Question: Our pastor in his homily stated that “Jesus, to completely experience his/our human nature, was also tempted sexually.” Something seems off here.
— Name withheld via email
Answer: In a limited and technical sense, the pastor may be right, since Jesus was tempted in every way we are yet without sin (c.f. Heb 4:15). The problem is that when we think of temptation, we often think of it as we experience it. We have concupiscence, a strong inclination to sin, and we find many sinful things appealing. It was not this way for the Lord Jesus, who had a sinless and perfect human nature. Thus, when the suggestion of temptation occurred from the world or the devil, he found such things inadmissible, even repulsive.
Perhaps, as an analogy, suppose I said to you, “Let’s go over to that mud puddle and drink its filthy water.” Technically I am tempting or daring you by proposing a course of action that is foolish and dangerous. But it is likely that you would not find it appealing. In fact, it would repulse you. To those who grow in love for God, sin is increasingly repulsive. Though someone might suggest a sinful action, it has little appeal and can even seem both offensive and repulsive.
And so, for Jesus, we shouldn’t think that he experienced temptation just as we do. Many of us, due to weakness, are strongly assailed by sexual and other temptations. But Jesus did not have a fallen nature; he had a sinless and perfect human nature.
Hence, we ought not speak of the mystery of Christ’s inner life without proper distinctions and qualifications. Jesus did not need to experience our moral weakness, which comes to us due to original sin and personal sin, to completely experience our human nature. We are deformed by our sin, and it is Jesus who shows us what it means to be fully and perfectly human. Ideally, as we make progress in spiritual growth, we increasingly find sin to be unappealing, even repulsive, and temptations become more intellectual proposals without all the devastating emotional effects.
The bottom line is that we ought to seek to be more like Jesus than to try and make him like us. He is the model.
Adoration of the cross
Question: We are forbidden to adore anything except for God. But on Good Friday, we are invited to adore the holy cross. Please explain.
— Thomas Kalappura, Mumbai, India
Answer: We speak of adoration of the cross in a very specialized sense. As early as the seventh century, the cross was said to be adored in a way no other object or creature can qualify for. St. Thomas Aquinas states two reasons. The first is from its contact with the limbs of Christ and from its being saturated with his blood. Wherefore in each way it is worshipped with the same adoration as Christ, also known as the adoration of “latria.” And for this reason, we also speak to the cross and pray to it, as to the crucified Lord himself.
Second, the cross uniquely represents Christ’s image since it is called “the sign of the Son of Man” that “will appear in heaven” (Mt 24:30). And the angel said to the women,”You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified” (Mk 16:6). He said not “pierced” but “crucified.” For this reason, we worship the image of Christ’s cross in any material, but not the image of the nails or of any such thing (see Summa, III., q. 25 art. 4.)
Here, then, we have a singular exception to the use of the word adoration.