Last week I wrote about the three sources of temptation. Now let’s look at temptation by the Devil in more detail.
Two Scripture passages show us how the Devil tempts us. Genesis 3 tells how Adam and Eve gave in to temptation and sinned. Matthew 4 tells how Jesus resisted the Devil’s temptation. The two stories contain striking similarities.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life
When the Devil tempted Eve, the first thing she noticed was that the forbidden fruit was “good for food” (Gen 3:6). Similarly, the Devil first tempted Jesus by telling Him to turn stones into bread (Mt 4:3). So we see that the Devil often begins by appealing to our natural appetites. In fact, he tempts us with the desires of the flesh.
Apparently, Eve was not completely swayed by this temptation, for she also noticed that the fruit was “a delight to the eyes.” Catholic tradition equates this delight with greed–the desire to have something that is not rightly ours, or to have it in overabundance, or otherwise outside of God’s will. Matthew’s Gospel sets this as Jesus’ third temptation. The Devil promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world for the “small” price of worshiping him. It’s easy to see how this corresponds to temptation by the world.
The final temptation is to pride. Eve desired the forbidden fruit in order to be like God, outside of grace. The Devil tempted Jesus to presume on His relationship with God, trying to force God’s hand, rather than submitting humbly to God’s will.
John the Apostle calls these temptations the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2:16). These are the three types of concupiscence, according to the Catechism (2514).
Pride is the province of the Devil
While the Devil can tempt us towards any sin, he often lets the world and the flesh tempt us to lust, gluttony, sloth, and greed. He tempts us directly to anger, envy, and pride–especially pride.
Catholic tradition says that pride and envy caused Satan’s downfall. Angels can’t be tempted by lust (of the flesh or the eyes), because they are pure spirits. Having no bodies, they do not desire food, sex, or material possessions. Nor do they desire ease. But some of them wanted to be equal to or above God in authority (pride). They envied man’s future glorification. They became angry that God had different plans for them.
Pride can easily lead to a refusal to repent, which is the unforgivable sin. Even if we don’t go that far, it can stop us from growing spiritually, because we think we are already holy enough. The Devil will also try to tempt us to despair, which is another form of thinking too much about ourselves and not enough about God.
Everyone is tempted by these sins, but people with choleric or melancholic temperaments are especially so.
Resisting the Devil’s temptation
So, how do we resist the Devil?
Although Christ confronted the Devil with Scripture verses, Catholic spiritual writers advise us not to enter into conversation with the Devil. Doing so is dangerous. The Devil will up his attack, hitting us where we are most vulnerable.
We need to constantly cultivate humility. Meditate on God’s greatness and your littleness. Examine your conscience daily and go to confession regularly. Force yourself to apologize to those you sin against, even your children and those who were not offended by your sin. Always forgive others who wrong you. Learn to place your trust in God’s mercy and goodness, not your strength or holiness.
We should expect the Devil to tempt us and remain peaceful when he does. In fact, we should strive to be peaceful at all times. If the Devil gets us agitated, we will not be able to resist temptation rationally. This again calls for trusting God.
St. Francis de Sales tells us that when we are tempted, we should practice the virtue opposite to the temptation. So, at the moment you are tempted to pride, perform an act of humility. Call to mind your sins. Do an immediate service for someone who has offended you. Scrub the kitchen floor or the toilet.
The other day I was struggling to let go of my anger after many hours of wrangling with the kids. After they went to bed, Dan and I decided to watch an episode of the Dick Van @#!*% show, which we have on DVD. By the end of the episode, my anger was completely gone. I could not be gloomy and light-hearted at the same time. I’m going to try this remedy more often.
In a similar way, you cannot be envious of someone while sincerely praising him. You can chase away despair simply by praying, “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Finally, pray the St. Michael Prayer daily. I include this in my morning offering.
For a more detailed discussion of how the Devil tempts us, see this article by the late Fr. John Hardon.
Post Script: My internet connection was down this morning, so I could not promote this post. I thought it was from the storm we had last night. Then I recalled that my post was about resisting the Devil. My boys and I prayed the St. Michael Prayer and my connection suddenly worked.
Share with us: How do you overcome temptations to pride, anger, and envy?