There are temptations that assail me all of the time; I feel like giving up. I’m never going to escape their grip. Have you ever had thoughts such as these as you try to live out the faith? Does it seem hopeless at times to escape the grip of temptation? What I am about to suggest will help in all matter of temptations, but I will specifically address the temptation of lust. Two preliminary considerations:
First, temptation is not sin. Jesus experienced temptations in the desert. Since He is God and all sin is against God, He could never sin. Temptation is not a sin. It’s what we do when temptation comes that is either virtuous or sinful. It can be sinful, however, to put yourself in the near occasion of sin, so be prudent about what you look at online and watch on television, and form healthy and holy boundaries in your relationships.
Second, we must recognize that sexual desires are not bad in themselves. God created us as sexual beings in order to stamp into our very bodies the mystery hidden from all eternity in God. The mystery that God is an eternal exchange of love Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and He has destined us to share in that love. The union of a man and a woman in marriage where the two become one is meant to be a sign of the union of God and man, both are meant to be fruitful. Given the importance of the sign of marriage and sex it is no surprise that this is where we experience the most temptation and confusion in our fallen world and precisely where the evil one will strike. Do not be afraid!
Our Lord became one of us went through his passion, death, and resurrection to offer us the grace of redemption. That grace is for us, body and soul. Praying through temptation will help us experience the redemption of our bodies for which we long (cf. Romans 8:23).
In the grip of temptation turn to prayer, very intentional prayer. Let’s take for example you see a person who you find attractive and the temptation of lust arises in you. See temptation as a trigger for prayer. When you encounter a temptation pray “Lord, thank you for the beauty of this person. Give me the eyes to see them purely as your son or daughter. Give me and them all the grace we need to know and love you.” You may also find it helpful to pray the Hail Mary, since Our Mother is all pure. At some point, whether in the moment or later in your prayer time, invite the Lord into your desires and ask him to redirect them toward union with him — that’s their purpose.
When we pray with our temptations they become a source of grace and transformation. Does that mean we will not fall into sin again? Probably not. Do not get discouraged. However, we will fall less and God, with our cooperation, will set us free from sin. We may continue to struggle with temptation, but it will become for us a means of grace and purification. God works all things to the good for those who love God (cf. Romans 8:28).
Be honest with Our Lord. He knows everything anyways. Enter into the battle of the heart and place your hope and trust in Jesus. Be patient with yourself. Recognize the temptation, turn it into a prayer, open your heart to the power of redemption that flows from the Cross, and through grace freedom will be yours.
Written for JPII Renewal Center. Check out their website here.
What is Lent?
Lent is the liturgical season of forty days which begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the celebration of the Paschal Mystery (Easter Triduum). Lent is the primary penitential season in the Church’s liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer (CCC, Glossary, Lent, p. 886).
Through the season of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. As the letter to the Hebrews (4:15) points out, “[W]e have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” Throughout this holy season the Church’s liturgy re-reads the great events of salvation history leading up to THE saving event: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus (the Paschal Mystery).
Our entrance into the Paschal Mystery is the sacrament of baptism. This forty days is preparation for the catechumens who will enter the life of the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil. It is also a time for each of us to renew and unlock the gift of our own baptism. Baptism, like all of the Sacraments, directs or orients us to the source and summit of the faith, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus re-presented (made present) for us in time.
How do I live Lent well?
Jesus and therefore the Church holds out to us three biblical practices for living Lent well: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer is about loving God, fasting is about loving yourself, and almsgiving is about loving others. Lent, therefore, is all about love.
Prayer is simply the raising of the heart and mind to God. Prayer is seeking friendship and union with God. It can be exercised in many forms - meditation, contemplation, conversation, thanksgiving, praise, intercession, etc. Whatever helps us to lift our hearts and minds to God is good prayer. Here are some ideas and resources on prayer.
Fasting is the practice of abstaining partially or wholly from food and drink as an expression of interior penance. It is a powerful spiritual and biblical practice. We fast in order to discipline our bodily appetites. Fasting helps us to learn and practice self-mastery. We can also fast from other things in our lives - social media, looking at my phone every two minutes, Netflix, TV in general, etc. This world is a non-stop cacophony of stimulation and we need to take advantage of this holy season and regain control over what we consume - from food to media. Fasting or disciplining our desires opens up in us the call of the deepest desire of my heart; the desire for God. This desire can be drowned out at times by the more immediate and tempting desires of the flesh, the world, and the devil. Fasting gives us back our direction and aim - God Himself.
Almsgiving is about letting God use me to bless others. You could give money, or your time, or your talents to others or in service to others. Find a charitable organization to which you can donate some of your money. Find a charitable way to give of your time to others - family, friends, or the lonely among us. Find some way to build others up and make a lasting difference in the world around you. One suggestion is to make a list of 40 people, one for each day, and pray for them or better yet write them a note of encouragement or best yet do both.
Choose one exercise from each of these biblical practices to help you grow in your love of God, of self, and of others this Lent. Jesus talks about repentance quite often and it is always in the context of today (now). Do not wait; do not let this Lent pass you by. Allow the external practices of Lent to do their job and bring about interior repentance and conversion. We must always remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
May we prepare our hearts to receive an ever deeper outpouring of God’s love, so we may share that love with others.
Below are three info graphs from catholic-link.org. Here is the link to them.
The three temptations of Jesus correspond to the temptations that all of us face in our day to day life. The temptations Jesus endured all came from without, whereas ours come from without and sometimes from within our fallen nature, but they still provide us with the correct response to overcome them and to be strengthened by them when resisted.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” It is the temptation to focus on the pleasures of the body and the joys of the material world exclusively. That is we try to find our happiness in pleasures and things of the world. And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” So following Jesus’ example and response, focus on heavenly things. Fast from material things and spend time in the Bible and prayer, in order to become more attentive to the supernatural things of heaven that lead to true happiness and joy. Pray for the supernatural virtue of faith.
“To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” The devil tempts Jesus to worship him with the promise of giving Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. The temptation for us is to seek power in our relationships with God and others. Our pride of desiring to be first and well liked. “But the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We make idols of the things of our life and worship them with our time. And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ” Later on Jesus says, “seek first the Kingdom of God and everything shall be given to you.” Let your penance and prayer during Lent lead you to surrender your life to God. Seek to serve God and others. Self-sacrifice leads to the joy of the kingdom experienced already here on earth. Pray for the supernatural virtue of love (selfless).
Then he “set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Do some miracles and then we will believe. Show us the Father and then we will believe. This reminds me of praying for something to happen and then when it does happen saying never mind God I didn’t need your help after all. Why did God allow this to happen? Why did He make me this way? Why do I have to suffer? Where is God? And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” Instead of the question why, ask the question who. “To whom shall we go Lord you have the words of eternal life.” Meet God in the little graces and gifts throughout the day. Trust Him in all circumstances. “Everything works for the good for those who love God.” Surrender your life to God and trust even in the difficult times that God is powerfully at work through His transformative grace. He purifies and perfects us through suffering (His own on the Cross and ours united with Him) to be His disciples and to enter in to our heavenly homeland. Pray for the supernatural virtue of hope.
Through your Lenten observances allow God to become the center of your life. Refocus your life on heavenly things. A life rightly ordered towards our eternal homeland is able to use the things of the earth to give Glory to God and in service to our neighbors. Enter the desert of Lent - simplify and order your life towards Heaven and experience God's deep abiding peace.
May you have a blessed Lent!
I am a Catholic priest writing about Catholic things.
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