Lift up therefore thy face to heaven. Behold I, and all My saints with Me, who in this world have had a great conflict, do now rejoice, are now comforted, are now secure, are now at rest, and they shall for all eternity abide with Me in the kingdom of My Father.
Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
Temptation is the action of the evil spirit upon our soul, in order to induce us to sin; he excites within us the concupiscence of the eyes, or the pride of life. Remember the temptation of Eve in paradise, and the threefold temptation of Our Lord in the desert. All the saints were greatly tempted: St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, was tempted to blaspheme; St. Francis of Sales was tempted to despair; St. Francis of Assisi was tormented by suggestions of impurity. Some saints experienced temptations against the faith; some temptations lasted for years. God tempteth no man (Jas. i. 13); He simply permits man to be tempted. It is the devil who hammers at you when you are tempted. “Our wrestling is against the spirits of wickedness in high places ” (Eph. vi. 12). On earth we are surrounded by robbers; many of us are overcome and wounded by them.
The conflict with the spirit of evil is a more critical struggle; it is carried on covertly, and against a more powerful adversary–one who spares no pains and knows no shame; who, when he is repulsed, returns all the more defiantly to the attack. For six thousand years he has tempted mankind; such long practice has made him perfect. He excites within us concupiscence of the flesh, or concupiscence of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John ii. 16). In this threefold manner he tempted Our Lord. Many temptations come upon a man through no fault of his own (witness Job); some are the result of culpable negligence (witness Eve). The evil enemy as a rule attacks our weak point, our affection for creatures. Like a fowler, he attracts the birds to his net by offering them the food they like best. Physical infirmities give the devil more power over us; everyone knows how apt the sick are to be fretful, impatient and exacting. The devil sets to work craftily. He transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. xi. 14); that is, he deceives us by assuming an appearance of candor and piety. His artifices prove his weakness; he would not resort to them were he powerful enough to do without them.
Temptation is not in itself sinful, only acquiescence in the suggestions of the tempter is sin. Hence we ought not to be alarmed and uneasy when we feel the incentive to sin, but we should trust in God’s help, saying: “O Lord, make haste to help me! Jesus and Mary be my help!” To tremble in the hour of temptation betrays a want of confidence in the divine assistance; the devil will assail the fearful soul only the more fiercely. Unless we remain calm, we cannot possibly conquer. Those who lose their composure are like a bird caught in the net; the more it flutters and tries to escape, the more it becomes entangled in the meshes. Our Lord promises us: “In your patience you shall possess your souls” (Luke xxi. 19). The good Christian is like a soldier, who as a rule rejoices when war breaks out, in the prospect of gaining rich booty.
2. God allows us to be tempted out of mercy, for the good of our souls. As the schoolmaster examines his scholars in order to give them a good testimonial, so God deals with the souls of men; He allows us to be tried by temptation to give us the opportunity of manifesting our loyalty to Him, and acquiring a claim to the recompense He promises us. Thus He has only our welfare in view. The tempter however, the evil enemy, means no good to us; he aims at our ruin, as the history of Job testifies. Temptations may therefore be said to be a mark of the divine favor. The archangel Raphael said to Tobias: “Because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee ” (Tob. xii. 13). God sends temptations to those whom He trusts; hence it is that those who fear Him are more sorely tempted than other men. The devil does not tempt those who are already in his power, but those whom he fears will elude his grasp or who may be injurious to him. St. Ephrem in a vision saw a large city, the inhabitants of which were very corrupt; only one devil was sitting on the wall, and he was half asleep. But in the desert he saw a whole swarm of devils busily engaged within the cell of a hermit. Thus the fact that a man is greatly tempted proves him to be a friend of God, and a stranger to, an enemy of the devil. Pirates do not attack an empty ship, but one which they know to be returning home with a valuable cargo. A king does not take up arms against loyal subjects, but against rebels who resist his authority. Temptations have besides the following advantages: They rouse us from a state of tepidity (they are what the spur is to the horse); they cleanse us from imperfections, as the stormy sea throws out foreign substances; they make us humble, by acquainting us with our frailty; they increase our strength, as a high wind makes the tree strike deeper root; they augment our charity, as the breeze makes the flame burn more fiercely; they afford us a means of expiating sin in this life; finally, they add to our glory hereafter, as the beauty of a jewel is enhanced by polishing. Thus we see that the tempter does us good service, and his temptations are steps in the ladder which leads to heaven. Therefore let him who is tempted rather pray for strength to resist the temptation than for its entire removal. We read that St. Paul thrice besought the Lord that the angel of Satan might depart from him, and asked in vain (2 Cor. xii. 8).
God permits every man to be tempted, but He never permits us to be tempted beyond our strength. Temptations must come to every man. No one can be crowned unless he has conquered; no one can conquer unless he fight, and no one can fight without an adversary. Hence temptations must come. For this reason God subjected the angels to a probation, and also our first parents. And subsequently to the Fall trials have been the lot of mankind (witness Job and Tobias). ” The life of man upon earth is a warfare ” (Job vii. 1). The Apostle compares the Christian to one who runs in a race (1 Cor. ix. 25). “Yet God will not suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear” (1 Cor. x. 13). The devil can only tempt man within the limit God sets him, as we learn from the history of Job. And when God permits violent temptations to assail us, He gives grace sufficient to enable us to withstand them (2 Cor. xii. 9). The stronger the temptation, the more abundant is the grace; the greater the danger, the more potent the divine assistance. No sinner can venture to say as his excuse that the temptation was too great for him to resist.
3. We ought to protect ourselves from temptation by assiduous work, by keeping our thoughts fixed upon God, and by continual self-conquest. In order to hold a fortress against the enemy two things are necessary: (1) Strong fortifications and well-guarded gates; (2) In case of attack valiant defense. In like manner we must protect our soul, to prevent the entrance of the evil enemy. Our fortifications will be: Continual occupation; this is the surest means of holding temptations aloof. Thieves do not break into a house where work is going on. Idleness is the parent of crime. We shall also find it easy to resist temptation, if we keep our mind fixed on God. A traveler journeying towards a fixed destination meets with few difficulties on his way, whereas the vagrant, wandering hither and thither, is sure to get in trouble. So it is with the Christian who makes God his final end, and one who has no aim in life. Hence Christ exhorts us: “Watch ye and pray, that you enter not into temptation ” (Matt. xxvi. 41). Wolves do not approach a watch fire and the devil leaves those alone who are on their guard. When Moses stood with arms uplifted to God, Israel was victorious; but when through weariness he let them fall, that moment the enemy prevailed. The majority of the sins good people commit come from forgetfulness of God’s presence; the habit of self-control also greatly helps us to conquer temptation. He who is accustomed to repress his impulses is like a soldier, well trained in the use of arms before he goes to battle. Practice in self-conquest strengthens the will. But attachment to creatures makes a man an easy prey to the devil; just as one who carries a heavy load cannot run away when robbers attack him.
4. When we are tempted we ought to betake ourselves immediately to prayer, or think of our last end, or of the evil consequences of sin. If the enemy dares to attack the fortress in spite of the ramparts raised about it, it behooves us to defend it manfully. When assailed we must instantly assume the defensive; for of all things it is most important to repulse the first onslaught. The greater our determination, the sooner will our adversary be discouraged. If we falter, he will force an entrance, and gain the mastery over our imagination. He acts like soldiers, who when they have taken the enemy’s guns, instantly turn them upon him. St. Jerome says that he who does not resist immediately is already half conquered. A conflagration can be extinguished at the outset, but not later on. A young tree is easily bent, not an old one. But since we can do nothing in our own strength, we must strive to obtain divine grace. Wherefore let him who is tempted have recourse to prayer; let him imitate the apostles when a storm arose on the sea of Genesareth; or the child who, when he sees a large dog coming, runs to his mother. He who neglects prayer in the time of temptation is like a general, who, when surrounded by the enemy, does not ask for reinforcements from his monarch. Adam fell into sin because when he was tempted he did not look to God for help. We should say a Hail Mary, or at least devoutly utter the holy names of Jesus and Mary. ” These holy names,” St. John Chrysostom declares, ” have an intrinsic power over the devil, and are a terror to hell.” At the name of Mary the devils tremble with fear; when she is invoked their power forsakes them as wax melts before the fire. Prayer is the weapon wherewith to ward off the assaults of our spiritual foe; it is more potent than all the efforts of the demons because by prayer we procure the assistance of God, and nothing can withstand His might. Prayer is exactly opposed to temptation for it enlightens the understanding and fortifies the will. The sign of the cross and holy water have also great efficacy against the spirit of evil. He flies from the cross as a dog flies at the sight of the whip. Holy water derives its efficacy from the prayers of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas and many other saints frequently made use of the sign of the cross with excellent results. St. Teresa on the other hand constantly employed holy water. It is well to sprinkle the sick and dying with holy water, and we should never omit to take it on entering a church.
A second means of conquering temptations is to turn our thoughts elsewhere, above all to think of the last things: of death, of the judgment, of eternal punishment. “Remember thy last end and thou shalt never sin” (Ecclus. vii. 40). Or we may consider the terrible consequences of sin. The Romans used to say: “Whatever thou doest, act wisely and think of the end.” In some cases, especially when temptations against the faith or against purity present themselves, the wiser course is to despise the temptation rather than grapple with it. Proud people, like the devil, are soonest got rid of by ignoring them altogether. If the passer-by takes no notice of the dog, he soon leaves off harking. If one keeps still the bees do not harm him, but if one drives them off, then they sting. Again, we may follow Our Lord’s example, and resolutely forbid the tempter to remain. Christ repulsed him with the words: “Begone, Satan” (Matt. iv. 10). St. James bids us: “Resist the devil and he will fly from you ” (James. iv. 7). One may also retort upon the tempter by quoting the word of God, as Our Lord did. St. Peter says: “Whom resist ye, strong in faith” (1 Pet. v. 9). Another means of overcoming temptation is by humbling ourselves before God. “To the humble He giveth grace” (1 Pet. v. 5). St. Augustine in the hour of temptation was accustomed to exclaim: “Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am but dust and my frailty is great.” When we are pressed hard by temptation, it is well to confess to the priest those sins of our past life of which we are most ashamed; this is a sure means of repelling the severest temptations. It is advisable to acquaint one’s confessor with all one’s temptations. Satan would have us keep silence concerning them, whereas it is God’s will that we should discover them to our superiors and spiritual guides, for if sinful thoughts are disclosed, the temptation is already half overcome. To open its griefs gives, moreover, great relief to the troubled heart.
Devils who Tempt
All the angels whom God created were, at the beginning, in the grace of God and well pleasing to Him. But many of the angels sinned through pride, and were cast down by God into hell forever (2 Pet. ii. 4). When God created the angels, He created them all in His grace. But none can be crowned without a struggle (2 Tim. ii. 5), and God subjected the angels to trial, that so, according to the universal law of the universe, they might earn their reward of eternal happiness. In this trial a large number of the angels fell. They desired to be equal to God, and refused to submit their will to His (Cf. Is. xiv. 12-14). They did not abide in the truth (John viii. 44). Hence arose a great war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought, and prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. The dragon was cast out and all his angels with him (Apoc. xii. 8, 9). They were all cast down to hell; not that they were confined to any local hell, for they are allowed to wander about the earth tempting men, but they carry their hell with them wherever they go, inasmuch as they everywhere suffer the torments of hell. Their leader was Satan, or Lucifer, for this was his name before he fell, and he is said to have been the highest of all the angels. The number of the fallen angels is less than that of those who remained faithful. The fall of the angels was the more terrible, because they had previously enjoyed such a high estate. The higher the place from which we fall, the worse the fall. At the Last Day the evil angels will be judged, and their wickedness and its punishment will be made known to the whole world (Jude 6; 2 Pet. ii. 4). To deny the existence of the evil angels is a grievous sin against faith.
The evil angels are our enemies; they envy us, seek to lead us to sin, and can, with God’s permission, injure us in our bodies, or in our worldly goods. The evil spirits are our enemies. With all their spite they can do nothing against God; so they vent their fury against men, who bear the image of God. Many theologians have asserted that the places of the angels who fell will be filled in heaven by men. “The knowledge that a creature of earth will occupy his place in heaven,” says St. Thomas, “causes the devil more pain than the flames of hell.” It was the devil who led our first parents to sin, and also Judas (John xiii. 27). The devil can also, so far as God permits, injure the bodies and the goods of men, as in the case of Job and the possessed in Our Lord’s time. The devil’s great object is to effect the ruin of the Church, which he knows is to be the means of destroying his power on earth (Matt. xvi. 18; Luke xxii. 31). He also knows that he and his angels will one day be judged by the saints (1 Cor. vi. 3). Many believe that as God assigns to each child at its birth a guardian angel, so the devil assigns to each a special devil to tempt it. Hence we must imitate the Jews when rebuilding the Temple (2 Esdr. iv. 17). We must work with one hand and with the other defend ourselves against the foe.
Yet the devil cannot do real harm to anyone who keeps the commandments of God and avoids all sin. The dog that is tied up cannot do any harm to those who keep out of range of his chain. The devil is like this dog. He can work on our memory and our imagination, but he has no power over our will or our understanding. He can persuade us, but he cannot compel us to evil. We must therefore energetically and promptly repel all bad thoughts that the devil puts into our heads. “Resist the devil,” says St. James (iv. 7), “and he will fly from you.” Our Lord dispatched the devil very promptly when He said “Begone, Satan!” It is a great thing to treat the devil and his temptations with great contempt, and also to turn our thoughts to other things, and not allow ourselves to be disturbed or troubled by his suggestions. He who allows himself to dwell on evil thoughts draws near to the dog who is chained, and is almost sure to be bitten by him. If the devil were allowed to use his full power against us we could not resist him, for when he fell he did not lose any of his natural powers, though he lost eternal happiness.
God gives the devil special power over some men:
1. God often allows men who are striving after high perfection, whom He especially favors, to be tried by the devil for long years in some extraordinary way, in order to cleanse them from their imperfections, and thoroughly humble them.
God allows His elect to be constantly besieged by the devil for years, and to endure temptations of extraordinary violence. Sometimes the devil appears to them in visible form; sometimes he assails their ears with hideous sounds; sometimes he is permitted to strike them and to throw them on the ground. God protects their life, but allows the devil to torment them with bodily pain and with sickness. They suffer the most terrible temptations against faith and against purity. The evil one has no power over their souls, but sometimes God allows him power over their bodies, so that they do and say the most extraordinary things in spite of themselves, in order that so they may be humbled in the eyes of men. Holy Job was assailed by the devil; and so was Our Lord in the desert; so were St. Anthony, St. Teresa, St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, the Cure d’Ars, and many other saints. These holy persons knew that God would never allow them to be tempted beyond their powers of resistance, and that God permitted these temptations for their greater sanctification. They were perfectly resigned to the will God, and at length drove away the devil by their fearless resistance to his assaults.
Thus when the devil threatened the life of St. Catharine of Sienna, she answered, “Do what you can; what is pleasing to God is pleasing to me.” St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi said to him, “You do not seem to know that you are preparing for me a glorious victory.” St. Anthony in the desert defied him, saying, “How feeble you are! I suppose that is why you are bringing such a crowd of devils to tempt me.” When those who are tempted meet the devil with the courage of a lion, he has no more power against them than a startled hare, but when they fear him, then he comes on with all the force and boldness of a lion. He can always be driven away by the means of grace provided by the Church; by the sign of the cross, by invoking the name of Jesus and Mary, by holy water, by earnest prayer, by the use of relics, etc. The more violent the assaults of the devil, the greater will be the protection afforded by almighty God to His servants; often during times of trial they have revelations from God, or saints and angels appear to them to console and strengthen them. Those who deny the reality of these occurrences, of which we so often read in the lives of the saints, show very little acquaintance with the spiritual life.
Yet it is the spirit of the Church to receive all accounts of these preternatural and supernatural occurrences with great caution, as there is always a danger of illusion or deceit. Nor need ordinary mortals fear such special attacks of the evil one; they are reserved for the special friends and favorites of God.
2. It also sometimes happens that God allows men of vicious lives, or those who sin against faith, to be punished or led astray by evil spirits. God sometimes permits that the bodies of men who have given themselves over to the indulgence of their passions be possessed by evil spirits, as a town is occupied by a general who has conquered it. This state is called possession. In the time of Our Lord there were many thus possessed, and who in consequence were dumb (Matt. ix. 32), blind (Matt. xii. 22), and exceeding fierce (Matt. viii. 28). God permitted that then there should be many such, that He might show the power of the Son of God and the feebleness of the devils in His presence, and that He might drive them forth from those whom they tormented.
At the Approach of Temptation
My God! let me rather die than offend thee. My Divine Saviour! assist me by thy powerful grace : mercifully preserve me from yielding to this temptation, and give me a great horror for sin. Lord ! save me, or I shall perish.
When you have Committed Sin
Alas! my God, another fault! Art thou not ready to withdraw thy graces from me? But, my infinitely good God ! I repent; and I offer thee in expiation of this fault, all that my Divine Saviour has done to expiate it; I offer thee the sorrow of His Sacred Heart.
O Jesus! come to my help and grant me grace not
to yield to this temptation. My Jesus, mercy.
(100 days indulgence each time)
Admonitions of the Saints
God gives the Devil power against us in two modes: either for punishment when we sin, or for glory when we are tested.–St. Cyprian of Carthage
Draw near to God, and Satan will flee from you–(St. Ephraem the Syrian)
The soul possesses freedom; and though the Devil can make suggestions, he doesn’t have the power to compel you against your will.–(St. Cyril of Jerusalem)
The Devil’s snare doesn’t catch you unless you are already nibbling on the Devil’s bait.–(St. Ambrose)
The strategy of our adversary can be compared to the tactics of a commander intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. The leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the fortress, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the adversary of our human nature examines from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal, and moral. Wherever he discovers the defenses of eternal salvation to be the weakest and most lacking, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.–(St. Ignatius of Loyola)