Conquering our temptations
The Church and the saints teach us temptations to sin come from three sources: the world, the flesh and the devil. In today’s Gospel, we hear St Matthew’s account of Our Lord being tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11). But Our Lord, being God, could only be tempted externally, meaning only by the world and the devil, not the flesh. They could tempt Him from the outside, but could never affect His mind and His will. But Our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted in order to show us how we should act in times of temptation. The most important thing is always to try and resist the first impulse of sin when it rears its ugly head. The enemy is more easily conquered if you immediately refuse him entry into your mind.
However, when we’ve spent years trying to fight our sinful inclinations through prayer and strong resolutions, it can be most discouraging when we repeatedly fall into these sins over and over again, and it might make us think that temptations are impossible to conquer. It can even make people think they are not destined for Heaven, which is a serious error. These are the tactics the devil uses to resign us to sinning and to despair. Such thoughts are totally wrong. It is absolutely certain that God wishes everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). This is why He became man in the Person of JESUS Christ and poured out His Precious Blood for us on the Cross. Having gone through this out of love for us, how could He ever deny us the graces necessary for salvation?
So never be discouraged. Repeated falls do not mean God has abandoned us. If we do everything we can to be faithful, He will not deny us the help we need. If you fall, humbly ask His forgiveness because He understands our weaknesses. Our Lord also said we must forgive others not seven times, but seventy times seven (Matt 18:22), meaning always. If God expects this of us, He will surely always be merciful when we sincerely repent of our sins.
So why does God allow us to fall time and time again? We can never know His mind exactly, but it could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps we don’t put up a strong enough fight, or maybe we don’t pray for the grace and avoid the near occasions of sin, allowing ourselves instead to be in dangerous situations. Or maybe we are proud and He wants to teach us humility and that we must rely on Him for everything. On the other hand, St Philip Neri (1515-95) said, “Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God that you will be successful, if only you stand fast.”
So this Lent, let us renew our resolutions. We mustn’t lose confidence in God. If we persevere in our struggles against sin and back them up by constant prayer, He will deliver us at precisely the time He knows is best.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC