Today as in every age there is a battle between good and evil, light and darkness. This is a battle that we are in the very midst of every moment of our lives. And in this battle there are sides – we have a choice to unite ourselves with God or to stand in opposition to Him. The temptations we face that will turn us against God are many but we can group them into three general categories: the world, the flesh and the Devil.
(1) “The world” does not mean that all material things are evil! God created all things good so the material world itself is not the problem. “The world” refers to the distorted and corrupted existence of our worldly society as a result of sin. Throughout the ages we see opposition between the ways of the world and the ways of God. In our modern culture we see widespread promotion of immorality, the notion that there are no absolute truths, the rejection of God and the denial of the existence of sin/wrongdoing. This battle we have with “the world” also refers to the tendency of asserting myself over God and putting worldly things (money, power, success, etc) ahead of God. “The world” exerts strong influence on us. We witness this so often such as when we hear the words “live and let live”, “don’t worry be happy”, “my life my choices”, “what is right for me is right for me, what is right for you is right for you”, “seize the day”. We also see that the world idolizes money, fame, success and power. The world emphasizes pleasure and happiness in this life resulting in a license to live how you please, disregarding any notion of a moral standard. Thus rather than see the world cautioning us about the reality that certain actions such as sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, pornography and masturbation are intrinsically evil and immoral, we see the world using the media and even school curriculums to teach how one is to do these things “safely” or with discretion. We see that the “heroes” of “the world” who are put onto pedestals are Hollywood celebrities, professional sports stars or talk show hosts regardless of the level of immorality in their lives.
But God calls us not to conform to the world but to be transformed, living with God at the center of our lives. It is important that we take care to not allow “the world” to so cloud our consciences that we fail to see the dangerous influences that surround us. We are to always be guided by God’s ways rather than those of the world. By keeping the City of God (heaven) always as the goal to which we are striving, we can also be less likely to lose our way in the world. God also shows us that the true heroes we should strive to imitate are those Saints in heaven who were faithful and obedient to God in their earthly lives. God understands that it is far from easy for us to resist these temptations of “the world”, but, thanks be to God, He has made it possible with the help of His gift of grace!
(2) The temptations of “the flesh” refer to our own inner passions and desires. Because of sin and the loss of grace with the Fall, humanity no longer has the original integrity of our being where our intellect could rightly control our will and not allow the passions and emotions to rise up uninhibited. (We all know this firsthand because so often we recognize how much we are driven by our emotions and passions!) St. Paul warns us about walking in the ways of the flesh versus the ways of the Spirit. The way of the Spirit is walking by faith and not by sight. It is relying on God’s supernatural power and guidance in our lives. It is following the path tread by Christ that includes radical love, mercy, forgiveness, faith, repentance and obedience. Walking in the ways of the flesh refers to disobedience to God and neglecting God’s will for our lives. This is taking the path of darkness where we deny or neglect the reality that our earthly lives have eternal consequences. And the ways of the flesh include immorality, adultery, drunkenness, sexual impurity, greed, selfishness, envy and hatred (Rom 8; Gal 5).
“The flesh” offers temptations throughout our lives because they come from within, and these temptations are extremely difficult if not impossible to overcome without God’s supernatural help (grace). We must rely on God’s grace, otherwise “the flesh” will reign over us and control our actions and choices. It is important for us to be acutely aware of these fleshly temptations so we can resist them. A good practice to help in this battle is to perform an examination of conscience at the end of each day to look at the various ways we have disobeyed God or fallen short of living God’s call to holiness (evaluate our virtues and vices, inclinations to sin, people or situations that increased temptations to sin, etc). As we identify sins, we must repent to God and ask for an increase in His grace to overcome these temptations in the future and as we continue to strive for holiness.
(3) “The Devil” refers to the influences of Satan and his demons. These are the fallen angels who at the beginning of time freely chose to reject God and, since then, have been waging war against humanity, trying to draw as many of us away from God as they possibly can. The devil and his demons can never coerce us to sin but they are a powerful force of evil. These fallen angels know our weaknesses and vices. They know the areas in our lives with which we struggle the most with sin. They will use this knowledge to attempt to exert influence over us. Not every sin is a result of being influenced by the devil and his demons. We have the temptations from the world and from the flesh and if we give in to these temptations, the devil can just sit back and watch as we reject God. But the devil is real and he truly is a force of evil acting in our lives. The devil and his demons twist and distort all things. Jesus Himself tells us that the devil is the father of all lies. We see their influence everywhere.
They convince people that what is good is evil and what is evil is good. Some examples of this: the murder of an innocent human life is legal and is a woman’s “choice”; the murder of the suffering and infirmed near the end of life is legal in some places and viewed as “merciful”; sex outside of marriage is “normal” and rarely discouraged by the culture; people divorce and remarry freely without hesitation.
The devil deceives people into believing that sin is not real or at least there are no eternal consequences. Too often I have heard people saying, “Sin is wrong but I enjoy doing these things; God is merciful He will forgive me” or “God knows I am not perfect so even though I sin I know He will not judge me for it” or “I have not murdered anyone so I will not be in hell”. All of these are examples of people who have been very deceived by Satan!
The devil and the demons frequently distort the meaning of words, especially in ways to help lead people away from God’s intended meaning. Some of the terms our culture has redefined: the meaning of “love”, “marriage”, “tolerance”, “bigotry”, “happiness”. The understanding of truth has even be manipulated because many are now convinced that absolute truth does not exist (relativism is promoted). The meaning of sin has been warped in that we hear that “sin” is simply acting against my own personal values without any connection with eternal consequence of our actions (hell) being a possible outcome. We often hear that “religion” is not necessary (“I am spiritual but not religious) or that there is no need for “religious authority other than my own conscience”. I have heard more and more now that “religion is the source of all war”. These are false notions and are intended to lead one away from God’s truths!
But God has given us many powerful weapons to resist the temptations of the devil and the demons. We have God’s grace. We can ask others to pray for us including the angels and the Saints in heaven. God has revealed to us His truths most fully in Jesus Christ (protected and handed down to us through the Church) so that we can better identify Satan’s deceptions. We have been given the Bible and the Sacraments. We also have our guardian angels fighting alongside with us against the devil. And by uniting ourselves to Christ, He will help us to resist the temptations of the devil and if we remain in Christ we will be victorious!
We need to always be on guard. As Jesus Himself tells us we are to always “be watchful” and “be sober and alert”. There is a spiritual war that is ongoing and we are a part of it. We are to be vigilant soldiers of Christ. To succeed we must be aware of our enemies and, in this war, our enemies are “the world”, “the flesh” and “the devil”. And to be victorious we look to Christ and rely completely on God and His grace.
And I will end with this beautiful quote from Pope Frances from in Lumen Fidei (57):
“Christ is the light that, though not abolishing the darkness of suffering and evil on earth, He is the lamp guiding our steps in the midst of this darkness as man journeys to ultimate fulfillment in communion with God, where man will find true joy, happiness and peace.”
Let us always keep our eyes on Christ our light so that we can one day rejoice in heaven with the angels and the Saints in the presence of God!
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