Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Winning the Battle Against Temptation
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
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