“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,” St. Philip Neri tells us.
Temptations can be extremely difficult at times and disheartening, especially if we are trying to better ourselves and become holier. But there is no need to ever feel anxious about temptations, we simply need to remember their purpose and how to treat them. God gives us temptations in order to test us and help strengthen and perfect our souls in virtue and goodness. We should then pray for the grace to see the greater good that comes from temptations, trust always in the love and power of God, learn to run away from temptations in the moment, and lean on the power of the Angels and Saints to assist us.
God’s Loving Plan
God never intended us to have to go through temptation; yet since Adam and Eve chose to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden, we have to build ourselves back up in order to reach perfection. God knows very well of our weaknesses, and is very careful to only allow temptations that we can handle and fight. If it seems at times that the temptations we are experiencing are unbearable and undefeatable, it is usually because we have put ourselves in the occasion of sin.
Occasion of sin is when we put ourselves in a dangerous position where sin is usually the outcome. If we continue to place ourselves in these situations and ask God why He is not giving us the strength to fight, it is because we have already gone halfway ourselves. We should then be careful not to place ourselves in the occasion of sin, and will soon realize the loving care that God gives to us when we choose Him over sin. Our God waits in anticipation for us to enter a church to visit Him, after He has waited days, weeks, or even years to see us. Would He not also listen to our pleas when we cry out for help?
Temptation is precisely the opportunity for us to turn our eyes to God and grow our love for Him. In order to prove this, let us imagine our lives without any temptations at all. We live our lives and go through our days without once being tested by a temptation. We may think of God from time to time, but this would be very easy for us. Our souls would never have the opportunity to grow because we proved our love to God; rather, we would simply be stuck in a state of indifference. Therefore, when we are being tempted, let us not dwell on our weaknesses or become saddened that God would allow such a thing, but look to God immediately and offer a prayer of love to let Him know we are still thinking of Him.
Temptations Consuming Us
Oftentimes, especially if we are scrupulous, temptations can turn into an obsession we are terrified about. At every turn we worry there is going to be a temptation, and when the temptation comes we dwell on it in fear and feel we have no way to get over it. What we do not realize is that the devil is tempting us in a very different manner than we think.
For example, we have an improper image in our heads. We have worried all day that an image would pop into our heads, and here it is. Now that it is here, we become paralyzed and panicked. You may think the devil wants you to fall into impurity, when really he wants you to become anxious and not turn to God. Anxiety is such a peril for the soul, because it robs us of all hope and trust in Christ. In these moments, do not acknowledge the temptation or the strength you may or may not have to fight it. Simply refuse and move on. If a temptation is simplified in the moment and is refused in calmness, temptations will no longer control our lives.
There is a fantastic quote from St. Francis de Sales about this: “The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways. Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are. Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks.”
Temptations are best fought in simplicity and at a fast pace. Let us always trust in God and turn to Him immediately when we feel in danger. This way we will grow in perfection and gain great merit for fighting bravely for Christ.
The Saints and Angels Wait
St. Alphonsus tells us: “Our prayers are so dear to God, that He has appointed the Angels to present them to Him as soon as they come forth from our mouths. 'The Angels,' says St. Hilary, 'preside over the prayers of the faithful, and offer them daily to God.' This is that smoke of the incense, which are the prayers of Saints, which St. John saw ascending to God from the hands of the Angels (Apoc. 8:3); and which he saw in another place represented by golden phials full of sweet odors, very acceptable to God.”
The Saints and Angels are our dearest friends and know very well of the trials of temptations. The more we trust the Angels and Saints, the more they will give to us. Does a close friend give us all of their love when we are constantly doubting them and their love for us? If we find this confidence difficult, prayer for the grace of confidence can mend this. The saints struggled greatly with temptations, even Our Blessed Lord allowed the devil to tempt Him. And why did He do this? To set an example for us and merit all the strength we will ever need to defeat temptations. The devil may be very powerful, but what is his power to legions of angels and myriads of saints?
He is completely powerless over us if we place our trust in the saints and angels, and ask for their protection.
Let us then always trust in God and not be paralyzed by anxiety because of temptations, and especially always remember Our Blessed Mother. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once said when speaking of difficulties: “In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not Her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of Her prayer, neglect not to walk in Her footsteps. With Her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking Her, you shall never lose heart; so long as She is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while She holds your hand, you cannot fall; under Her protection you have nothing to fear; if She walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if She shows you favor, you shall reach the goal."
Mary crushes the head of the devil, and protects us more lovingly than any mother on earth. She knows too well of our struggles and sufferings, and will be there at all times to help us.
Prayer in Times of Temptation
Behold me, O my God, at Thy feet! I do not deserve mercy, but O my Redeemer, the Blood which Thou didst shed for me encourages me and obliges me to hope for it. How often I have offended Thee, repented, and yet have I again fallen into the same sin. O my God, I wish to amend, and in order to be faithful to Thee, I will place all my confidence in Thee. I will, whenever I am tempted, instantly have recourse to Thee. Until now, I have trusted in my own promises and resolutions and have neglected to recommend myself to Thee in my temptations. This has been the cause of my repeated failures. From this day forward, be Thou, O Lord, my Strength, and thus shall I be able to do all things, for “I can do all these things in Him Who strengtheneth me.” Amen.