Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dynamics of Temptation, Part Three

For this final installment of the series on temptation, I will work with the fine book of Fr Livio Fanzaga, called The Deceiver, which I recommend for more careful and detailed study. I can only hit a few highlights here.

The title of the book really says it all, for temptation is about deception. That’s something that seems hard to sink into our souls, even though we may give intellectual assent to it. Realizing clearly, however, that those suggestions to sin, which make it seem good or desirable, are deceptive, false, misleading, and even destructive, anyone with an ounce of common sense simply wouldn’t follow them. But all too often we do anyway, to our subsequent shame and dismay.

The devil deceived Eve by presenting something evil in the guise of good, but rather than obeying the simple and clear command of God, she chose to do things the devil’s way and brought disaster on herself and on all subsequent human generations. After she went for the bait, and her husband followed suit, Scripture says that “their eyes were opened,” and they realized that they were naked, that is, they felt shame, which they had never felt before, and they were compelled to hide from the Lord. This is what happens (if our conscience still works) when we sin. We fall for the deception, and then our eyes are opened, that is, we realize the guilt of our sin and we feel it. Illusion is followed by disillusion, says Fr Fanzaga. It is imperative that we learn from our mistakes, recognize the strategies of the demons, and thus successfully ward off future attacks, unmask future deceptions. Pray to see things as they truly are.

We have to realize something about the one who is suggesting to us things contrary to God’s will, but which seem good or beneficial to us: he hates us. Stop and think—if someone who hates you furiously and is bent on your eternal suffering offers you something and says it’s good, the overwhelming odds are he’s lying through his fangs and you will experience quite the opposite of what he promises. He laughs us to scorn as we fall for his lies and think that a sinful life will bring us happiness. “Behind the false light of an immoral life is hidden the sarcastic smile of the [devil]. Evil promises but does not fulfill.” Once we fall into sin, there are two, and only two, options: repentance or punishment. Either we turn back to God and are restored to his grace, or we remain turned away and receive just retribution for our sins.

Our spiritual fortitude must come from prayer, the sacraments, and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). The best defense against temptation is a holy life. Demons study us and discover our weaknesses, chinks in the armor, and Achilles’ heels. Through the spiritual means the Church supplies we need to close every access point so that evil finds no welcome within us, no unguarded portal. We also need to practice what Fr Fanzaga calls the “exorcism of mortification.” That is, our self-denial and penance also strengthen us and keep us well-disciplined, as we mentioned in the first part of this series. But if it is true that self-discipline and mortification help keep the devil away, it is also true that a lack of these will invite the devil in. Attachments, obsessive anxieties, complaining, immodesty, white lies, gossip, little infidelities, unchaste thoughts, words, or looks, etc, all create fertile ground for temptation to end in sin. The bloated, drunk, or lazy soldier is easy meat for the unsleeping enemy warrior, who overcomes him with little resistance.

In the final analysis, if your fervent desire is to please God in all things, and you make use of the means He offers for that purpose, you will be well-protected against the wiles of the devil. It doesn’t mean that you’ll never have a weak or wavering moment, or that you’ll never commit even a small sin again, but it does mean that you will be walking in the Spirit—you will not be a slave to sin and you will be able to recognize and reject the lies of the deceiver. Never forget that Jesus Christ has definitively disarmed the devil and sealed his fate by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead. He surrounds us with grace as with a shield. The risen Lord has given us his Spirit to continue his work of preaching the Gospel, casting out demons, and leading souls to Paradise. In Him we have the victory, and He does not forsake those who trust in Him.