Temptations, we all have them. It is part of life. It is part of human nature and they will exist until we die. Adam and Eve succumbed to them. Moses, David, Sarah, and Abraham all succumbed to them. The great Saint Peter succumbed to them and so did the great St. Thomas. St. Thomas gets a bad rep for doubting his friends. I think most of us would have had some doubt about the report that Jesus came through locked doors to meet and greet after His death. The best of the best and the holiest of the holy are tempted to sin. Yet God never loves us any less. He knows we are weak. We know we are weak yet we strive for perfection and to be sinless and we fail time and time again. Temptations are everywhere. There are many different types of temptations and just as many ways we respond to them. So what can we do about them?
The short answer is that there is nothing we can do to stop temptations. Sometimes it is better to embrace the weakness. That doesn’t mean just giving up and giving in to temptation. Part of maturing spiritually is understanding the root causes of the temptations and weaknesses. Embrace them, offer them up to God and then choose one to work on. Most people with informed consciences who regularly take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation lament that they commit the same sins over and over again. How often have you been on your knees in that wonderful box praying the Act of Contrition and with heartfelt sincerity intoned “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.” And then two minutes later, walking down the street you find yourself wanting to run back into that box because you fell back into a particular sin. There are so many sins to choose from. Anger, gluttony, despair, lust, gossip, empathy, bigotry, ungratefulness, pride, and the list goes on. There are many virtues we could practice but it seems our minds veer towards the negative like a car that pulls to one side when the tires are not balanced.
Why Do We fall back Into the Same Sins?
But why do we fall back into the same sins and the same bad habits? Why does the mind pull to the left so to speak instead of to the right? Some say it might be a generational curse. Perhaps an event, parent, spouse or loved one opened a door to a particular type of evil spirit that now has legal rights over a person, family or place. Or maybe we are just lazy and it’s easier to fall back into bad habits when the going gets rough. A cigarette in times of stress or anxiety, or a few stiff drinks or some drugs make a person feel better. Cursing at a situation or wishing evil on someone who hurt you might relieve the stress of an angry situation. Getting revenge in some way, making that other person hurt as much or more than they hurt you is another fallback. These examples and there are many more are all tricks of the devil which in the end only hurt the person who falls into these types of temptations. Are they part of generational curses? Do children just imitate their parents or is there something more insidious lurking in the shadows? Family healing prayers, the Rosary, assisting at daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and getting a good spiritual advisor all help. Devotion to Our Lady, the Poor Souls in Purgatory and some special saints and angels is another great remedy against evil and temptation.
The Spirit World is Alive
Rember the story of the Arch Angel Michael wrestling with the Prince of Persia (Satan) in Daniel 10:13. Though unseen, the spirit world around is very real and is alive. The spirit world most likely plays a big role in our temptations. Like the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Who do we listen to most often? Requesting the assistance of our heavenly friends daily, especially first thing in the morning is a great way to beat the odds.
On a New York-bound subway years ago while living in Brooklyn. It was late in the morning, after the rush hour crowd had gone to work. I worked at a law firm at the time and didn’t have to be in until 9:30. There weren’t many people on the train and I was reading a book about Padre Pio. Three women got on the train at one stop and decided they were going to sit right on top of me and pick a fight with me. The train was empty but they chose to sit in seats surrounding me. I’m not one to stand down if I am attacked so we went back and forth verbally. These women were big, they were ugly and they were intent on starting an argument for no apparent reason.
I was polite for the most part because they were women, however, they were relentless and they started cursing at me. Keep in mind; this was completely out of the blue. I said nothing to them; in fact, I never picked my head up from my Padre Pio book to even look at them until they started in. I chastised them for using bad language and we were standing toe to toe at one point. And then the most remarkable thing happened. This is the Gospel truth. I heard the beating of wings above our heads. Up until today I always imagined they were just demons’ wings, now I am sure there was a spiritual battle going on between my Guardian Angel and their demons. My angel won. They got off at the next stop in a rage, still cursing as I blew kisses to them through the window. The spirit world is alive and well. The lesson here is that we need to call on our angels, our saints, and our Blessed Mother often. They will always be there to help us; God provides them for us for that reason.
My mother prays to our Guardian Angels every day to protect and guide us and my mother-in-law always advises “segno a forma di croce” before we leave the house – make the sign of the cross. These are good habits to form and great weapons against temptations and evil.
God Desires Mercy
I have learned a few things about myself that help me stay close to the Lord at all times. I know that I am weak. I am a sinner. I desire to be closer to God every day and to do His will. I love the Sacraments, the Church, and our clergy. I have learned to embrace my weaknesses, my temptations and the uncomfortable feeling I have when I fall into sin. Embrace it means to recognize it and not ignore it. I acknowledge the fault, the weakness, and the sin and offer it to God. I confess them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and as they are spoken aloud they lose their power and Jesus through the ministry of His priests forgives my sins.
God uses the weak and makes them strong. As Saint Paul stated, when he was weak he was strong. I have a statue of the Good Shepherd that was popular in Rome during the early days of the Church. It is the statue of a shepherd boy (King David, the Precursor to Christ) holding a sheep around his shoulders. I love meditating on both King David and Christ when I look at that statue. David was so young and a mere shepherd boy chosen by God to be the anointed one to lead His people. David who was weak, small, young, who would commit adultery and murder and yet God said of him, here is a man after my own heart. Read the Psalms to understand why God loves him so much. Could you imagine if God said that about you? Oh, to hear Him say that of me, I would die of pure joy on the spot. And I meditate on Christ the Good Shepherd who would leave the 99 sheep to go after one who went astray. That is love, mercy, devotion and unconditional love.
Confession Tied to God’s Love?
I was at Mass on my lunch hour in Manhattan as usual. I had just gone to confession and I was feeling great. I felt clean, holy, worthy and very happy. I sat down after receiving Holy Communion with a big smile on my face. As I gazed up at the beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart in my innermost being I heard the Lord speak to me. I heard interiorly, but very distinctly God’s voice say to me “did you think I loved you any less before you went to confession?” It was stern, it was powerful and it was definitive. The smile disappeared right off my face. I felt chastened and loved by God is such a special way. How often do we feel unworthy? But we need to know God loves us all the time.
Learn What It Means: God Desires Mercy
I desire mercy not sacrifice. So many people feel unworthy to approach God, to approach the sacraments to enter into Church. I think we are called to invite those people back to Church. The new evangelization must incorporate the Good News of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd who would leave His flock of 99 to go out and find the lost sheep. And when He does, He picks him up ever so gently and places him on His shoulders and brings him home. Jesus never loves any of us any less only more and more. He especially loves sinners because He said where great sin abounds, greater mercy abounds. I think it is important to acknowledge that we are all sinners. Sin is a sin.
When a person who has not been to Church for a long time protests that he or she is so bad the Church will fall down if they enter I would recommend that you advise them that is exactly who the Church is there for people as bad as they are. And for people as bad as we who are Churchgoers are. God loves those who feel unworthy of Him more than we can imagine (sin and all).
Every Saint was a terrible sinner first (except Our Lady). Every Church should have a sign out front that reads sinners welcome, saints stay home. Nobody would be home. Maybe this week you can invite someone who hasn’t been to Mass for a long time to go to Mass with you. If they say no that is OK, invite them again. If they say no again, invite someone else but make it a point to let people know Jesus loves them and wants them in the pew next to you. God never loves us any less only more and more.