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Chapter 11

Temptations

 

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer.
When the Lord intends to bestow
a particular virtue on us,
He often permits us first to be tempted
by the opposite vice.
Therefore, look upon every temptation
as an invitation
to grow in a particular virtue
and a promise by God that you will be successful,
if only you stand fast.
—St. Philip Neri

 

 

After the spiritual “high” of our first conversion, which is like the elation of a newborn child who has been happily lifted up into the air by his or her father, God sets us down on the ground to learn how to think, walk and talk as a Christian, and we begin to grow up in the Lord.  We discover that, when we chose to do God’s will, temptations to sin will soon be coming.  The worldly will tempt you to follow them or turn on you in anger, the devil will try to discourage you with doubts, fears and negative thinking, the sin within will shrink from self-sacrifice and discipline, all three, because you are getting free of them.  God allows temptations in order to strengthen our “spiritual muscles,” the Christian virtues.  In our struggle against temptation, we “exercise” the opposite virtue as we pray for the grace to do God’s will and not our own, or the devil’s, or the world’s.  We lessen the sin within us, grow in grace and virtue, and gain greater and greater freedom.

Christ allowed Himself to be tempted in the desert by the devil to give us the power and example of overcoming temptations. (Matt. 4:1-11)  We are all tempted in those same three ways to disobey God’s will, whether for the sake of pleasure, pride, or worldly power.  “For all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh (for pleasure), the lust of the eyes (for power), and the pride of life (or the life of pride).” (1 John 2:16)  We are tempted to be selfish and sinful in relation to our body, soul, and possessions.  The spiritual remedy for this universal malady is some form of the Evangelical Counsels—poverty, chastity, and obedience—according to our state in life. (Chapters 15, 16, and 17)  These are sustained by the three Theological Virtues—faith, hope, and charity.  By faith in God we are able to embrace some form of poverty or spiritual detachment from material things, trusting in His divine providence.  By hope in God we are able to strive for chastity, knowing that only He can fulfill us.  By love of God we are able to practice obedience, seeing that it pleases Him that we should obey man, except where He intervenes or is contradicted.

We need to avoid the occasions of sin (those persons, places, things or activities that are, for us, a source of temptation) as far as we reasonably can.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t want to get hit by the train, stay away from the tracks.”  If we do not do what we can to avoid the occasions of sin, we can expect to fall back into the sins of the past or, perhaps, even worse ones.  God will always do His part in freeing us from the chains of vice, but He expects us to do our part and cooperate with Him to the best of our ability.  He respects our free will.  Then, when we do fall into sin, unfortunately, He will lift us back up again through humility and obedience because we are sincerely trying to grow closer to Him.

With every temptation, follow the advice of St. James the Apostle, “Submit yourselves therefore to God, but resist the devil and he will fly from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8)  Turn away from the temptation and pray.  Then, go against the temptation by practicing the opposite virtue.  “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patient endurance.  Let patient endurance complete its work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 

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