We have all seen them…when you least expect to see them there they are!! They tend to take us by surprise…most of us scream when we see them… I am talking about snakes! The other day, the Sisters and I saw a garter snake. I know that they are God’s creatures and I have a deep respect for people who like them and take care of them…but I don’t do well with snakes. Grasshoppers…okay…bees…fine…but snakes…no. I guess because every time I see a snake I think of the evil serpent, the devil, who tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis.
The image that I have on this blog post is the image of Madonna and Child in Heidelberg Germany that totally captures what Genesis 3:15 says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal.” If you look at it closely, you will see that the Child Jesus has this angry expression in his face as He is stabbing the serpent with His spear! I looked at this image and I said, “YES!!!” Our Lady, looks so peaceful and content to be stepping on that evil serpent! Just think about it…he is being stepped on by the Mother of God who is the most beautiful, virtuous, loving Mother in the whole world!! Again I looked at this image and said, “YES!!!!!”
So many times in our lives, we need to beg the Child Jesus and the Mother of God to crush the evil serpents in our lives. We all have evil serpents that spring up from time to time. Lies, confusion, fear, discouragement, despair, loneliness and sufferings of every kind come into our lives. The devil, the evil serpent, tends to lead us into temptation. We just began speaking about the purgative way, and as we are on the road of conversion, at this stage, it is very likely and possible to encounter temptations. Now let’s get one thing straight!! Everyone…EVERYONE experiences temptation at some point in their lives!! Even the saints: St. Augustine and St. Catherine of Sienna had temptations against chastity, St. Jerome was tempted to anger, St. Ignatius of Loyola was tempted to despair, St. Vitus had temptations of tardiness (he found it hard to get out of bed in the morning! St. Vitus pray for us!) Even the Saints endured temptation!! Temptation is necessary in order for us to make spiritual progress. Imagine for a moment if we never struggled…if everything was easy…would we grow in virtue and love? Would we even acknowledge that we desperately need God? Indeed, trials and temptations are not pleasant, however if we respond to them peacefully and with patience, it will help us to become holy. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
So how do we respond to temptations when they come? First we need to realize that temptation is a means of purification where we can put on the armor of faith as St. Paul speaks about and put our trust in God. Suffering through temptations can make us atone and make reparation (do penance) for our past wrongs. We can call temptations the “school of humility” where through them we realize our weakness, powerlessness, and how much we need grace from God!! Suffering through temptations is also an opportunity to live out the words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow me!” Temptation is also a school of love where we can throw ourselves into the arms of God and there seek the strength and shelter we need as His children.
It is extremely important for someone experiencing temptations, especially violent ones, as soon as they become aware of them to immediately reject both the pleasure and the temptation of it. For example, even though we may feel an automatic pleasure to revenge or lust, we must immediately reject any voluntary delight in it once we realize that it is a temptation. This might mean distracting ourselves from the temptation by performing an act of charity, going for a walk, beginning a new project etc… Sometimes it is hard to combat these temptations on our own. Having a good spiritual director and a good confessor who you can have regular contact with, especially with violent temptations is extremely necessary and important! Do not be afraid to go to them and speak, even if what you need to say feels embarrassing. Don’t be afraid of what the spiritual director or confessor will think…this is often a tactic the devil will use to make us be silent…spiritual directors and confessors know that life is a spiritual battle and they will not be surprised with what you say! The devil hates the light…SO BRING THINGS IN THE LIGHT!! Catherine of Sienna speaks about fighting the spiritual battle with a two-edged sword in our hands, with hatred of sin as one edge of the blade and love of virtue on the other. IT IS NECESSARY TO HATE SIN!!! Sin is ugly and offensive to Almighty God!! No wonder the Child Jesus looked angry at the evil serpent in the statue of Madonna and Child…
The frequency and amount of time that temptations can vary. Some people are often violently tempted, others are rarely tempted. Temperament can play a part in this; there are some who have a temperament that is very emotional and passionate, but have a weak will and are upset with temptations. Others are very well-balanced and energetic and are able to keep their peace in the midst of temptation. God has providential designs for every soul. Every person is called to sanctity but our journey there will look very different. For most of us, our path to sanctity means passing through some severe tests only to ground us more in virtue! So don’t be alarmed! This is a tremendous grace!
There are three phases of temptation that we can address now which are: suggestion, pleasure, and consent. Suggestion is basically a proposal of some evil. There can be suggestions to so many different things: anger, suspicion, jealousy, envy, flirtatious behavior, frivolity, vanity, inappropriate affection, craftiness, and evil thoughts. Our imagination is attracted to the “forbidden fruit,” meaning something looks good and attractive but it is not good and we should stay away from it. No matter how dangerous this suggestion is, it is not a sin unless we consent to it.
Pleasure follows the suggestion. As St. Francis de Sales points out: “many a time it happens that the inferior part of the soul takes pleasure in the temptation, without having been consent… This is the warfare which the Apostle St. Paul describes when he says his flesh wars against his spirit.” The pleasure, as long as our will does not get involved, is not a sin, but it is a danger since it is opening a door to the possibility of consenting. If the soul combats the temptation and succeeds in not “giving in” to it then the soul has performed a very meritorious act. If, on the contrary the will delights in the pleasure, willingly enjoys it and consents to it, then a sin is committed.
So, how do we know when we have consented? Indeed, there are times when we can easily see that there was no consent. For example, in spite of the suggestion and pleasure accompanying it, if the soul feels disgust, annoyance, embarrassment, frustration, if they hold the evil in horror, and if they turn to God in prayer, there is no consent. However, there are times where we might have to take responsibility for giving in to the temptation. St. Francis gives us an example of this, “If I know, that some certain conversation leads me to temptation and to a fall and I do voluntarily indulge therein, I am, doubtless, culpable of all the temptations that shall arise.”
It is possible therefore for our consent to be imperfect for example there might be times where fear of offending God will come upon the soul, but only after relishing into the pleasure a bit. Also, it is possible for temptation to be resisted in a half-hearted way. This means resisting the temptation, but in a lazy, slow way, which means that there was half-consent. We are called to fight the temptations promptly, energetically, perseveringly and humbly. When it comes to temptations of thought, the best thing to do is to peacefully turn the thought over to God and peacefully think of something else. Trying to fight them violently may only add more fuel to the fire. To put out fire we need water and that water is the grace and peace of God.
When consent is full and entire, we know it! Despite our conscience that recognizes the evil there are times where we can let ourselves be drawn to the sinful pleasure and give into it, sometimes in grave ways, sometimes in smaller ways. If someone has consented, it means they made a decision. They said “yes” to the suggestions and the pleasurable feelings that accompany them knowing that is an offense to Almighty God and they are hurting themselves and others. If we do have the misfortune of falling into sin due to giving in to temptation, let us not lose heart!! This is the time where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge that we need his forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Let us firmly resolve to be more alert and listen closely to the words of Jesus, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41).
Let us pray for each other that in these times of temptation we can turn to the Lord with all the faith that is in us! Let us pray for each other that we can be brave in the spiritual war! Let us pray for each other that we hold fast to Jesus and Mary in every temptation and ask them to crush the evil serpent!!