PATIENCE UNDER TEMPTATION & THE MEANS OF CONQUERING
With what arms are we to fight temptations in order to conquer?
The first and principal, and I may say the only, and absolutely necessary means for conquering temptations, is to have recourse to God by prayer. Speaking of the necessity of humility, in order to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, St. Augustine says: “If you ask what holds the first place in the discipline of Christ, I will answer — Humility. What is the second? Humility. What is the third? Humility. And as often as you ask, so often shall I give the same answer.” Now, were you to ask what are the means of overcoming temptations, I would answer: The first means is prayer: the second is prayer; the third is prayer; and should you ask me a thousand times, I would always say: Prayer.
This means is particularly necessary for conquering temptations against purity; these, as the Wise Man says, are overcome only by recommending ourselves to God. And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent except God gave it … I went to the Lord and besought him (Wisd. viii. 21). Hence, St. Jerome has written, “As soon as lust assails us, let us instantly say: “Lord, assist me; do not permit me to offend you.” Thus the Abbot Isaias exhorted his disciples always to repeat in such temptations: Incline unto my aid, O God! (Ps. lxix. 1) — and he would add, that this is a secure defence. He was right, for God cannot violate His promises to hear all who pray to Him: Cry to me, and I will hear thee (Jer. xxxiii. 3). Call upon me … I will deliver thee (Ps. xlix. 15). Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find (Matt. vii. 7). For every one that asketh, receiveth (Luke xi. 10). You shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you (Jo. xv. 7). We are told that St. Pachomius related to his disciples that he once heard the devils discoursing together; one of them said: My monk, when I tempt him, listens to me; he does not turn to God, and therefore I make him fall frequently. Another complained that he could do nothing with his monk, because he instantly asked help from God, and thus was always victorious. Hence, my brothers, concluded the holy Abbot, resist temptations by always invoking the Name of Jesus. But this must be done immediately, without listening to or arguing with the temptation. Another monk, as we find in the Lives of the Fathers, complained to an aged Father of being continually tempted to impurity; the good old man prayed for him, and learned by revelation that the monk did not turn away instantly from the temptation, but used to stop to look at it. The Father corrected him for this fault, and the monk was not molested afterwards as much as before. “While the enemy is small,” says St. Jerome, “kill him.” A lion when small is easily killed, but not when he has grown big. Unchaste temptations must be instantly shaken off, as we shake from the hand a spark that flies from the fire. The best means of conquering them is, as I have said, to turn away from them, without listening to them. Were a queen tempted by a negro slave, what would she do? Would she not indignantly turn away without giving an answer? Be careful to act in this manner if the devil should molest you; turn away without answering him, and invoke the Names of Jesus and Mary; and if you do this, you will be always sure of not falling into sin. St. Francis de Sales says: “The instant you feel any temptation, imitate children, who, when they see a wolf, run into the arms of their father or mother, or at least cry out to them for assistance. Do you in like manner run with filial confidence to Jesus and Mary.”
In temptations it is also very useful to make the Sign of the Cross. St. Augustine says: “All the machinations of the devil are reduced to nothing by the power of the Cross.” By giving His life on the Cross, Jesus destroyed the powers of hell; and therefore at the Sign of that sacred symbol all the temptations of the devil vanish. St. Athanasius relates of St. Anthony, that when the devils assailed him he instantly armed himself with the Sign of the Cross, and, thus armed, would say to them: Of what use is it to labour to injure me when I am rendered secure by this Sign, and by the confidence I have in my Lord? St. Gregory Nazianzen relates what is still more wonderful, that Julian the apostate, knowing the virtue of the Sign of the Cross, used, when terrified by the devils, to make that holy Sign, and the devils would be put to flight.
The second means of conquering temptations is to humble yourself, and to distrust your own strength. To make us humble, the Lord often permits us to be assaulted with temptations, and even frequently with temptations the most shameful. Hence, when we see ourselves thus molested, let us humble ourselves and say: I deserve to be thus tormented for the offences I have hitherto offered to God. In the Lives of the Fathers, it is related that a virgin and anchoret called Sara was cruelly persecuted in the desert by the spirit of impurity. She never asked God to deliver her from the temptation, but humbled herself, and constantly implored strength. The more violently the devil tempted her, the more she laboured to humble herself, and to supplicate the Divine aid. Finally, the enemy, not being able to make her fall into sins of impurity, endeavoured to tempt her to vainglory. So he said with a loud voice: Sara, you have conquered! You have conquered! The humble servant of God answered: No, wicked spirit, I have not conquered you, but Jesus my God has conquered you.
Thus let us humble ourselves, and at the same time let us have recourse with confidence to God Who protects all that hope in Him. He is the protection of all that trust in him (Ps. xvii. 31). He Himself has promised to deliver all those that hope in Him. Because he hoped in me, I will deliver him (Ps. xc. 14). When then, we find ourselves tortured by temptations, and the fear of losing God, let us say with great courage: In thee, O Lord, have I hoped: let me never be confounded (Ps. xxx. 1). In thee, O Lord, have I placed my hopes: do not permit me ever to be confounded, or to incur Thy enmity. With great courage, I say, for according to St. Teresa, when the devils see themselves despised, they are powerless. And when the enemy represents the great difficulty of doing what is necessary to become saints, let us say, with diffidence in ourselves, but with confidence in God: I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me (Phil. iv. 13). I can do nothing of myself, but I can do all things with the aid of my Lord.
The third means of overcoming temptations is to make them known to your spiritual Father. Thieves, when discovered, take flight. Hence, St. Philip Neri used to say that a temptation disclosed is half conquered. St. Antoninus relates that Brother Ruffinus, the companion of St. Francis, was assailed by a strong temptation to despair, and to believe that all he did was useless. The poor brother concealed the temptation from his Superior, St. Francis; it became more violent, and one day the devil appeared to him in the form of Jesus crucified, and said to him: Know that you and Francis, and all your followers, are damned. Hence, Ruffinus regarded himself as lost. This was revealed to St. Francis, who sent for him, but Ruffinus refused to come; at length he went to the Saint and disclosed the temptation. The Saint ordered him to despise it. The devil returned, but seeing himself treated with contempt, he fled. And afterwards Jesus crucified appeared to him, and assured him he was in the state of grace.
The fourth means, which is a very important one, of relieving one’s self from temptations is to avoid what occasions them. St. Basil says that God assists the man who is engaged in the contest against his own will; but he who voluntarily goes himself into the fight, does not deserve compassion, and is therefore abandoned by God. And, before him, Ecclesiasticus said: He that loveth danger, shall perish in it (Ecclus. iii. 27). He that loves danger, and goes in search of it, shall perish in it: nor is it of any use to hope for aid from God; to trust in God, and to expose one’s self voluntarily to the occasion of sin, is not a holy but a rash confidence, which merits chastisement.