Temptation: 12 Things to Know
As we read in the Catechism, “Temptation is an attraction, either from outside oneself or from within, to act contrary to right reason and the commandments of God. Jesus himself during his life on earth was tempted, put to the test, to manifest the opposition between himself and the devil and the triumph of his saving work over Satan (CCC 538). The Catechism also teaches that the so-called capital sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth/laziness, are the root of all temptation. These vices replace the vision of the good (God) with the illusions of self-fulfillment, self-power, and self-advancement. Some temptations seem harmless and others are truly perverse. All temptations should be resisted with God’s grace or they will lead to sin, and the pain that accompanies sin.
On February 17, 2013, commenting on the temptation of Christ in the desert, then Pope Benedict XVI said in his Sunday Angelus Address (the second last Angelus Address that the Pope gave before his retirement on February 28, 2013),
“Man is never wholly free from temptation… but with patience and true humility we become stronger than any enemy. The patience and humility required to defeat the enemy come by following Christ every day and from learning to build our life not outside of him or as if he did not exist, but in him and with him, because he is the source of true life. In contrast to this is the temptation to remove God, to order our lives and the world on our own, relying solely on our own abilities. This is why in Jesus God speaks to man in an unexpected way, with a unique and concrete closeness, full of love, because God has now become incarnate and enters the world of man to take sin upon himself, to overcome evil and bring man back into the world of God.”
This echoes St. John’s teaching, “For love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:3-5).”
The gift of faith is dynamic. It leads us into God’s victory over temptation and sin. Faith is a difficult thing also. Why? Because it means we are to be poor in spirit, that is, to regain the attitude of a child who believes and relies in God. The opposite of such faith in God is pride because a proud person thinks that everything depends on him, as if God did not exist in his life. Self-reliance in the face of temptation and sin is folly.
Knowing the tendency we have to pride, egoism, self-reliance, independence, and impatience, the evil one entices us to rely on our own calculations. This is why we often miss the God-given way out of temptation. God desires our childlike faith so that, in him and with him, we have confidence that he fights for us. The Word of God teaches us this lesson.
St. Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 5:8-11, “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you suffered a little. To him be dominion forever.”
Every Christian knows what it is to experience temptation and to suffer from sin, both ours, and those of others. But we believe that God restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes us after we suffer for a while because he is merciful to repentant sinners and brings good out of evil. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the loving way that God liberates his people –even those poor souls who suffer the painful condition of severe diabolical obsession or complete possession. Yes, even those poor souls who at some point in their life became so desperate so as to sell their soul to the devil—God loves and liberates them when they turn to him with repentance and faith! One Rome exorcist told a classroom of priests, “Possession can be a school of holiness, for the victim and their family.” How? Faith! The faith of an evangelical child manifests in the desperate cry for help, and their humble dependency upon God’s priest and the prayers of the Church.
Fr. Tadeusz Dajczar writes,
“The unusual love that God has toward sinners and God’s pedagogy toward us is shown in the parable of the Prodigal Son. If our faith becomes lukewarm and has no expression, God can allow us to fall. God does not want evil but may want its consequences, since the consequences of evil impart grace and the call to be converted. This can be seen very clearly in the example of the Prodigal Son… After we fall, we should not feel down in spirit, since we hurt God more in this way, than by the sin itself. Moreover, saints say that after a fall we are to expect graces greater than before the fall.”
This is the reality of Divine Mercy.
The most powerful encounter with Divine Mercy can occur in confessional. Catholics have recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation. The experience of sacramental Divine Mercy brings me to understand that I am beloved of God. When we dare to believe that, our bond of love for God is strengthened. Then my spiritual armor is fortified for resisting temptation because love is the sum of the armor of God.
On February 18, 2014, in his morning mass homily at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis stressed,
“When we are tempted, only the Word of God, the Word of Jesus saves us. Christ is always willing to teach us how to escape from temptation. Jesus is great because he not only brings us out of temptation, but also gives us more confidence. The Lord waits for us, …trusts us who are so tempted, who are sinners…He always opens horizons. Where does temptation came from? How does it work in us? The Apostle tells us that it is not from God, but from our passions, our inner weaknesses, from the wounds left in us by original sin.”
The Holy Father warned, “Temptation begins with a tranquil air, and grows. It grows, and it grows and if one does not stop it, it fills everything. Temptation is contagious and closes us in an environment where you can’t get out easily.” At times of temptation, he said, “We do not hear the Word of God, we don’t hear. We don’t understand. Temptation closes us in, takes away the ability to see ahead, closes every horizon and in this way leads us to sin.” Pope Francis said that, “The Lord tells those who are tempted, “Lift up your eyes, look at the horizon, do not be closed, do not close in on yourself.” The Pope stressed, “this Word will save us from falling into sin in the moment of temptation.” This reminds us of the Psalmist who wrote, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11).”
12 Things to Know About Temptation: A Summary
- Temptation is an attraction, either from outside oneself or from within, to act contrary to right reason and the commandments of God (CCC 538).
- The capital sins: pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth/laziness are at the root of all temptation.
- “Man is never wholly free from temptation… but with patience and true humility we become stronger than any enemy” (Pope Benedict XVI).
- “The patience and humility required to defeat the enemy come by following Christ every day and from learning to build our life not outside of him” (Pope Benedict XVI).
- The victory that conquers the world is our faith (1 John 5:4). When we fall, begin again in faith.
- The gift of faith is dynamic. It leads us into God’s victory over temptation and sin.
- The opposite of faith in God is pride because a proud person thinks that everything depends on him, as if God did not exist in his life. Self-reliance in the face of temptation is folly.
- Temptation closes us in, takes away the ability to see ahead, closes every horizon and in this way leads us to sin” (Pope Francis).
- Christ is always willing to teach us how to escape from temptation. Jesus is great because he not only brings us out of temptation, but also gives us more confidence (Pope Francis).
- If our faith becomes lukewarm and has no expression, God can allow us to fall. God does not want evil but may want its consequences, since the consequences of evil impart grace and the call to be converted (Fr. Tadeusz Dajczar).
- “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
- When our bond of love for God is fortified by sacramental confession, our spiritual armor is strengthened for resisting continuous temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil.
Kathleen Beckman, L.H.S., serves as Co-founder and President of the Foundation of Prayer for Priests (www.foundationforpriests.org). She is an author, radio host and retreat director who frequently speaks about the spiritual life to priests, seminarians, religious and laity in the United States and abroad. Often featured on EWTN TV and radio, Kathleen hosts the weekly program Living Eucharist, which airs internationally on Radio Maria. She serves on the Advisory Boards of Magnificat, A Ministry to Catholic Women and the Pope Leo XIII Institute. Her new book Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization has a Foreword by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. and is published by Sophia Institute Press.