The Lord said to satan, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.” – Job 1:12
I don’t know about you but ever since I returned to the Church, I tend to feel like Job during Lent. I feel like God lets the devil a bit off his leash and things tend to get chaotic in my spiritual life!
Jesus was tempted in the desert. And Lent is a time of desert. According to the Catechism, during “the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” So it makes sense that we might feel more temptation in this time as well. But God does not allow anything that he cannot use for good; he can even use temptation and attacks from the devil for our conversion, transformation and holiness.
Here are some attacks that I have come to recognize and the responses that I have found helpful. Have you experienced any of these temptations this Lent?
1. The Temptation to Distraction
Purity of heart is to will the one thing. — Søren Kierkegaard
Lent can very quickly become about doing way too many things or nothing at all. The devil wants us to either drown in penances or feel discouraged right away and give up. The thing is that Lent should be about God, not our activities, as well-intentioned as they may be.
It is better to ask God to help us focus on one key thing during Lent, and then despite our failures, ask him for the grace to persevere.
2. The Temptation to Judge
It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. — Saint Augustine
If we are naturally more disciplined or strong-willed than those around us, there is a temptation to spend Lent patting ourselves on the back and comparing ourselves favorably to others. This is exactly what the devil wants. He wants us to think we are better than other people and to grow in pride, which is precisely what we should repent of during Lent.
If we have this tendency, or are experiencing it this Lent, the best antidote is to choose a penance that is absolutely impossible to achieve perfectly and that challenges our tendency toward pride. This helps us to realize that Lent is not about being perfect, type-A, judgers. It is about realizing that even with the natural gifts that God has given us, we are still sinful and very much in need of grace.
3. The Temptation to Self-Improvement
Lent can very quickly become only about losing weight or ending some bad habit that has become an irritation in our lives, rather than growing close to God. And the devil would love for Lent to be all about us. But this is not what Lent is about.
As Father Anthony Gerber pointed out in an excellent post on this subject: “Lent is … about failing miserably—about you reaching that third week of doing the difficult, of choosing the nails and thorns of love… But then denying Jesus for a few pieces of silver, of comfort, of selfish, selfish self-love. And in that moment, you’re going to be brought to your knees and you’re going to lift your arms to the heavens and say, ‘Lord, I cannot do this by myself! Lord, help me! I’m so bad at love!’”
We are usually good at loving ourselves, and bad at loving others. This is why it’s important to choose penances that will help us to grow in selfless love.
4. The Temptation to Division
Where does division come from? The devil! Division comes from the devil. Flee from internal struggles, please! — Pope Francis
Division is one of the devil’s favorite tools in his toolbox. He just loves to get between Christians and cause rivalries, confusion, jealousies, anger, and paranoia. The devil wants us to look at other Christians and see the enemy rather than recognizing that the only real enemy among us is the devil (and ourselves when we let him work on us).
So, of course, during Lent the devil may try to incite division among Christians in our homes, in our parishes, and even online. If you read material online from various sources, a good question during Lent (and really at any time) would be: “Does this material help me to love my fellow Christians more, or does it lead to division?”
Recently deceased Supreme Court justice and faithful Catholic, Antonin Scalia, once said: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people.” This is a sign of character. And it is a distinction that is increasingly lost in our society. If what you are reading or writing online focuses on attacking people rather than working for unity in Christian love, it may be the tool of the devil to keep you (and others) from growing in the spiritual life.
5. The Temptation to Discouragement
Temptations, discouragement, and unrest are the wares offered by the enemy. – St. Padre Pio
The devil likes nothing more than to make us as miserable as he is. And he knows that if we are feeling discouraged we are likely to be less cooperative with God’s grace. So, during Lent the devil can tempt us to feel like giving up on living the penitential spirit of the season. He can make us feel like we are constantly failing and just no good at this. The thing is – no one is “good” at Lent. If you think you are, you are not choosing the right penances.
So, when we feel discouraged, it is an opportunity to thank God with loud shouts of joy for saving us from our mediocrity and sin. It makes no sense to be lost in discouragement if we really believe the Gospel message. Even in Lent, we know that Jesus has died, yes, but he has also risen, and joy and grace is available now for us to be transformed. And thank God for that!
There are many more ways the devil can attack during Lent. And there are many ways to fight back. If you have any ideas to add from your own personal experience, from Scripture or from the Saints, please feel free to add them to the comments!
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.