Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Winning the Battle Against Temptation

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich once quipped that if we could really see, that the fallen angels that surround us would blot out the sun.  I am no skeptic - I believe it.

Sometimes I wonder if we realize the real struggle going on in the spiritual realm in our day to day lives.  Unlike monastics and hermits, we most often do not notice the struggle as intensely as they do.  And yet, for those of us living "in the world", the struggle can be just as intense in a different way.  I think we are all somehow afflicted.

But given the fact that we live in society that seems to have forgotten the reality of the Devil (who is now just another boogeyman in horror cinema), our battles with temptation are overlooked.  The enemy overruns us without our even knowing it.

For myself, I cannot escape the war of temptation, from the little sins to the mortal ones, I always feel outnumbered and continually tested.  I know only too well my weakness in the spiritual combat - without Christ's help, I am instantly overwhelmed and my soul is beaten within an inch of its life; what's ironic is that I assist in its destruction through my own will that is enslaved again and again, held hostage as it were.  I try to run to Christ, but the devil snatches my foot, and I fall.

Now, it is easy for one's enemy to win when one is neither adequately prepared for battle, nor follows the directions of their commander, who is Christ.  Years ago, however, I found a little treatise by St. Catherine of Bologna, on seven weapons which we should utilize in the combat with darkness.  The original document is found here.  May it prove useful to you.

For my own part, the following is what I have learned the hard way in my own struggles against sin and temptation.  The second you rely on anyone or anything other than Christ to overcome temptation, the battle will be lost.  The second that one is tempted and the name of Jesus is not instaneously on their lips, is the second that one often falls into sin - "for without His help we would never escape the fangs of the other and his many fetters, wherever we might flee..."1

We read about this in the Old Testament - if the Israelites went to war without God, they were humiliated and torn apart.  So too in the spiritual life.  When I am faced with temptation, the very second I forget Christ, or stop praying for His aid, is when the enemy mounts his worst assaults.  Hesychius of Jerusalem describes the stages of the assault itself well: "First comes suggestion; secondly, coupling, when our thoughts and the thoughts of the wicked demons are mingled together; thirdly, merging, when thoughts of both kinds take counsel together, resolve on evil and plan what must be done; and fourthly comes the visible action, that is, the sin."2

Not one of us can win the battle against sin without Christ - if we attempt to do so, we become like flopping fish on a fishermen's boat being speared and beaten, when if we had of remained in the water, we would have been able to swim speedily away from danger.

But this is the key point - the victory has been won already.  As St. Anthony the Great says, "If, then, they had power, they would not let one of us Christians live, for the service of God is an abomination to the sinner."3

And I think this points to our free will, our co-operation in temptation as being the problem.  But by various enticements, we are led into sin, through forgetfulness, carelessness, and spiritual weakness.  Therefore, it may be a good thing to constantly remind ourselves that the battle is already lost for the devil.  Additionally, I think it profitable to always consider Him who was crucified for the very sins you commit and may be continuing to commit.  I have often found that even a brief meditation on the Passion of Jesus is enough to stir my obstinate soul to greater contrition than that of an imperfect kind.

In closing, I offer the final words of hope, spoken by one of the greatest saints to have ever lived, St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

"But surely if a man falls he will rise again?  Yes.  It is in that hope that I have chosen the path of truth by which I shall ascend in humility back whence I fell through being proud.  I shall ascend, I say, singing, 'Lord, it is good for me that you have humbled me.  The law of your mouth is better for me than a thousand pieces of gold or silver."4

1 - The Ethical Discourses, VII
2 - Texts on Sobriety and Prayer, 46 
3 - qtd. in St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony of the Desert, VII
4 - On Humility and Pride, IX:27

12 comments:

  1. Hi Jason,
    If I've learned anything in my years, it's that it is much easier to fall into sin than to call on Christ for mercy and help. I remember two comments relayed to me re sin. First, a well learned friend quipped 'the devil need not go to much extreme to drag us into his clutches. We do well easily by ourselves. Just view the world around.' Second, a Capuchin priest, Fr. Scott Seethaler, in a retreat discussion, offered 'the devil doesn't come at us like a hoary vile monster. Oh no, he comes at us as some comely vixen easily luring us astray.' I take to heart that every sin I've committed or will commit is cleansed through the sacrament by God's greatest gift, His mercy. I also reflect that each sin presses my Saviour's Holy Face into the earth in the Garden of Olives. I only need to focus on Him. Easily said, yet hard to do.
    Peace to you my son and brother.

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    1. Peace to you Bernardus!
      This is very good advice, very true too. Let us all pray that we may not be led into temptation.

      ICXC NIKA
      Jason

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  2. Replies
    1. All I can say is thank God.

      Prayers for whatever you may or may not be going through friend.

      ICXC NIKA
      Jason

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  3. Wow! This came at the right time. God is always calling. Big help thank you!!!

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  4. I needed this reminder tonight, thank you and God Bless you and your work

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  5. Hesychius of Jerusalem's four stages of capitulation to sin is dynamite! One of the most useful frameworks I've heard in years. Thanks be to God!

    As thanks for your great work here, I'll point out Walbran Park to you, if you don't know it already. It is my favourite look out point in Victoria. While the Glory of God's creation is all around, I always found it poignantly expressed there.

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  6. Thank you brother may god blees u in a mighty way. Jesus, Mary & Joseph I love you " Save Souls"

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  7. The link is broken. Please fix it. It sound like a mighty help. God Bless.

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  8. Just as a parent helps a toddler in learning to walk, so God helps as, each time we fall, it's just another lesson. As long as we keep getting up, like that toddler, we will learn to walk :)

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  9. Try the following link that I had googled instead of the broken link: http://www.catholicbible101.com/St.%20Catherine%20of%20Bologna%20-%20The%20Seven%20Spiritual%20Weapons.pdf

    God bless,

    Nick

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