Moving on to the second in my collection of sermons by St. Francis de Sales for Lent: "Temptation."
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The basic thrust of this sermon is that temptation is an inevitable part of the chosen life of the Christian, and that Jesus taught us that much when he went into the desert (Mt 4:1, Mk 1:12, Lk 4:1). The main points are as follows:
I. "[A]lthough no one can be exempt from temptation, still no one should seek it or go of his own accord to the place where it may be found."
That is why the Evangelist says that Our Lord was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted; it was not then by His choice (I am speaking with regard to his human nature) that He went to the place of temptation, but He was led by the obedience He owed to His heavenly Father....
If we are led by the Spirit of God to the place of temptation, we should not fear, but should be assured that He will render us victorious... Our enemy is like a chained dog; if we do not approach, it will do us no harm.
II. "Let us... consider a little the weapons which Our Lord made use of to repulse the devil that came to tempt him in the desert. They were none other, my dear friends, than those the Psalmist speaks of in [Psalm 91]." Sufficient is our belief in God:
O how divinely well armed with truth was Our Lord... for He was truth itself. This truth of which the Psalmist speaks is nothing other than faith. Whoever is armed with faith need fear nothing... for what can harm him who says Credo, "I believe" in God who is...our Father Almighty? ...By using the words of Holy Scripture our dear Master overcame all the temptations the enemy presented to Him.
...Our Divine Master could not have faith, since he possessed... a perfect knowledge of the truths which faith teaches us; however He wished to make use of this virtue in order to repel the enemy, for no other reason, my dear friends, than to teach all that we have to do. Do not then seek for other arms nor other weapons in order to refuse consent to a temptation except to say "I believe." And what do you believe? "In God" my "Father Almighty."
III. Psalm 91 refers to terrors of the night, of which St. Francis says there are three: cowardly and slothful fear, the natural fear that children have, and the fear that the weak have. It also refers to arrows, to a threatening "business" that takes place in the night, and "the spirit which comes to tempt us in broad daylight." The remainder of the sermon is a listing of these attacks, so that we might recognize them and thereby withstand them. Here are some highlights:
On the fear of cowards and slothful souls:
Fear is the first temptation which the enemy presents to those who have resolved to serve God, for as soon as they are shown what perfection requires of them, they think, "Alas, I shall never be able to do it..." He will strengthen you and give you the grace to persevere...
Do not be astonished, therefore, and do not do as the slothful, who are troubled when they wake at night by the fear that daylight will come very soon when they will have to work. The slothful and cowardly ...amuse themselves in thinking... more about future difficulties than what they have to do at present.
Of course. If you were to contemplate what you have to do at present, you would be forced to admit that it is time to do something other than contemplate.
"Oh," they say, "if I devote myself to the service of God, it will be necessary for me to work so much in order to resist the temptations which will attack me." You are quite right, for you will not be exempt from them... To whom do you wish, I pray, that the devil should present his temptations if not to those who despise them?
...Rise from your bed, indolent one... Rise... from your cowardice, and keep clearly before your mind this infallible truth: all must be tempted.
Yup. You're not as special as you think.
On the fear experienced by a "child" in the spiritual life:
As you are aware, children are very much afraid when they are out of their mother's arms...They feel that nothing can harm them provided they are holding her hand.
Hold His hand and do not be frightened... Consider how St. Peter [walking on the water]suddenly began to fear and at the same time to sink down, and cried out, "Lord, save me!" ... Let us do the same...
There are some who, feigning courage, go someplace alone at night. When they hear a little stone fall from the ceiling, or just hear a mouse running, they cry out... Often persons who have just come into God's service are like these people. They affect fearlessness... This is what happened to poor St. Peter.... The more Our Lord expounded on the greatness of his afflictions, the more did St. Peter passionately insist that he would do as much. But how well he realized how completely he had been deceived when he found himself, at the time of his Saviour's Passion, so fainthearted...
Thus it happens to those young souls who testify to so much ardor in their conversion... But just wait a little. For if they hear a mouse, by which I mean if the consolation and sentiments of devotion which they have had until then happen to be withdrawn and if some little temptation attacks them... they begin to fear.
"Oh, how miserable... I am in the Lord's service where I thought I would live in peace, and yet all different sorts of temptations have come... I do not have so much as an hour of real peace."
There is no place where temptation does not have access... It is precisely because Our Divine Saviour is [in the desert] that temptation is found there too...
"But I am so imperfect," you say. I believe it, indeed! Therefore do not hope to be able to live without committing imperfections, seeing that this is impossible while you are in this life. It is enough that you do not love them and that they do not remain in your heart. That being so... do not trouble yourself about the perfection you so much desire. It will be enough if you have it in dying.
On the "arrow that flies by day:"
These arrows are the vain hopes and expectations on which those feed who aspire to perfection. We find those who hope for nothing so much as to be Mother Teresa [of Avila] very soon... That is good; but tell me, how long do you give yourself for this task? "Three months," you reply... they are very often discouraged in the pursuit of the real virtue which leads to sanctity.
On the spirit which comes to tempt us in broad daylight -- the temptation to detest all that might distract us from the solitary enjoyment of God:
This spirit... is that which attacks us in the fair noontide of interior consolations... at the time when the divine Sun of Justice ..fills us with so agreeable a warmth and light... that we die to almost everything else...
[I]t cannot be appreciated enough by this lover who is always languishing for His love. She does not want anyone to come and trouble her in her repose which, in the end, terminates only in the vain complacency she takes in it. For she admires the goodness and sweetness of God, but in herself, and not in God. To her, solitude is very desirable at this time so as to enjoy the Divine Presence without any distractions. Yet she does not really desire it for the glory of God, but only for the satisfaction which she herself experiences in receiving these sweet caresses and holy delights issuing from this well-beloved Heart of the Saviour.
Now that is something to chew on, for those of us who live in the bustle of family life.
My dear friends, we shall never be capable of keeping company with him in His consolations, if we are not sharers of His labors and sufferings. He fasted forty days, but the angels brought him something to eat only at the end of thattime.
These forty days, as we said just now, symbolize the life of the Christian, of each one of us. Let us then desire these consolations only at the end of our lives, and let us busy ourselves in steadfast resistance to the frontal attacks of our enemies. For whether we desire it or not we shall be tempted....
Let us fear neither the temptation nor the tempter, for if we make use of the shield of faith and the armor of truth, they will have no power whatsoever of us. Let us no longer fear the three terrors of the night. And let us not entertain the vain hope of being or wishing to be saints in three months!
As I finish this reflection, it strikes me that it isn't so much about temptations themselves, but about the fear and discouragement that comes from temptation. Temptations are particular things; he suffers from one kind, while she is not bothered at all by what troubles him, but is continually assailed by a different one; the man in this vocation is often tempted one way, the man in a different vocation is tempted another way. What tempts me does not tempt you, and vice versa.
But while our particular temptations may differ, the fact that we are tempted does not; and so we're all subject in one way or another to the struggle with them. So this advice, though it was addressed to a group of Visitation sisters in 1622, still applies to us now no matter our state in life.