Combatting Temptation

Temptations are wonderful opportunities to manifest our love and deepen our relationship. The way we react to the temptation can and should affirm our love.

One way to show our love is to avoid occasions of sin (persons, places, things that easily lead to sin). For example, if an alcoholic finds it impossible to resist the bar on a particular street because he cannot resist going in, getting drunk, coming home angry, and mistreating his family, then his love is to avoid streets he knows to have bars.

To successfully fight temptation and manifest our love for God and our loved ones, let’s focus on what we can control. An alcoholic cannot control his passion for alcohol, but can control which streets he chooses to use to get from one place to another. By taking control of the occasion he keeps the temptation in check and avoids the evil that results. His love for his family and his fear of possibly losing what is dearest to him can move him to affirm those relationships by the free decision to avoid occasions of sin.

This is what our Lord advises for the person with a lustful eye:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out… if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:27-30).

Our Lord is concrete and practical, showing us that love can move us to do what is in our control: avoid movies, shows, or computer games with objectionable scenes or avoid parties where improper behavior or drug use would likely occur; avoid being alone in the house or apartment of someone of the opposite sex. Asking for guidance when we go to confession or spiritual direction can help us with ideas on how best to identify and avoid occasions of sin out of love.

We cannot control the devil, but we can control how much we pray. Prayer—appealing to God’s grace always helps to overcome temptations, especially those of the devil. Prayer is an act of humility where we admit our helplessness and the strength of God’s power. Prayer affirms our faith in God’s love for us and his desire for us to become saints. Many find going to Mass and Confession frequently helpful as means to engage God’s love and mercy tangibly.

Training our passions, feelings, and appetites is also in our control. Like an athlete who trains his body so he can push himself further, we can mortify our senses by fasting, getting up on the dot at a set time each day, avoiding snacks and eating between meals, etc. This was St. Paul’s strategy:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

May we follow the example of the saints in reacting to temptations with love.

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.