil. He prayed fervently in the garden of Gethsemane, that the Father’s will might be done even when it differed from Jesus’ human will.
In praying this petition, we unite ourselves with these prayers of Jesus. We ask him to send us his Holy Spirit to keep us awake, unlike the apostles who fell asleep. As he urged them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41).
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.