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Fighting the Good Fight: Resisting Temptation
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By Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
There has been a growing interest in the various manifestations of Satan in our midst. Perhaps due to the use of social communications, we have become cognizant more than ever of the troubling increase of involvement with Satanic cults, especially among the young.
This awareness, however, does not necessarily mean that we understand any better the workings of the Devil around us. On the contrary, one could argue persuasively that with the dearth of substantive catechesis during the last forty years, Catholics may be more ignorant than ever of the Evil One and his pervasive presence.
In discussing the workings of Satan, many spiritual authors focus on two categories: 1.) Extraordinary Satanic Activity, which covers varied evil disturbances like external pain caused by demons, diabolical possession, diabolical oppression, diabolical obsession, diabolical infestation and diabolical subjugation; 2.) Ordinary Satanic Activity, which, in a word, is temptation.
This pamphlet addresses very briefly the second category, namely the workings of Satan in his "ordinary" activity, that is temptation.
Concerning the first category, for further information about extraordinary Satanic activity, one should have recourse to an approved author; if some diabolical disturbance seems present, one should approach a competent spiritual director and even the Local Bishop.
Our Three Spiritual Foes
There are valuable treatments of the important subject of temptation. This writer is especially indebted to that of the well-known French Sulpician priest, the Very Reverend Father Adolphe Tanquerey, D.D. (1854-1932), presented in his classic The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology (Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1930, second and revised edition, translated by the Reverend Father Herman Branderis, S.S., A.M., pages 101-119 and 427-436).
We have three spiritual foes: 1.) the flesh; 2.) the world; 3.) the Devil. The flesh is often called "concupiscence," which is the inclination to sin deep within us. The world and the Devil are external to us, but also very powerful threats to our true and lasting happiness. Here let us say a word about each, with a nod to Father Tanquerey for his assistance.
1.) We base our description of the flesh on the famous passage of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist (+ circa 100 A.D.) in his First Letter (2:16): "For all that is in the world, the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world." Therefore, the spiritual foe we term the flesh may be further divided into: A.) the concupiscence of the flesh, which is the inordinate love of sensual pleasures; B.) the concupiscence of the eyes, which is all unwholesome curiosity and inordinate love of the goods of our earth; C.) the pride of life, which is excessive self-love and is accompanied by vanity.
2.) The world signifies "not the total aggregate of men upon the earth, among whom are found both choice souls and irreligious men; but the sum-total of those who oppose Jesus Christ and are the slaves of the threefold concupiscence." Identified as such are unbelievers, the indifferent, hardened sinners and those who believe and even practice their religion but do so mired in a moral laxity.
3.) The Devil is representative of Satan and the Fallen Angels. The Devil was jealous of the contentment experienced by Adam and Eve and so tempted them to sin. Ever since he was successful in the Garden of Eden, the Devil has continued his efforts against men and women, boys and girls with the hideous goal of leading all human persons away from their beloved and loving Creator.
Ordinary Satanic Activity--Temptation
Temptation comes to us from the flesh, the world and the Devil. Father Tanquerey defined temptation as "a solicitation to evil on the part of our spiritual foes." God allows us to be tempted so that we will merit Heaven, but He does not tempt us directly. Temptation is a means of purification and an instrument of spiritual progress. By temptation, we grow in humility and love of God.
Some persons are tempted frequently and intensely, while others are tempted less and without being deeply agitated.
The great Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Bishop and Doctor of the Church, taught that there are three distinct but related phases in each temptation: A.) suggestion, which is the proposal of some evil; B.) pleasure, which happens when after the moving towards the suggested evil, there is some attendant delight; C.) consent, which is when the will delights in the pleasure, willingly enjoys it and yields to it. Sin occurs only when there is consent.
Our Response to Temptation
When we overcome temptation, our souls are aided remarkably. A magnificent triumph results when temptation is shunned. Father Tanquerey isolated three things that we must do to conquer temptation: 1.) forestall temptation; 2.) battle against it; 3.) thank God after a victory and rise quickly after any fall.
1.) Vigilance and prayer are required to forestall temptation. Regarding vigilance, we assert: presumption that compels us to place ourselves unnecessarily in the midst of temptation must be avoided, as must vain terrors which increase the danger and harmful occasions of sin--persons, places, things and events. When prayer is added to vigilance, in the words of Father Tanquerey, we become "invincible. God is concerned in our success, for it is He Whom the Devil assails in us, it is His work which He would wreck in us."
2.) Resistance against temptation is indispensable. Serious temptation must be confronted: A.) promptly, without hesitation; B.) energetically, with determination and strength; C.) perseveringly, with tenacity; D.) humbly, which "attracts grace, and grace gives us the victory."
3.) Temptation vanquished means that the blessed person must render gratitude to Almighty God, for from Him derives the conquest. Sin surrendered to is an invitation to the repentant sinner "to humble himself sincerely before God, to acknowledge his incapacity to do any good, to place his trust in God, to be all the more cautious, and return to the practice of penance. A fault thus repaired will not constitute a serious obstacle to perfection."
We do not throw ourselves headlong into temptation without real necessity; however, neither do we fail to see that when God permits us to be tempted, amazing spiritual progress is possible.
Satan is indeed active in our world by way of temptation, but when we pray daily, receive the Sacraments (particularly Confession and the Most Holy Eucharist) worthily and often, perform acts of charity and self-denial, avail ourselves of the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and the Angels and Saints and avoid the near occasion of sin, we increase in Sanctifying Grace and overcome the temptations emanating from the flesh, the world and the Devil.
Such a happy result glorifies the Most Blessed Trinity and speeds us along the challenging path that will end for us in Paradise.
This pamphlet is available from Eternal Life (902 W. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown, KY 40004) and may be obtained by calling 1-800-842-2871. Permission to print this pamphlet was granted by His Excellency the Most Reverend Michael J. Sheridan, D.D., Bishop of Colorado Springs.
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