Whenever the going is tough, I always remember abba Isidore. The story goes that a monk was finding it hard to resist temptation. His passions were all alive. Unable to stay any longer in his cell, he went to find abba Isidore and told him that lust was just too much for him.
Abba Isidore calmly exhorted him to go back to his cell, reassuring him that the grace of God is able to conquer all. The monk however could not take it any more. “No, abba, I cannot. I will fall into sin definitely.”
So abba Isidore took the monk out in the desert and after walking for some time, he asked him look towards the west. Giving him the special grace of seeing the invisible world, he was able to see hordes of demons all ready to launch an attack. He was horrified.
“These are the demons God has permitted to attack you”, abba Isidore said calmly. The monk was now at his pits.
They kept walking until Abba Isidore asked him to look this time towards the east. The monk did just that. There he saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels all in shining armor ready fight back the enemies on the left.
“You see,” abba Isidore was saying. “These are the angels God has sent to defend you. They are more in number and their weapons are more lethal than the ones of the enemy. They will easily subdue your demons.”
The monk went back to his cell, giving thanks to God. His courage has been restored.
Temptation is everywhere. On the old TV show “Hee Haw,” Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who said he broke his arm in two places. The doc replied, “Well then, stay out of them places!” That is certainly good advice. But sometimes them-places are in us.
It starts slowly, with a thought or a desire or a look… The fatal step is the next step – the moment you give weight to the thought or desire and start pondering on it… ‘Why did he tell me that word?’ ‘Isn’t she attractive?’ ‘Why is that money lying around?’ I look. I see. I brood over. I want. And I’m on the downward path. As someone put it, Eve… Listened, was Lured, Lied, Looked, Lusted, Lost. 6 Ls!
Many times yes, we lose. But this is not inevitable. There is a way out. Writing to the Church in Corinth, Greece, Saint Paul outlines three basic attitudes that can become our defense strategy. First of all he says that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.” Everyone has temptations. Even Jesus Christ had them. The famous Kempis says that as “fire tries iron, so temptation tries a just man.” So do not feel alone in the battle.
Then Paul adds that God is faithful, and He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” We will never be swept away by an uncontrollable temptation. We are never put in a can’t-handle-it situation.
A very popular book in the protestant literature was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress. It is an allegorical plot about a “Christian” journeying towards salvation. In one of the scenes, Christian is led to a wall where fire is blazing from a grate. A man is trying to douse the fire with water. Christian looks beyond the wall and is surprised to see that on the other side there is another man secretly pouring oil on the fire to keep it ablaze. Satan tries to quench faith, but Christ keeps it alive. Satan is powerful and smart. Jesus Christ is a billion-billion-billion times more powerful and smarter than Satan.
The third attitude is perhaps the most important. “With the temptation, God will provide the way of escape also.” When a temptation hits you, look for the open window. Look for the lifeboat that God will certainly send to help you find a way out.
One other desert father used to say, “Just as no one can cause harm to someone who is close to a king, so no more can Satan do anything to us if our souls are close to God for he said truly, ‘Draw near to me and I will be near to you’. But since we often exalt ourselves, the enemy has no difficulty in drawing our souls towards shameful passions.”
This is perhaps the basic problem. Our pride. This is why God sometimes lifts His hand from us so that He can deflate our ego.
So be smart. We have all the props that we need. The only thing that we are asked to is to ‘avoid the occasions of sin’ as the Catechism teaches. What surroundings are you in when you fall? Avoid them. What supports do you have that sustain your sin? Eliminate them. What people are you usually with? Avoid them.
And … one last fling. Do not believe the devil when he tells you that … ‘Just once won’t hurt’. Or when he tries to insinuate that … ‘Now that you have ruined your life, you are beyond God’s assistance, and might as well continue sinning’. He is a liar by nature.
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He is also a coward.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.