Monday, February 19, 2024

A Reflection on Temptation


Reflection on Temptation

Temptation is a common experience for all of us. We are constantly faced with choices between good and evil, between virtue and vice, and between love and selfishness. How can we resist temptation and grow in holiness? How can we avoid falling into sin and despair?

One of the best guides for this spiritual struggle is St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century bishop and doctor of the Church, who wrote extensively on the topic of temptation in his classic work, Introduction to the Devout Life. He offers us many practical and profound insights on how to deal with temptation, based on his own experience and the teachings of Scripture and the saints.

Here are some of his main points:

- Temptation is not a sin, but an opportunity to prove our love for God. "The most excellent method of proving our love for God is to endure temptations for His love's sake" (Part 4, Chapter 2).

- God allows us to be tempted for our own good, to test our faith, to humble us, to increase our merit, and to make us more like Christ. "God never permits such great trials to assail us as may overthrow us; or if He does, He gives us strength proportionate to the trial" (Part 4, Chapter 2).

- We should not be surprised or discouraged by temptation, but rather trust in God's grace and providence. "Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them -- every day begin the task anew" (Part 1, Chapter 9).

- We should not expose ourselves to unnecessary temptations, but avoid the occasions of sin as much as possible. "It is easier to avoid occasions of sin than to overcome temptations" (Part 3, Chapter 4).

- We should resist temptations promptly and firmly, without entering into dialogue with the enemy. "The first onset of all temptations is easily overcome, but if neglected it grows stronger" (Part 4, Chapter 3).

- We should pray fervently and frequently for God's help, especially invoking the holy names of Jesus and Mary. "Prayer is a sovereign remedy; it lifts up the soul to God, who is our only joy and consolation" (Part 4, Chapter 3).

- We should have recourse to the sacraments of confession and communion, which are powerful means of grace and healing. "Confession cleanses the soul from sin; Communion unites it with Jesus Christ" (Part 2, Chapter 19).

- We should seek the advice and support of a wise and pious spiritual director or friend, who can guide us and comfort us in our difficulties. "A faithful friend is a strong defense; he that hath found him hath found a treasure" (Ecclesiasticus 6:14).

- We should meditate on the passion and death of Christ, who suffered for our sins and gave us an example of patience and obedience. "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself; lest you be wearied and faint in your minds" (Hebrews 12:3).

- We should imitate the saints, who overcame many temptations by their love for God and their fidelity to His will. "They were tempted that they might be victorious; they fought that they might triumph; they conquered that they might be crowned" (St. Bernard).

By following these counsels of St. Francis de Sales, we can hope to overcome temptation and grow in holiness. As he says: "The more violent our temptations are, the more glorious will be our victory; because both our merit and our reward depend upon the greatness of our love; and love is great in proportion as it costs us dear" (Part 4, Chapter 2).

St. Francis de Sales tells us that no one welcomes temptation. Jesus Himself did not seek it. He was led by the Spirit to the desert to be tempted and quite frankly, annoyed (Matthew 4:1).  He also tells us that temptation is never found among sinners or those who are manifest sinners who have grown accustomed or used to living in sin. This is because Satan already has them. He has no reason to tempt the people he already has. Temptation only comes when we say yes to God and begin our journey in the spiritual life. This is why we often wonder why bad things happen to good people. We read in the book of Job the hardships that Job faced. Satan was allowed to torment this humble soul (Job 1:12).

Despite those hardships, what did Job do? Did he curse God? Did he condemn God's actions saying God has no concern for anyone? Did he say God was asleep or did not exist because of the hardships?  No!  Job's reply was 

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.[The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” -Job 1:20

In light of this, when temptation comes and IT WILL COME, we must be ready to accept it and deal with it.  It is important to note that Satan will not always attack us where we are weak. He will attack where we are strong.  For example, if we are good with meditation but bad with humility, Satan will attack the strength of meditation.  This is because the humility in us is already weak, so he does not have to do much work there.  

Take the story of Jesus in the desert for example in Luke 4:1-13. Satan knew Jesus was hungry, so he demanded Jesus turn stones into bread.  There is probably nothing worse than hunger. Some people even get "hangry" or moody when they are hungry and may behave in an animalistic manner devoid of all reason. In the presence of food, our mouths salivate without thinking. Eating is an important part of existence and is necessary for it. So imagine telling Jesus who did not eat for 40 days and nights to turn stones into bread.  This is why Satan requested this.  

Moreover, he most likely saw the people treating Jesus in a special manner with deference, so Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world believing Jesus would take the bait and say yes.  He thought Jesus was like an influencer on social media today who seeks attention for "likes," a narcissist.  Jesus was far from that! Satan also tells Jesus to literally throw Himself off a cliff so the angels can catch Him. Again, he does this because he most likely saw what happened at Jesus' baptism when the dove appeared and a voice said that this is my beloved Son (Matthew 3:16-17).  Remember, Satan IS NOT all-knowing. He is not omniscient. Only God is. Satan is limited just like human beings are. The only difference is that he existed before humans and is a spirit, not a body and soul like humans. Satan can only know what he observes just like we can only know what we observe.  

The key is to be on alert always as 1 Peter 5:8-9 says.  Satan and his demons are always on the prowl looking to prey on the children of God.  Our response is to pray when we are the prey.  He did it with Adam, Eve, and Jesus, do not think he will not go after you.  The advice from St. Francis de Sales is helpful, but may I add a few more ideas.  

  • Reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture is essential, particularly the Psalms which often deal with temptation and hardships. 
  • Devotions are important. Whether it be the Rosary, chaplet to the Divine Mercy, Litanies, or anything else, they are extremely helpful in keeping our minds and souls distracted from temptation. 
  • Regularly confessing sins brings about sanctifying grace that strengthens the soul. It is also not a mystery that frequent reception of Holy Communion is the ultimate source of grace. Be sure to receive only when in a state of grace, never while in mortal sin. Receiving Holy Communion while in mortal sin is like putting on an expensive suit or dress while not having bathed in 10 years, or like putting on expensive shoes or Jordan sneakers that cost over $500 when your feet smell demonic.  
  • Silence is another form to use to battle temptation. Not giving attention to the temptation helps enormously. This is why even exorcists are trained to ignore the demon(s) and focus on the rite of exorcism instead. Ignoring someone takes away their power. This is why Jesus remained silent in the face of accusers.  He took away their power and focused on His mission. There is also nothing more powerful than a moment of silence. When we mourn someone and have it, there is an ambiance of energy and strength that fills the room.  There is a sense as if time has stopped. The same sensation is also noted in a church where the people are respectful and keep silent.  Entering a church where one hears nothing allows the senses to focus on the imagery found, and most importantly, the Tabernacle where Jesus is truly present. 
  • Never entertain the temptation. St. Francis de Sales tells us in his sermon for the first Sunday of Lent that we should never be prideful thinking we have the power to overcome the devil and his temptations.  Satan thrives on cockiness.  He is the little horn that spews blasphemy against God (Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:5).  Only humility can defeat a demonic attack.
  • Humility in the world is seen as a weakness.  This is true especially among males and particularly in conservative squares. The term "beta male" is often used to describe men who they see as weak. Manhood is measured against these terms. In reality, the humble man, woman, or child is the most powerful. This is because they can face anything and nothing phases them. Their humility takes control against tempers, disrespect, irreverence, and even violence. All we have to do is let go and let God.  God will fight for us, we just have to be still; He will avenge us. (Exodus 14:14, Psalm 46:10, Romans 12:19-21).
  • The use of Sacramentals is important as well. Unfortunately, modern clerics and lay Catholics often dismiss Sacramentals as superstition or medieval nonsense. This is only a testament to their inner corruption. Sacramentals are holy reminders. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes them as: 
  • 1667 "Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy."173 1677 Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life.

    These actions or objects prepare us to receive grace. They remind us of the mysteries of Christ and how they applied to His Mother Mary and our Mother and to the saints.  Wearing medals or a scapular helps us during temptations. They are reminders that God is with us and protecting us. They remind us that Our Lady, the angels and saints are with us and rooting for our success.  Human beings are sensual beings. They rely on input from the senses to learn and grow. Sacramentals play a huge role in this. They aid the biology and psychology of the human person in guiding the spiritual.  All aspects of the human being are at work. This is why it is important for even priests and religious to wear their cassocks, collars, and habits. These are sacramentals as well. 

In closing, temptations are real. They will come once we take God and the spiritual life seriously. If we remain in the world, temptations will not come. This is because we are already on Satan's side. He has no reason to tempt in this regard. However, once we follow God and His ways, that is when temptation will come.  Satan is intelligent and observes us. He will know where to target, so always be on alert.  Arm yourself with spiritual tools and weapons so you can overcome the temptation. 

May God grant us the grace to resist temptation and to love Him above all things. Amen.

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