“My brethren, count it all joy when ye shall fall into diverse temptations.”
-Epist. S. Jas., Cat., c. i, v. 2.
If we are tempted, says the Holy Spirit, “it is a sign that God loves us.” Those whom God best loves have been most exposed to temptations. “Because thou was acceptable to God,” said the angel to Tobias, “it was necessary that temptation should prove thee.” (Tobias, c. xii, v. 13.)
Do not ask God to deliver you from temptations, but to grant you the grace not to succumb to them and to do nothing contrary to His divine will. He who refuses the combat, renounces the crown. Place all your trust in God and God will Himself do battle for you against the enemy.
“These persistent temptations come from the malice of the devil,” says St. Francis de Sales, “but the trouble and suffering they cause us come from the mercy of God. Thus, despite the will of the tempter, God converts his evil machinations into a distress which we may make meritorious. Therefore I say your temptations are from the devil and hell, but your anxiety and affliction are from God and heaven.” Despise temptation, then, and open wide your soul to this suffering which God sends in order to purify you here that He may reward you hereafter.
“Let the wind blow,” remarks the same Saint, “and do not mistake the rustling of leaves for the clashing of arms. Be perfectly convinced that all the temptations of hell are powerless to defile a soul that does not love them. St. Paul endured terrible temptations, yet God, through love, did not deliver him from them.” Look upon God as an infinitely good and tender father and believe that He only allows the devil to try His children that their merits may increase and their recompense be correspondingly greater.
The more persistent the temptation, the clearer it is that you have not given consent to it. “It is a good sign,” says St. Francis de Sales, “when the tempter makes so much noise and commotion outside of the will, for it shows that he is not within.” An enemy does not besiege a fortress that is already in his power, and the more obstinate the attack, the more certain We may be that our resistance continues.
Your fears lead you to believe you are defeated at the very moment you are gaining the victory. This comes from the fact that you confound feeling with consent, and, mistaking a passive condition of the imagination for an act of the will, you consider that you have yielded to the temptation because you felt it keenly.
St. Francis de Sales, with his usual simplicity, thus describes this warring of the flesh against the spirit:
“You are right, my dear daughter. There are two women within you … and the two children of these different mothers quarrel, and the good-for-nothing one is so bad that sometimes the good one can scarcely defend herself, and then she takes it into her head that she has been worsted and that the wicked one is braver than she. Now, surely, this is not true. The bad one is not the stronger by any means, but only slyer, more persistent and more obstinate. When she succeeds in making you weep she is delighted, because that is always just so much time lost, and she is content to make you lose time when she cannot make you lose eternity.”
It is not always in our power to restrain the imagination. St. Jerome had retired into the desert and still his fancy represented to him the dances of the Roman ladies. His body was benumbed, as it were, and his blood chilled by the severity of his mortifications, and yet the flames of concupiscence encompassed and tortured his heart. During these frightful conflicts the holy anchorite suffered, but he did not sin; he was tormented but was not guilty; on the contrary, his merits were augmented in the sight of God in proportion to the intensity of the temptations.
The holy abbot St. Anthony was wont to say to the phantoms of his mind: I see you, but I do not look at you: I see you because it does not depend upon me that my imagination places before my eyes things I would wish not to see; I do not look at you because with my will I repulse and reject you. “It is so much the essence of sin to be voluntary,” says St. Augustine, “that if not voluntary, it is not sin.”
The attraction of the feelings towards the object presented by the imagination is at times so strong that the will seems to have been carried away and overcome by a sort of fascination. This, however, is not the case. The will suffered, but did not consent; it was attacked and wounded, but not conquered. This state of things coincides with what St. Paul says of the revolt of the flesh against the spirit and of their unceasing warfare. The soul, indeed, experiences strange sensations, but as she does not consent to them, she passes through the ordeal unsullied, just as substances coated with oil may be immersed in water without absorbing a single drop of it.