Where does spiritual temptation come from?
We’ve all been there, you’ve had a large meal and plenty of sweets, but there is an extra piece of dessert that just looks so good. After a quiet evening, you now suddenly find within yourself a great tension. You know you shouldn’t eat the dessert but you simply want to. The inner conflict is so great it feels like a battle is raging in your heart.
This is just a less serious example of what we all experience every day, temptation. Though it sounds dramatic, there really is a spiritual war being fought, and the battle is over our souls. God and all His angels and saints constantly call and guide us to Heaven, but too often we find ourselves turning away. Why? There must be an opposing force.
Temptation comes from three places. The first is that as a result of the Fall our human nature is fractured, causing us to have a tendency to sin. We call this concupiscence. The second is from the world, from other people. This is why it is so important to surround ourselves with good influences. But the last was there even before the Fall when there were just two people, the Devil.
St. Peter warns us, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There really is a fallen angel called Satan who has other demons join him in a quest to corrupt us in rebellion against God.
But do not be afraid. Simply by knowing that the Enemy is real and does work against us is critical for defeating him. Just as C.S. Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters, the Devil wants to remain hidden so he can work without resistance. It’s like if you were in combat and your enemy was invisible, how could you fight him?
Not only does it help to simply be aware that spiritual warfare is real, but we can reflect on the tactics of the Enemy to defeat him. It’s like knowing your opponents’ future moves in chess, knowledge is powerful. But where can we find this knowledge?
There are many great places to start. You could read St. Ignatius of Loyola’s rules for discernment of spirits, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Fr. Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat, or even simply reflect on the various vices we face. Our Catholic tradition is filled with rich spiritual theology to guide us.
But if all of this scares you, again, do not be afraid! In many ways, the battle is already won! Jesus has already defeated death through his passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension. We have nothing to fear so long as we put our trust in the Lord. For though our Enemy is strong, Jesus is infinitely more powerful and loving!
“For I am sure that neither death, now life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39