Chapter 13 – Resisting Temptation
XIII Resisting Temptation (click to download pdf)
Fire trieth iron, and temptation a just man.” These words of Thomas à Kempis are nearly the same as those of the Wise Man: “The furnace trieth the potter’s vessels, and the trial of affliction just men.”
A saintly hermit, a devout servant of God, was once led by his guardian angel into a large city, there to visit a certain monastery. The monks of this monastery were renowned for their piety and holiness. What was the hermit’s astonishment! He saw the whole pace just swarming with little moors—more devils than you would see flies swarming about a cup of honey, or bees about a hive. There were devils in the chapel, devils in the choir, devils in the refectory, devils in the dormitories, in short, devils all over.
They left the monastery; the angel led the hermit through the other parts of the city. Still greater was his surprise! IN the whole large city he could not see another single demon—not until they came to the gate where they wanted to go out. There the hermit found one devil, leaning comfortable against the wall, apparently taking it very easy.
“It seems you have good times,” said the hermit to the devil.
“Yes, as good as I can wish them,” answered the latter.
“How happens it that you take it so easy? In this city there are thousands of people living’ and yet you are the only one devil here, and you seem to have nothing to do; whereas in the monastery there is comparatively but a small number of monks, yet there are so many devils, hundreds of them, and all seem to be very busy, to have much to do. How is this?”
“That is easily explained,” replied the devil. “In the city I have engaged a large number of wicked men to help me. They do the work for me. The people, in general, do not resist temptations: they are easily misled. But in the monastery it is not so. There we have nobody to help us; and all the monks strive to be virtuous—one helps the other in this. They resist our temptations; and that takes so many devils, and gives us so much work.
My little follower of Jesus, isn’t this something remarkable, something that we ought to consider well? God is good, and He means well with us when He sends us bodily or temporal afflictions. I said enough on this point in the last chapter. We ought to thank Him, the good God, every time He bestows such a favor on us. But when He permits such inward trials, temptations of the spirit, it is a still better sign that He loves us dearly, and, as our best and kindest Father, is concerned about our eternal welfare.
What does God intend when He permits temptations? Thereby He wants to help us root out the evil that is in us, rid us of bad habits, subdue the sinful passions and evil inclinations of our hearts; He wants to purify our intentions, perfect our virtues. He wants to give us chances to gain greater merits for heaven.
He permits the devil, therefore, to tempt us. The devil could do very little himself, if he had not someone to help him. He has two powerful helpers, and he engages them—the world and our own corrupt nature. But, I must repeat again, the devil, in tempting us, cannot go further than God permits him to go. God never allows him to tempt us above that which we are able, as St. Paul says; and He is always at our side with His grace, ready to help us overcome the temptation.
Just those who try hard to be good, to lead virtuous lives, have to suffer most from these attacks of the devil; and, you understand, it is quite natural. The devil, so to speak, runs a great risk every time he tempts one. He thinks, perhaps he can bring you into sin; and then you will lose all. If you resist and overcome his temptation, why, then, in spite of himself, he has helped you to gain new merit for heaven. You may imagine how the devil froths and rages when, instead of leading you to sin by his temptations, he has helped you thereby to something good and meritorious. There is nothing he dislikes more than this: helping people to get to heaven.
What should you do, then, when the devil tempts you? Resist bravely! You must not fear him. Say only once, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, protect me!” that will make the tempter flee immediately. You must be prompt, very careful. You dare not be half and half, wanting to play with the temptation and yet not sin.
Especially, you must try to accustom yourself to resist the temptation at the very beginning, not wait until it get stronger, and will be harder for you to overcome. A certain poet says:
“Resist beginnings: all too late the cure,
When ills have gathered and strength from long delay.”
“Little by little,” says The Following of Christ, “doth the malignant foe gain full entrance, when he is not resisted in the beginning.”
You must not be down-hearted, and lose courage when you are tempted. The greater the temptation, the more reason you have to be satisfied, nay, even to rejoice. God looks upon you as being strong in spirit; and He wants you to become stronger still. Look about you, and examine. Can you find one saint who was not severely tried, either by bodily affliction, or spiritual trouble, or by both together. I will conclude with the following admonition, given us by Thomas à Kempis: “Let us, then, humble our souls under the hand of God in every temptation and tribulation; for the humble in spirit He will save and exalt.”