It occurred to me, recently, that when my family and I make breakfast on Saturday mornings, many of the dishes we make use the same basic ingredients: eggs and bread. French toast is just bread cooked in eggs. Pancakes are made with batter, flour, and eggs.
In the same way, Satan cooks up many of his temptations using the same basic ingredients, and always in the same pan: lies.
“In the beginning”
Everything starts from a certain point of origin, so let us go back to where it all began–with the Fall.
In Genesis, Chapter 3, the serpent lays a foundation for doubt through the pointed question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” (Genesis 3:1) Of course, he knows the answer: God did in fact say that they must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17). Lie #1.
In Chapter 3, verse 4, the devil is more overt and blatant in his deception: “You certainly will not die.” In other words, he denies the consequences of sin. Lie #2.
Third, he injects an alternative narrative, that the first parents’ “eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (ibid). In doing so, he executes a bait and switch, replacing an evil prospect with a good; something desirable but that we have no right to. Lie #3.
Temptation is the ordinary way Satan attempts to coerce and manipulate our free will to do his bidding. St Padre Pio described him in this way:
The Devil is like a mad dog tied by a chain. Beyond the length of the chain, he cannot catch hold of anyone. And you, therefore, keep your distance. If you get too close, you will be caught. Remember, the Devil has only one door with which to enter into our soul: our will. (Letter, March 2, 1917)
My own process of temptation
Recently I went through a period in which temptation came by way of sloth. The devil is very crafty (Genesis 3:1) and planted seeds, little by little, to weaken my resolve to pray. If prayer fortifies us and keeps us in a state of grace, is it any wonder that the Evil One would want to keep us from it at all costs? After a period of disappointment in which I felt like my prayers were not answered regarding a matter of importance, I felt disillusioned, and the process of temptation went something like this:
- Sowing doubt: “Does prayer really make any difference?” I would think to myself, “Does it really matter if I pray?” The questions that feed the doubt lay the groundwork for a weakening of the foundation.
- Denying the consequences: “Missing prayer here and there should not matter too much.” Consider, however, the words of St. Teresa, who used to say that “he who neglects mental prayer, needs not a devil to carry him to Hell, but that he brings himself there with his own hands.” And the Abbot Diocles says that “the man who omits mental prayer soon becomes either a beast or a devil.” (St. Alphonsus Liquoti, On Mental Prayer)
- Bait and switch: “I can make better use of my time doing this or that. If I engage in this business, I can make money to support my family, and that is a good thing. Prayer doesn’t pay the electric bill.”
Whether it is sloth, lust, envy, or any other sin, they are the same basic rehash of ingredients served up in the pan of lies. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The consequences of temptation
hat happened to me was very predictable: over the course of a few weeks, I prayed less and less, and fell more and more into old habits which had, until then, been kept in check by prayer. Eventually a kind of disgust for prayer set in, a feeling in which I was ruefully choosing not to pray. My mind and soul were in a period of unrest and agitation, the result of neglecting regular prayer and trading it for trifles.
Though my free will was not compromised, it was weakened by sloth. In that weakness, however, I committed to praying very simple, desperate prayers against the temptation, which felt like all I could muster: “God, help me. Save your servant.” I knew He had the power to rescue me, to snatch me up and into His arms, and that He desired to do so. So I handed over my will to pray, small and simple as my plea was, when the force of habit was to avoid it. Eventually, by grace, confession, and the prayers of others, I began to come out of the pit and make an amendment of ways and get back on firm footing.
Had I not listened to the lies in the first place, I never would have been in the mess I made for myself. When you listen to lies, you will always be disappointed at best (since the devil never delivers on his promises) or find yourself outside of a state of grace at the worst. But when we ignore the lies of the devil and abide in God, we will know the truth – and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).