Have you ever been to a buffet? Maybe you used to go a lot when you were younger, like Josh Raymond of The Inner Life. If you’ve never been, the concept is as follows: At the restaurant, you pay a flat fee per person for your dining party, and then you can go to the various stations and fill your plate with as much of whatever food you want. You can eat as much as you want and you can return for seconds, thirds, etc. Essentially, pay once and you can eat until you’re full.
Josh said that while he used to go to buffets on occasion, he stays away from them these days. Firstly, he came to the realization that the food is not as good when it’s made in great quantities and forced to sit out under a heat lamp. Secondly, he realized that he would eat too much whenever he went because he felt like he had to get his money’s worth. The temptation in going to a buffet is to take advantage of the flat fee and eat as much as you can for that low price.
While this specific example may not be one you can relate to, the idea of facing temptation and finding ways to resist it should be. We all face the temptation to do immoral things and it is our responsibility to find the most effective method of training our minds and bodies to say no. Josh welcomed Father Brian O’Brien onto the show to talk about resisting temptation and ways we can improve on a daily basis.
Father Brian began by explaining what temptation is and what it is not. Temptation is not positive peer pressure. When your teammates on the cross-country team are encouraging you to do more conditioning to shave time off your mile run, that’s a good thing. They’re motivating you to work harder and push your body to its limits. That builds character and strength. Temptation is also not sin. Sin is the fully conscious choice to do something that we know is wrong. While venial sins are relatively mild, mortal sins are grave offenses that put us in danger of going to hell.
Temptation, while it can be the result of our imprudent choices or situations that we have entered, is not always within our control. If you were to begin watching a movie that suddenly thrust a sexually explicit scene in your face, it would not be a sin to fast forward past it or to turn the movie off completely. However, it is always in our best interest to mitigate these occasions of sin by doing our due diligence and making prudent choices to the best of our ability and judgment. One of the best strategies for resisting temptation is to plan for it. Expect it and try to diminish the occasions of sin as much as we can.
“I hear a lot of confessions, which is wonderful and beautiful,” said Father Brian. “A lot of times, there’s a theme: ‘I was tempted to do this.’ Oftentimes, I’ll jump in and say, ‘You were tempted, but did you do it?’ ‘Oh, no! No, I didn’t do it.’ And I say, ‘Okay, great!’” He continued, saying that we need to draw a clear line between being tempted and giving into that temptation and sinning. Anytime we can resist the devil’s coaxing, we should celebrate, not feel guilty. It is proof that we are stronger than evil and are capable of conquering our vices.
When we don’t have control over our temptations, when we experience what the saints would call “intrusive thoughts”, that’s where we can get into trouble. They may pop into our heads with no prompting and because we have no context for them, they become much easier to give into. That is where we stumble. The original intrusive thought was not a sin, but the more we dwell and stay with it, the more culpable we are.
We should treat our temptations the way we would a wrestling or boxing match. In order to have a chance against our opponent, we’re going to need to prepare. We don’t step onto the mat or into the ring with no plan and hope to duck and weave out of trouble. That’s a great way to lose. Instead, you head to the gym and train. You lift weights, you spar, and you take lessons from the best coaches you have available.
It’s the same with being tempted by sin, only we have an advantage. We know what tools the devil is going to use against us. We know what temptations he’s going to implement and where and when he’s going to attack us. So, we have to train in virtue. Start with the little things in daily life. Make sacrifices. Fast between meals. Offer up mortifications. Then, when it comes to the real deal, we will be ready. And who’s going to be in our corner coaching us? The greatest resistors of temptation: Jesus Christ and the communion of saints.
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