In encountering this vice we must use special tactics and greater resolution. In order to do this we must distinguish three phases of the operation – the first, which precedes the temptation – the second, during the temptation – the third, which follows the temptation.
Before the time of temptation we must avoid all persons and occasions that would expose us to sin. If it is necessary that we speak to such people, do it as speedily as possible; speak only on serious subjects with corresponding modesty and gravity. We must not permit the conversation to become familiar or frivolous.
Do not presume on your own strength despite the fact that after many years spent in the world you have remained firm against the force of concupiscence. For lust often achieves in one instant what whole years could not effect. Sometimes it will make long preparations for the assault. Then the wound is more dangerous when it comes least expected and under a disguise.
It must likewise be noted, and every day experience proves this, that the danger is always greatest on those occasions where there is the least appearance of evil. Here it is founded on the plausible pretenses of friendship, gratitude, obligation, or on the merit and virtue of the persons involved. Impure inclinations imperceptibly insinuate themselves into such friendships through frequent visits, prolonged conversations, and indiscreet familiarities until the poison reaches the heart. The reason, then, is so blinded that it even connives at amorous glances, tender expressions, and facetious liberties in conversation which bring violent and almost irresistible temptations.
- Be cautious – run away – you are more susceptible to occasions of this sin than straw is to fire. Do not rely on your own strength or on some resolution you have taken to die rather than offend God. Despite your good intentions, frequent exciting conversations will enkindle a flame that cannot be extinguished. The impetuous desire of satisfying your passions will make you deaf to the warning of your friends. You will lose the fear of God, your reputation and even your life will be disregarded. Not even the fear of the flames of Hell will be able to master the fury of the sensual fires enkindled in your heart. Look for safety, then, in flight. There is no other way to escape. Too much confidence will end in eternal destruction.
- Avoid idleness. Determine what you have to do, and then fulfill exactly the duties of your position in life.
- Obey your superiors promptly; do what they command. In the things that are most mortifying and opposed to your inclinations, be even more cheerful.
- Never judge others rashly, particularly in regard to impurity. If any are unfortunate enough to fall into such disorder, and even if the affair becomes public, you must not treat them with scorn and contempt. Rather pity their weakness, and take advantage of the occasion to humble yourself before God, acknowledging that you are but dust and ashes. Redouble your prayers and avoid with greater care all dangerous company, however insignificant may be your reasons for suspecting it. For if you permit yourself the liberty of severe judgments on your neighbors, God will permit you, for your punishment and amendment, to fall into the same faults for which you condemned others, in order that by such humiliation you may discover your own pride and rashness, and then you can find proper remedies for both. Although it is possible that you would avoid these degrading sins, yet be assured that, if you continue to form these rash judgments, you are in great danger of ruin.
- If you discover that your heart is rich in spiritual comforts and joys, you must be on guard against complacency with yourself, against imagining that you have attained perfection and that the enemy can no longer do you any harm because you apparently have nothing but scorn and contempt for him. The greatest caution is necessary here to prevent a relapse.
We come to an examination of the actual time of temptation. In the first place, we must determine whether the cause of the temptation is exterior or interior.
By an exterior cause is meant curiosity of the eyes or ears to the point where decency suffers, vanity in one’s dress, too tender friendships, and indiscreet familiarities. Modesty and decency are the proper remedies for this evil; they shut the eyes and ears to those things that cloud the imagination. The real remedy, as we have said, is to run away from all such occasions of sin.
Interior causes proceed from a pampered body, from many bad thoughts that come from evil habits or the suggestions of the devil. When the body has been pampered too much, it must be mortified by fasting, discipline, and other austerities which, however, must always be regulated by discretion and obedience.
From whatever source unchaste thoughts may arise, we can drive them away by serious application to our proper duties, and by prayer and meditation.
Your prayer should be conducted in the following manner. When you see these thoughts present themselves and attempt to make an impression, recollect yourself and speak to Christ crucified saying: “Sweet Jesus, come to my rescue, that I may not fall a victim to my enemies.” On certain occasions you may embrace a crucifix representing your dying Saviour, kiss the marks of the Sacred Wounds on His feet and say with great confidence and affection: “O adorable, thrice holy Wounds! Imprint Your figure on my heart which is filled with evil, and preserve me from consenting to sin.”
In your meditations I am not of the opinion (as several authors are) that, when the temptation is most violent, you should consider the degrading and insatiable nature of these sins in order to establish a hatred for impurity, that you should consider how they are followed by disgust, remorse and anxiety, even by the loss of one’s fortune, health, life, honor, etc. These considerations are not appropriate to the situation and, instead of freeing us from the danger, they frequently only increase it. If the understanding drives away evil thoughts, these reflections naturally call them back.
The best way to become free of these is to remove not only the thoughts themselves, but also the reflections directly contrary to them. In attempting to dissipate them by their contraries, we merely renew the impure ideas and unconsciously imprint them still deeper. Be satisfied with meditation on the life and death of our Saviour. If, while you are doing this, the same thoughts should return, even more disturbing than before, as may possibly happen, do not be discouraged or abandon your meditation, do not exert yourself in driving them away. Ignore and despise these miserable deceits of the devil and persist, with all possible attention, in your meditation on the death of our Saviour. Nothing can be more effective in putting your enemy to flights, despite his determination to resist.
Conclude your meditation with some prayer such as the following: “O My Creator and Redeemer, save me from my enemies through Thy infinite goodness and the merits of Thy bitter Passion.” But remember, when you say this do not think about the particular vice from which you are endeavoring to free yourself. The least reflection on it may be dangerous. Above all, do not waste any time disputing with yourself about how much you may have yielded to the temptation. Such scrutiny is an invention of the enemy, who under the deceiving appearance of an imaginary duty, attempts to renew the attack, or at least hopes to make some impression with the bad thoughts he had poured into your mind.
When, therefore, it is evident that you have consented to the evil, let it suffice to tell your spiritual director in a few words just what has occurred. Do just as he advises, and do not trouble yourself further with it.
You must be sure, however, not to conceal anything because of shame or any other reason. If humility is necessary to conquer our common enemies, it is infinitely more so in this case because this vice is, for the most part, a just punishment for pride.
After you have conquered the temptation, you should conduct yourself as follows. Although you enjoy complete peace and consider yourself safe, avoid with the greatest care all objects that tend to temptation. Exclude them completely from your mind, even if they seem to be virtuous or good. These perversions are the illusions of a corrupt nature or traps laid by the devil, who would transform himself into an angel of light in order to drag you down with him into the darkness of Hell itself.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Spiritual Combat and A Treatise on Peace of Soul by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli which is available from TAN Books.