“Our adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”
-1 Peter 5:8
Do we enjoy the inestimable blessing of being in the state of grace? Have we succeeded in casting out from our hearts the enemy of our souls? Then let us be prepared to encounter a fierce combat, for when the spirit of darkness is forced to leave a man free, he is angry and takes in his company seven other spirits worse than the first and assaults him with greater fury, endeavoring to regain possession of him.
The wicked one takes very little care to attack those unhappy ones whom he holds in his chains, but when he meets with a soul which has escaped from his power, he tries all his artifices to regain possession of him. To these fierce attacks of the infernal enemy the world unites itself, striving, by its false maxims and wicked examples, to draw the just man into sin.
Lastly, added to the attacks of the devil and of the world, we must endure the allurements of the flesh and the furious warfare which the sensual appetite wages against the spirit. All this shows that the true lover of God, whatever may be his condition of life, to whatever degree of virtue he may have attained, must hold himself always ready to fight, until the time comes what he shall be delivered from this corruptible body and shall have entered into the joy of the Lord.
But it may be asked:
“Why does the Lord permit His beloved children to be molested by temptations? Why does He allow them to be placed in danger of losing His grace, of forfeiting His love, of soiling their souls with heinous crimes, of ruining themselves for all eternity? For what reason are His beloved children left exposed to the frightful attacks of their fiercest enemies?”
The first reason why the Lord allows us to be assailed by temptations is to establish in us a deep foundation of humility, upon which the edifice of the spiritual life is to be raised. What opinion should we have of ourselves if we were never tempted? Should we not think of ourselves as if we were some great ones? But when some unexpected trial arrives, some fierce temptation occurs to us, our pride is brought low.
When all is peaceful, we believe that we have attained to a high degree of virtue, that we are immovable in the service of God and not very far from being fit to associate with the Seraphim, but when the tempest arrives, we enter into ourselves, acknowledge our wretchedness, detest our past presumption, raise our eyes to God and say from our heart, with the Apostle: “Lord, save us: we perish.”
How highly did the Apostle St. Peter value himself before he was exposed to the trial of temptation! He believed himself unconquerable. What answer did he make when Christ predicted the infidelity he was about to be guilty of? He had not the smallest doubt of him and exclaimed with boldness: “Though all should deny Thee, yet will I remain faithful.”
But it was not long before he had cause to repent of his presumption, when at the speech of a simple maid-servant, he fell a victim to his own weakness, which he confessed and lamented with bitter tears all his life. “Peter, who before his temptation presumed on his own strength, discovered his weakness,” says St. Augustine, “when temptation arrived.”
Another reason for which the Lord permits the attacks of temptation is to detach us from the world and make us fix our desires on Heaven. Oh easy it is for the just soul to allow her affections to rest on this wretched world and to think but little of her true country, of the joys of Heaven! And the Lord, to guard her against this danger and make her sigh after Heaven, allows her to be beset with temptations, that wearied by them, she may desire, like St. Paul, to escape from the bonds of the flesh, to live with Christ in Heaven, that she may sigh to escape from the field of battle, through fear of being conquered by the enemy, that she may long after the safe harbor, where all fear of shipwreck shall disappear.
God permits temptations to assail us to increase our merit in this life and our glory in the next. “Blessed” says the Apostle St. James, “is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which God has promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12). Ah, my God, who will be so insensible to his own interests as not to combat his temptations, when he knows that for each act of victory which we gain over them we shall receive a corresponding degree of grace here upon earth and of glory hereafter!
And who will be so blind as not to envy the happy lot of the just souls who acquire as many crowns in Heaven as they gain victories over their spiritual enemies on earth! We know that even a single degree of glory is sufficient to make our soul perfectly and eternally happy. Who then, shall describe the sublime throne to which those souls will be raised, who, by fighting valiantly against temptations, gain new victories every day – nay, every hour – over their spiritual enemies?
If you would know how to prepare yourself so to fight against temptations that they may not get possession of your heart, listen to the advice that St. Jerome gave to Eustochia:
“Never allow a bad thought to remain in your mind; cast out the enemy while he is still young because if he gains strength, he will overpower you. Eradicate the weeds of temptation as soon as they appear, and do not let their roots strike deep into your heart, for they will ruin it.”
Be prompt, then, in rejecting temptations; never let them increase through your inattention, for there is great danger lest you should consent to them. What would you do if a spark fell on your clothes? You would not examine it curiously, but would instantly throw it off on the ground. Be, then, equally quick in ridding yourself of evil thoughts; they are sparks which, if allowed to rest in your mind, will set fire to your soul.
That you may obtain the strength necessary to fight courageously against temptations, have instant recourse to God in prayer, and with a few but earnest words entreat Him to come to your help. As soon as you feel yourself attacked by temptation, raise your mind, heart and voice to God and say to Him in perfect confidence, “Aid me, O Lord; help me, that I may not offend Thee.”