February 16, 2011

Diabolical Temptations

The world, the flesh, and the devil are the three classic sources of temptation. Sometimes in working with people at the parish the question would come up: Did I think a certain temptation was from the devil?

Most of the time I think the question is uninteresting and without spiritual utility. On one level it doesn't matter where temptations are from; they should all be treated the same. Most of the time acts of archaeology on them only serve to flatter them with more attention.

In some moments, however, I think it may be useful to recognize an affliction or temptation as possibly diabolical. For example, such a recognition might inspire more urgency and effort in the surrender to prayer and the help of God. Or, one could find that the recognition of a temptation as diabolical might actually be encouraging; this sign that the devil has something real to lose in our case shows that we have become someone noteworthy in the economies of grace.

For me--and this is only my reflection and not some kind of official teaching--I categorize temptations and afflictions according to two main types, according to the means they attempt to use in me. If the temptation attempts to make use of concupiscence or laziness, sensuality, anger, resentment, or any other disorder in the will, I'm pretty much certain that the temptation is from the flesh or the world, or both.

There are, however, other temptations and afflictions that attempt to instrumentalize not vice, but virtue. It is only in these that I sometimes suspect the devil. To take a couple of stock examples, consider someone who is tempted to neglect prayer because his ministry or other work for the Kingdom of God is so necessary or important. The temptation has made use of his zeal and talent to cut him off from his daily contact with God. Or consider someone whose devotion to the beautiful and correct celebration of divine worship gets in the way of his praying--or maybe even attending--an otherwise valid but imperfect Eucharist.

These are the sorts of situations in which I sometimes suspect the devil. They are truly insidious temptations in that good and devout values get twisted in such way as to either get someone to cut himself off from the sources of grace, or from the situations in which God might want to use him as a source of grace for others.


Peter D. Williams said...

Wow, Father, thank you so much for posting this. It's so true, and I found it truly helpful!

God bless you,


Padre Paulus said...

I will preface this comment by saying that I am in no way advocating the idea that correct and faithful adherence to the rubrics is unimportant, but you hit the nail on the head with your observation concerning those who allow their scrupulosity over the liturgy to prevent them from participating at (albeit poorly celebrated) otherwise valid celebrations of the Eucharist. What a miracle the Eucharist is, and how pleased the devil must be by keeping souls from it! I come across this with some regularity.

Lee Gilbert said...

Thanks very much for this post, Father. It is something I've thought about often.

Bear with me, because eventually the following reflection is on topic:

It took me decades to discover it, but forgiveness is a choice not a feeling. Realizing the need to forgive, I would forgive and have feelings of forgiveness. Then the original offense would come to mind, the feelings of forgiveness would flee and I was back to square one.

Fortunately I encountered some teaching that went something like this: Forgiveness, like love, is a choice. It is primarily in the will, not the feelings. So a) choose to forgive. A simple act of the will, a simple choice.

But this is not enough, for the old memories will come flooding back at some point.

After choosing to forgive, b) pray for the person. Not a novena, not even a rosary, a more or less perfunctory prayer- for after all, in thinking about the person and the offense you are going very near to temptation. An Our Father, a Hail Mary- make it brief.

Repeat as necessary.

This works. For the genius of it is that at bottom the old memories, the temptation to anger and hatred are just that, temptations that come from our ancient enemy.

When he discovers that these temptations lead to prayer, he will leave you alone.

Now, after further reflection and experience with this line of thinking, I have come to the conclusion that it is very likely that many thoughts come my way from the evil one, not only memories of old injuries, but of anything that will get me out of the will of God, distractions of all types. Even sensual temptations often originate in the mind, and can be escaped by thinking of something else. An article on municipal bonds or a blog about temptation can be a very effective antidote to the latest temptress that the culture offers up. Again, the escape has two facets a) distraction; b) prayer. Again, when Satan finds his temptations leading to prayer, he will go away…for a while. Anyway, this is my experience.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks to all for the wisdom!