A Christian magazine once surveyed their subscribers regarding the areas of their greatest spiritual challenges. The results showed that their greatest temptation was materialism. After materialism, followed pride, self-centeredness, laziness, anger, lust, envy, gluttony and finally lying.
The survey respondents noted temptations were frequent and more forceful when they had neglected their time with God and when they were physically tired. They stated that the ability to resist temptation was made easier by a strong spiritual life, avoiding compromising situations and being accountable to someone.
Temptation will always be a part of our lives. No matter our age or the circumstances of our lives, temptation will be something that we have to deal with until the end of our journey here on earth.
Not every temptation is caused by Satan, so we need to look at the two causes of temptation.
Most temptations are caused by our fallen human nature. As we saw last Sunday, Original Sin has wounded our human nature. We simply do not have complete control over our mind, memory, imagination, will, passions and emotions. We will always struggle with something.
Sometimes we might be tempted to be lazy and sleep in, rather than go to work or to school. Sometimes we might be tempted to gossip. Sometimes we might be tempted to be impatient. Sometimes we might be tempted to be unchaste. Sometimes we might even be tempted to take something that does not belong to us.
“Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between spirit and flesh develops. But in fact, this struggle belongs to the heritage of sin. It is a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it. It is part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2516).
Satan can also cause temptation. Satan’s greatest triumph is that he has caused many people to no longer believe that he really exists. Jesus tells us who he is when he said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10: 18).
My dear friends, Satan is real and his actions in the world are very real.
The Second Vatican Council made this point very clear when it said: “The whole of man’s history has been the story of our combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 37.2).
As the holy season of Lent begins, this Sunday’s liturgy reminds us that we are engaged in a daily and dramatic battle between Christ and Satan, between good and evil. What is at stake in this battle is our eternal salvation. Satan will do all that he can do separate us from Christ.
Many people become discouraged and nervous when they are tempted. Many people can be scrupulous. They think that they are sinning when in fact they have only been tempted. Sin is only a sin when there is full consent. Temptation is not a sin; therefore, there is no need to mention temptation within the Sacrament of Confession. Actually, when we say no to the temptation and affirm our fidelity to the Lord, we need to realize that we have been victorious.
The continual interior struggle to be faithful to God does have great personal benefits. The struggle is a workout, and all training makes us stronger and allows us to go deeper.
Although it is true that we will always be tempted, we must also do all that we can to avoid temptation.
Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ring-tailed monkey. For the men of the Zulu tribe it is quite simple.
The method the Zulus use comes from their knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. He cannot do this because his fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. He cannot get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and seize him.
In 1972, during one of his General Audiences in Rome, Pope Paul VI spoke of Satan and the nature of temptation with these dramatic words: “So we know that this dark disturbing being exists and that he is still at work with his treacherous cunning; he is the hidden enemy who sows errors and misfortunes in human history. It is worth recalling the revealing Gospel parable of the good seed and the cockle, for it synthesizes and explains the lack of logic that seems to preside over our contradictory experiences: ‘An enemy has done this.’ He is ‘a murderer from the beginning, and the father of lies,’ as Christ defines him. He undermines man’s moral equilibrium with his sophistry. He is the malign, clever seducer who knows how to make his way into us through the senses, the imagination and the libido, through utopian logic, or through disordered social contacts in the give and take of our activities. He can bring about in us deviations that are all the more harmful because they seem to conform to our physical or mental makeup, or to our profound, instinctive aspirations.”
Prayer, daily Mass, filial devotion to our Lady, the reading of the Sacred Scriptures, adoration and the frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession are the proven remedies for temptation.
At the same time, it is essential that we avoid the occasions of sin that put us in the danger of not only being tempted, but also may cause us to sin. Young people who are preparing themselves for marriage need to be prudent about their relationship and establish firm boundaries that will help them to be chaste. Parents need to be vigilant about the use of the television, cell phones, music, video games and the Internet in their homes.
The triple concupiscence of the world, the flesh and the devil are just as real today as they have been over the entire history of humanity. Lent provides us with a special time of grace to examine our conscience and remove those things that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ or may in fact be an obstacle to our eternal salvation.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about Satan with these words: “He was a murderer from the start; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all: when he lies he is drawing from his own store, because he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8: 44).
He has everyone believing a big lie.
He has everyone believing that abortion is reproductive health, that fornication is cohabitation, and that sodomy is gay.
The father of lies has everyone believing that there is no such thing as sin.
And the best lie of all, he has everyone believing that he does not even exist.
Most church attending Catholics will recognize and run away quickly from the big temptations. But, the smaller, more subtle temptations do not get noticed so readily.
C.S. Lewis, in his celebrated book The Screwtape Letters, where a fictitious demon by the name of Screwtape is instructing his nephew, Wormwood, through written letters, on the fine art of how to tempt humans and draw them into evil, writes the following: “You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out in the Nothing.
Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, the soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (pages 60 – 61).
Today, for many, the temptations that plunge people into the swamp of mediocrity are far more common than the bigger, more noticeable temptations.
My dear friends, I have told you before that Our Lady of Guadalupe is not really Our Lady of Guadalupe, instead she is really Our Lady of coatlaxopeuh which is pronounced “quatlasupe” and sounds extraordinarily like the Spanish word Guadalupe. Coatlaxopeuh means She who crushes the head of the serpent.
“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Genesis 3: 15, Douay – Rheims).
In our present day apocalyptic battle with the evil one, let us turn to Mary. Let us pray the Rosary every day so that in our lives, in our homes and in our nation, she will crush the head of the serpent and give us the strength to live the Gospel with joy.