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You can overcome temptation—but only if you want to!


Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 03/22/17

Every addict who wishes to remain sober starts by admitting that he cannot resist by himself what will surely kill him. We must face our temptations similarly.

“When the devil caresses you, he wants your soul.” That’s what one mother I knew said to her children whenever she caught them pilfering cookies. A bit over the top? Yes, a bit—but not entirely.

During Lent, we’re frequently encouraged to reflect on the role of temptation in our lives.  Temptation is a universal experience. Indeed, when we’re tempted, we might be inclined to say, “Well, what do you expect? We’re only human!” But that’s only partly true.

Yes, as humans, we suffer from a fallen human nature, with partially darkened intellect, partially weakened will, and often disordered desires. When the inevitable temptation leads to chosen sin, we put ourselves under the authority of Satan, who as Jesus said, is the “prince of this world.” This is the fate of every fallen human who yields to temptation—without exception. Thankfully, the story doesn’t need to end there.

Yes, temptation befalls us because we are, as we like to say (especially when we’re about to make another excuse for our sins), “only human.” But Jesus the Christ, who is both Son of God and Son of Mary, offers to help us face our temptations with something so much more than what is “only human.” He offers to help us face our temptations as he did—with our human nature, and with his divine nature.

Saint Augustine reminds us that Christ “…suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you. If in Christ we have been tempted, in him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in him, and see yourself as victorious in him.”

Here’s what makes the Gospel truly good news! In Jesus Christ, we have a truly human man break Satan’s claim upon human nature. With his divine power he defeats sin, and then offers to share his victory with us! In other words, all that we need to overcome temptation, all that we need to transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven, all that we need in this life to enter eternal life able to see the face of God and live—all that is freely offered to us. What shall we do with that offer?

Knowing human nature as I do (including my own!), I fear that what we often do with God’s offer of liberation from sin is to postpone our repentance. We do so because we like the way our sin tastes and feels; we do because we underestimate how offensive and deadly our sin is; and we do so because we overestimate our ability to repent in time. In other words, we procrastinate—at the peril of our souls.

We all like to quote (bemusedly of course!) Saint Augustine’s famous quip: “Oh Lord make me chaste! But not just yet!” Even as we laugh at Augustine and ourselves, we forget that he also wrote: “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” Edward Irving’s warning is even more dire: “Procrastination is the kidnapper of souls, and the recruiting-officer of Hell.” None of us knows just when death will come for each of us or when Christ will return in glory for all of us. In terms of repentance, we’re always running out of time, and it’s always very nearly too late.

Every addict who wishes to remain sober starts by admitting that he cannot resist by himself what will surely kill him. We must face our temptations similarly. The recovering addict admits his need for a higher power to attain and retain sobriety. Saint Irenaeus recognized such wisdom centuries ago: “In proportion to God’s need of nothing is man’s need for communion with God.” In other words, we cannot be who we are (creatures made in the image and likeness of God) and who we are meant to be (fully alive before the face of God eternally) unless we allow the sovereignty of God its rights over us, against the claims of Satan, who is entitled to unrepentant sinners. Following our fallen will leads to misery and damnation (James 1:12-16). Uniting our will to the divine leads to joy and glory. Those are the only choices we will ever have. Any other “choice” is an illusion, a seduction from the pit of Hell.

In this life, temptation is inevitable—surrender to sin is not. Damnation, like salvation, is a choice. Christ who endured and triumphed over temptation offers us all we need to share in his victory—from the cross, to resurrection to glory. In the time we have left, please, let’s say “Yes!”

When I write next, I will consider whether the world is heading towards consummation or to dissolution. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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