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Temptation Strengthens the Soul - September 2017

posted Sep 27, 2017, 6:06 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Gregory Giangiordano '18

The problem with evil is that it isn’t alarming. It isn’t, as the media would have us believe, the monster that hides in the closet, or the faceless, gun-wielding man in the alley, or the possessed, satanic child speaking in tongues. The problem with evil is that it is seductive: it is shiny, inviting, and alluring. Evil is a soft caress on the arm, a silky whisper in the ear, a delicate kiss on the cheek. Evil tempts us with fool’s gold; it is all shine and no substance. Evil parades itself before our eyes and slyly asks us to forget ourselves, to forget our dignity and values, and to give in to every base urge for the promise of pleasure and satisfaction. The problem with evil is that it makes us want it, and it tempts us with the promise of having heaven now.

Even though we are continually battered by daily innumerable temptations, it is this very battering that strengthens the soul in its fight for salvation. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was a priest who was intimately familiar with the ways of the devil, and therefore aware of the multitude of ways in which the devil tries to tempt us. He wrote, in a letter to one of his spiritual children, “Don’t let the countless temptations with which you are continually assailed frighten you, because the Holy Spirit forewarns the devout soul who is trying to advance in the ways of the Lord, to prepare itself for temptations…Therefore, take heart because the sure and infallible sign of the health of a soul is temptation. Let the thought that the lives of the saints were not free from this trial, give us the courage to bear it”. It may sound counter-intuitive, but Saint Pio explains that the more a person is tempted to sin, recognizes that he or she is being tempted to sin, and chooses not to sin, the holier he becomes. Continual temptation is the mark of a healthy soul, the mark of a person who is actively seeking holiness. It is when a person is actively seeking holiness that he or she is hit with temptation more forcefully, because it distresses Satan to know that there are souls who are fighting him, and he employs his cunning to make us fall back into sin. He seeks to have us as his puppets, incapable of recognizing the difference between right and wrong, and habitually falling into sin until we delude ourselves into thinking that the sin itself is a normal and acceptable behavior. Make no mistake, it is hard to resist temptation. All of us feel the daily pull: the desire to just give in, let go, and stop fighting is a near constant feeling in each of us.

But that is what makes the struggle so worthwhile, because the truth is that we are not fighting for anything less than the purity of our souls. It is a difficult path, but ultimately it is a path that leads to joy. Another Catholic, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, attested to the challenging life to which all Catholics are called. He was a young Italian man, born into an aristocratic family in the early 20th Century, who chose to divorce himself from his aristocratic status and give continuously to the poor, to the chagrin of his family. He wrote, in a letter to one of his friends, “You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be, so long as my trust in God gives me strength. We must always be cheerful. Sadness should be banished from all Christian souls. For suffering is a far different thing from sadness, which is the worst disease of all. It is almost always caused by lack of Faith. But the purpose for which we have been created is
perhaps strewn with many thorns, but not a sad path. Even in the midst of intense suffering it is one of joy.” The life of the Catholic is meant to be a life of joy: it is a life that is painful, yes, and in no way free from suffering, but it is anything but a sad life. As Pier Giorgio makes plain, it is a lack of Faith in the love of the Trinity that causes one’s life to be sad. Lack of Faith breeds sadness, sadness breeds spiritual weakness, and spiritual weakness breeds habitual surrender to sin.
As for myself, I will say that I am no saint or blessed. But the point of the life of a Catholic is to strive to be a saint, with every fiber of our being, every day. If we fall into sin, we must get up and go to Confession. We must seek the spiritual medication of the Sacraments. We must attend mass, receive the Eucharist, and allow Christ’s sacrifice to bleed into each one of us. It is a hard and difficult path, and it will, most likely, not bring us the financial or material success that society constantly advertises, but, I promise you, nothing else will bring the lasting and blissful joy that Christ offers. If you take nothing else away from this article, at least remember the last words of the dying thief, who turned to God in his last moments. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”