June 21, 2011

Anatomy of a Temptation

Vanity and pride are among the most insidious temptations. They try to trick you into thinking you have greater virtue than you really do, and you end up not having much virtue at all because you've been fooled into thinking only of yourself.

We should be grateful for such temptations when they are obvious and we see them clearly; such experiences can help us to know our particular sorts of spiritual undoing. Examining them can help us to understand ourselves and the pitfalls that are particular to our temperament and thus help us to avoid them in the future.

This morning was a good example for me. The morning is the best time for me to write, and what I really need to be doing in these days is working on my leftover term paper from the spring semester. But instead of getting a good start on the writing today, I got sidetracked. I had to clean up the broken vigil lamp from the previous post. Then a visiting classmate wanted to catch up. Then I had to make another friar's breakfast. He's recovering from surgery and only has use of one arm.

So now when I finally get back to my desk it's already going on ten o'clock and I know right away that I'm not going to make any progress with Alexander of Hales today. The disappointment gets mixed in with the general frustration, difficulty, vocational anxiety and self-doubt that surrounds the whole project.

Into this moment of slight emotional depression comes the temptation, inviting me to think of myself as virtuous: after all, I gave up my own will, cleaning house, listening attentively, and then serving the sick. Look what a good and selfless religious I am, abandoning my own will in humble service to the brothers! Vanity tries to make these little good deeds into a big deal, even though they were demanded by the minimum of ordinary charity. The temptation invites me not to think of all the people in the neighborhood and the world whose charity, patience, and self-sacrificing care for their children and sick family members go far beyond anything I do or will to do.

So I laugh at myself instead, and ask God to continue to deliver me from my selfishness. As a sign of my desire for such a grace, I pray in thanksgiving for all of the folks doing secret, heroic charity out there in the world, and ask God to make me their servant.


Anonymous said...

Father good for you! Your self observations are spot on. Your founding father St. Francis would be quite gratified by your analysis, I would think. In a world that promotes and defends self glorification and building up self esteem (ie ego really) it is refreshing to read about a soul's process continually dying to self, that Christ Jesus may live more fully within. In essence, it really is the journey of every Christian soul- that is to die to ourselves and imitate Him In all things for He came to serve not to be served. It appears you demonstrated that by the morning events. In all honesty, you don't hear about this very often these days; though when drawing close to Him and reading the lives of Saints; they clearly never allowed the deception of great virtue to overshadow them, but instead greater humility...Bless you.

Catholic Chris said...

So beautiful! Thank you as that will help me today when I need to keep such things in perspective! You are so right in that there are so many people out there doing so much more. You are a good person, Fr. Charles, and I see a bit of St. Francis in your musings today.

Daniel @ Campinas said...

Sr. Alice, God rest her soul, taught me many things. But if you asked me to say just one, it would be this: "Daniel", she would say, and oh how peaceful and compassionate she looked at me when she would say it, "Daniel, when ever you are in doubt, you offer it up my boy."

Sarah said...

How insightful! Thank you. I find it interesting when I get hit with a disappointment, temptations begin from all sides and most are completely unrelated to the original disappointment.

And laughing at oneself...what a great tool to combat temptation!

GirlCanChant said...

Thank you for this, Father. I find that sometimes when I am making an extra effort at prayer, I tend to want to tell people about it. Even when I manage to avoid this, I catch myself thinking prideful things. Thankfully, most of the time, I wind up laughing at myself. Even when I'm headed in the right direction, there is endless room for improvement.